SUSTAINABLE MARBLEHEAD: Working toward net zero

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the landmark 2018 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report for Marblehead, prepared by Sustainable Marblehead and presented to the Select Board. This report measured the town’s carbon footprint and identified key sources of emissions contributing to global climate change.

A piechart depicting Marblehead’s gashouse emissions by source.

Among the key findings, resident passenger vehicle emissions stood out as the largest contributor at 27%, with commercial and municipal vehicles contributing an additional 2%. These findings were particularly noteworthy given that in 2014, the town’s 20,000 residents owned a staggering 22,000 vehicles.

Natural gas use, primarily for heating, accounted for a quarter of the town’s carbon emissions, and the burning of home heating oil represented 19% of emissions, highlighting that roughly four out of 10 Marblehead households still relied on oil for heating.

In response to these results, Sustainable Marblehead initiated a series of impactful steps.

— Stretch code: In 2018, Sustainable Marblehead successfully advocated for the passing of the “stretch code,” requiring new buildings and major renovations to meet higher energy efficiency standards.

— Carbon-free energy goal: Also in 2018, a warrant article was passed, in cooperation with the Marblehead Municipal Light Board, with a near-unanimous vote to support a goal of 100% carbon-free energy in Marblehead, including electricity production, building energy use and transportation.

— Marblehead Climate Action Plan framework: In 2019, Sustainable Marblehead drafted a proposed plan for the town to become carbon-free by 2040.

— Green Marblehead Committee: This committee was subsequently formed to develop a climate visioning document and comprised of town department heads. The committee worked with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and held listening sessions, surveys and a workshop, during which a poll of Marblehead citizens arrived at the goal of Marblehead reaching net zero by 2040. The resulting Climate Vision document was adopted by the Select Board in 2021. Utilizing the same public input methods, MAPC and GMC developed the “Roadmap to Net Zero 2040,” from 2021 to 2023, which was adopted by the Select Board in March 2023.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see the amazing transformation our town has undergone over the past five years,” notes Sustainable Marblehead co-founder John Livermore. “From measuring Marblehead’s greenhouse gases for the first time, to the full integration of town government, town citizens, MMLD and Sustainable Marblehead in leading our community to a sustainable future. It’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of a great many people.”

Currently, the GMC is actively engaged in implementing the roadmap. Its efforts encompass municipal initiatives such as using clean energy in heating and cooling town buildings and schools, and fuel-efficient vehicle purchasing for town departments. The roadmap also includes recommendations to encourage walking and biking as eco-friendly transportation options, more walkable sidewalks and safer routes to bike. It includes recommendations to obtain electric school buses to alleviate traffic congestion and emissions, as well as potential electric shuttle buses for residents to get around town and to the Swampscott and Salem train stations.

Education about switching to electric vehicles is on the GMC’s radar. Adding EV charging infrastructure is necessary to expedite residents owning EVs. A townwide plan for EV charging infrastructure will need to be developed and should include public and private locations.

Educating residents about more sustainable home heating options is another priority. For example, air source heat pumps run on electricity to heat and cool homes and are 10-20 times more efficient than room air conditioners. They enable homeowners to transition off their oil burners or gas furnaces and are supported by substantial rebates from MassSave ($10,000) if one currently heats with gas.

Sustainable Marblehead provides in-depth information on our Green Homes and Buildings webpage, including fact sheets on heat pumps and solar energy with information on how to obtain utility rebates and incentives plus recommended installers. Our website also provides information on energy-efficient major appliances like stoves and clothes dryers.

As concerned citizens, each of us can make a substantial difference by addressing the largest contributors to our individual and family emissions — the vehicles we drive, the heating and cooling of our homes and the appliances we choose. We need to shift our focus from preferences for vehicle brands or appliance styles to the environmental impact of our choices.

Through the efforts of Sustainable Marblehead and the Green Marblehead Committee, Marblehead is taking significant strides to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve a net zero status by 2040. As citizens, we play a pivotal role in this endeavor by making thoughtful choices in our transportation, home heating and cooling systems, and appliance selections. By working together, we can contribute to the fight against climate change and the preservation of our town and environment.

Mathieu is the chair of Sustainable Marblehead’s Clean Energy and Public Policy Working Group and serves on the town’s Green Marblehead Committee.

Dr. Eileen Mathieu
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