Bridging to a carbon-free future

The port town of Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the world cities most imperiled by the rising sea levels caused by global climate change. Through a combination of resilience planning and carbon reduction actions, civic leaders are fighting to protect both their city and the planet.
The essential
The increasing threat of sea-level rise for coastal cities like Boston from global climate change.
Design and implement energy solutions to transition toward a carbon-free future.
Veolia's response
Investments in the “Green Steam” solution, recycling thermal energy and reducing carbon emissions.
Published in the dossier of July 2017

The people of Boston aren’t waiting around for the waters to rise. Anyone needing a reminder of what the changing global climate means to the world’s coastal cities need only glance at the mesmerizing map on the Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) home page. The dynamic graphic shows successive images of the city’s low-lying lands disappearing under growing patches of blue by 2100, reflecting the impact of rising sea levels and storm surges. That the map shifts by itself without clicks only underscores the message: without action, we’ll all be underwater.

[…] The battle against climate change […], in the U.S., is increasingly driven by States, cities and the private sector.

Local-global focus

The GRC, an NGO composed of business, institutional and civic leaders, is spearheading the fight for dry ground by working to develop strategies for fighting climate change (see inset). As a first step, the volunteer group partnered with the city to organize and finance a resilience project to improve long-term climate preparedness. The GRC’s attention is now focused on accelerating progress across all sectors toward the city’s Climate Action Plan goal of being 100% carbon-neutral by 2050. Its objective: serve both Boston’s needs and the broader global battle against climate change, increasingly driven in the U.S. by states, cities and the private sector. Among the most active sectors are the city’s energy-intensive healthcare establishments, which are responsible for a significant share of overall greenhouse gas emissions. Major players like Boston Medical Center and Partners HealthCare are on track to reduce emissions by more than 25% by 2020 and are responsible for a 60-MWh renewable energy buy, the largest collaborative purchase made to date in the U.S. The city’s 20 largest hospitals have integrated Boston’s goals into their strategic planning and capex budgets and are generating real-time energy use data to help plotting further actions (see inset p.33).

Green Steam district

Helping to boost the healthcare community’s progress is a district energy network operated by Veolia. Up to 75% of the heat supplied to hospitals and other customers is “Green Steam,” delivered through a network of steam pipes running beneath the streets and bridges of Boston and adjacent Cambridge. Veolia’s district energy system leverages recovered thermal energy as a byproduct of electricity generation at its Kendall Cogeneration Station to supply the steam network. The Kendall plant produces the steam from its Combined Heat and Power (CHP) operations, which recycle thermal energy previously lost to the environment. The system integrates highly efficient cogeneration technology with a 26-mile network — making it one of the largest and most extensive district energy systems in the U.S. to generate both electricity and steam. The innovative environmental
solution is able to meet the thermal energy needs of over 250 medical research institutions, hospitals, hotels, museums and government buildings throughout Boston and Cambridge. Combined with infrastructure improvements made by Veolia, the system has improved reliability and reduced the region’s overall carbon footprint by 475,000 metric tons annually – the equivalent of removing 80,000 cars from the roads. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the system improves air quality, eliminates thermal pollution into Boston’s Charles River and helps property owners qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building credits. With almost $170 million invested in the city’s energy infrastructure, including a 7,000-foot pipeline and a 256-megawatt gas-powered combined heat and power plant, Veolia is recognized as an active player as the city looks ahead. “The upgrades at Kendall Cogeneration Station support Veolia’s mission to deliver clean energy and reduce the carbon footprint of Boston and Cambridge, while protecting the Charles River – a local treasure and national landmark,” says Veolia North America President and CEO, Bill DiCroce.

Key figures

#°8 Boston’s World Bank ranking of world cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels

100 % Boston’s 2050 objective for clean and renewable energy sources

$168 millions Veolia’s investment in the Boston- Cambridge energy infrastructure since 2008

475 000 metric tons The annual reduction of the region’s overall carbon footprint thanks to the Green Steam Veolia project


A resilient city: making cities more resistant to impacts and risks
Cogeneration, or energy optimization for environmental performance