State Policies and Initiatives

Every day we make important choices about where and how we will grow in Massachusetts. These decisions have profound implications for our environment, economy, and society. While we have made progress, more needs to be done to ensure that the interests of future generations are not compromised by today's decisions. The state is working to fulfill its smart growth/smart energy responsibilities so that it can be a full partner with communities, conservation organizations, and the development industry. Primary goals include incorporating the Sustainable Development Principles into the policies and programs of all agencies in order to lead by example in regard to clean energy and other issues, and ensuring that state infrastructure investments encourage smart growth instead of subsidizing sprawl.

It will take our cooperative efforts to build a greater quantity and diversity of housing, develop the businesses we need to provide jobs and increase revenue, reduce energy consumption, and improve our stewardship of the Commonwealth's natural resources. The state seeks to work in partnership with all interested stakeholders to improve the Commonwealth's conservation and development practices. We will strive to ensure that state policies, programs, and investments encourage smart growth/smart energy and ask municipalities and others to do the same. In addition, recognizing that time, effort, and funding are necessary to produce better plans and land use regulations, the Commonwealth will provide tools and financial and technical assistance.

The State Smart Growth/Smart Energy Programs include:

Sustainable Development Principles:

The Commonwealth has released a set of Sustainable Development Principles that guide the creation and implementation of state agency policies and programs, as well as investments in land and infrastructure. Municipalities are also asked to modify their planning, regulatory, and funding actions to achieve consistency with the Principles.

The state's Sustainable Development Principles include promoting clean energy, in the form of energy efficiency and renewable power generation, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. They also encourage the creation of "pedestrian-friendly" districts and neighborhoods that mix commercial, civic, cultural, educational, and recreational activities with parks and homes. In regard to housing, the Principles call for building homes "near jobs, transit, and where services are available."

Technical and Financial Assistance:

Agencies provide expertise and assistance, as well as funding, to those who would like to plan, design, regulate, invest, and/or build smart growth/smart energy. Programs and staff from throughout state government have the expertise and ability to provide technical assistance to those interested in economic development, housing, energy, environment, transportation, and other areas. Providing communities with assistance to redraft their land use regulations is particularly important to achieving the Commonwealth's smart growth goals.

Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit:

This Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit is a focal point for state technical assistance efforts. The 22 modules in the Toolkit provide communities the information that they need to understand whether a particular zoning techniques is suited to realization of their goals, and to adopt regulations that have been adapted to their unique circumstance.

Land Conservation:

A balanced approach to smart growth requires both land conservation and the concentration of development. Therefore, the Commonwealth invests in land preservation in order to provide urban parks, preserve habitat, conserve working lands, and achieve other natural resource protection goals.

Smart Energy:

Recognizing the importance of reducing fossil fuel dependency and the connection between land use and energy consumption the Commonwealth, led by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, is pursuing a variety of policies and programs to encourage energy conservation, efficiency, renewable energy generation, and clean energy technologies.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI):

The Commonwealth participates in the RGGI cap-and-trade program, a cooperative effort by Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (the most abundant greenhouse gas) from electrical power plants. Scientists predict that climate change could raise sea levels, change precipitation, and impact other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could in turn alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies as well as affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. To address this critical environmental issue, beginning in 2009 the RGGI participating states will implement a regional cap-and-trade system, requiring electric power generators in participating states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate Registry:

Massachusetts joined 31 states, one Native American tribe, and two Canadian provinces as founding members of The Climate Registry, a multi-state effort to track greenhouse gas emissions. A newly formed nonprofit organization will assist in measuring, tracking, and verifying emissions of greenhouse gases, the gases that cause climate change. It will also provide the measurement and reporting infrastructure to support voluntary, mandatory, market-based and emissions reduction programs that are consistent across borders and industry sectors.

Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy:

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) has determined that the phrase "damage to the environment" as used in the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) includes the emission of greenhouse gases caused by projects subject to MEPA review. EEA has developed a new policy that requires large projects undergoing review by the MEPA Office to quantify the project's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and identify measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate such emissions. In addition to quantifying project-related GHG emissions, the Policy also requires proponents to quantify the impact of proposed mitigation in terms of emissions and energy savings.

Model Wind Bylaws:

EEA and the Dept of Energy Resources have developed and posted on the DOER website and included in the Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit model wind zoning bylaws to assist Massachusetts cities and towns in establishing reasonable standards for wind development. The agencies will work with interested parties to implement the bylaws. Click here to access the bylaws.

Chapter 43D - Expedited Permitting:

Chaired by the Commonwealth's Permitting Ombudsman, the Interagency Permitting Board reviews priority development site proposals from Massachusetts municipalities and then, through grants and technical assistance, helps them modify permitting processes for approved sites to provide efficient decisions on development proposals. Click here for information on Chapter 43D.

Growth Districts:

The Massachusetts Permit Regulatory Office, in partnership with municipalities, will work to identify appropriate locations for significant new growth, whether commercial, industrial, or mixed-use. In these locations the Commonwealth will work with community officials and property owners to make the district truly "development ready" with respect to local and state permitting, site preparation, infrastructure improvements, and marketing. The goal is to make suitable "growth districts" highly attractive to new development and truly competitive at a national and international level with respect to speed and ease of permitting. Click here for information on the Growth District Initiative.


These statutes provide a financial incentive to implement "smart growth zoning districts." These districts promote higher density housing and mixed-use development in appropriate places - city and towns centers, transit stops, and other highly suitable locations. Staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development as well as other agencies will aid communities in understanding and adopting smart growth districts pursuant to Chapter 40R. Click here for details on 40R. Click here for details on 40S.

Highway Design Manual:

The Commonwealth encourages use of the Massachusetts Highway Department Project Development and Design Guidebook that promotes context-sensitive design, accommodation of all transportation modes, and traffic calming. Produced through a collaborative process, it is among the most progressive in the country and reflects a focus on achieving smart growth via better day-to-day decisions. Click here to access the Guidebook.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD):

Mixed-use and high-density development designed to take advantage of transit can reduce energy consumption and provide needed housing and economic development in a smart growth consistent way. In order to promote transit oriented development the Commonwealth will plan and construct transit infrastructure such as the South Coast Rail line to Fall River and New Bedford. It will also encourage local governments to zone for TOD by providing technical assistance and a model bylaw and other information through the Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit.

In summary, policies, programs, and investments by state, regional, and local governments as well as corporations and individuals all play an important part in determining our quality of life, as well as that of future generations. The efforts outlined here are intended to ensure that state government effectively fulfills its responsibility to care for the natural and built environments of Massachusetts.