While the current national administration is rolling back environmental initiatives, DC’s efforts to support and promote a green agenda are paying off. In an unprecedented coup, on Aug. 31, DC became the first city in the world to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Cities Platinum leadership certification in recognition for achieving sustainability and resiliency goals.
This award is given by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and is the highest award currently available to cities. Mayor Bowser received the award on behalf of the District, noting, “We are proud to be recognized as the world’s first LEED Platinum city. Our commitment to these issues will not yield, and we look forward to continuing to build a greener, more resilient, and more sustainable DC.”
Why has DC been honored with this auspicious award?
As of January 2017, DC touted more LEED-certified projects per capita than any other US state. But the District is a small geographic area, and it isn’t a state, so what else is going on to merit this award?
DC is monitoring and updating its Sustainable DC plan, a process initiated 2011 that establishes goals to ensure that DC is the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States by 2032. DC takes this commitment seriously.
For the third year in a row, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ranked DC first on its list of US metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star-certified buildings. Nationals Park is the nation’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified by the USGBC.
Meanwhile, as a part of an effort to reduce waste and improve conditions in the Anacostia River, DC touts a five-cent bag fee. Polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) is banned in DC restaurants and food trucks. As of January 2017, these businesses must use reusable or compostable containers for food service and takeout.
In July 2015, DC brokered an agreement to source 35 percent of the government’s electricity from wind power over the next 20 years, saving DC taxpayers $45 million while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A recently negotiated $100 million, five-year contract with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) will provide financial incentives and technical assistance to residents and businesses for green energy initiatives, while keeping DC on track to receive half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032.
A Climate Ready DC plan was launched in late 2016 and is helping the District adapt to climate change. While the US government announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, DC is one of 240 US cities that has committed to abide by the agreement – regardless of what the national government decides to do.
There are more green initiatives in the planning stage. A proposed DC Green Bank, which has been endorsed by Mayor Bowser, will help create green jobs, expand solar power, lower energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the District. In January 2018, a Mayor’s List of Recyclables will standardize what can be recycled across residential, commercial, and government sectors. There are hopes for curbside composting to start in the next few years.
Together, these initiatives are making a difference. The Sustainable DC plan sets a target of reducing greenhouse gases 50 percent by 2032, over 2006 levels, and by 80 percent by 2050. This can be challenging in a city that is welcoming an average of 900 new residents per month. But a 2013 study found that greenhouse gasses had been reduced by 23 percent across the District, keeping the city on track to meet these goals.
While greening is good, so is the overall well-being of DC residents. As Tommy Wells, director of DC’s Department of Energy & Environment, notes, “We’re very proud of the green initiatives and leadership that DC is taking on – across the US and even the world. But, we’re even more proud of the positive benefits that this greening brings to DC residents in terms of better air quality and a healthier physical environment for residents to live and work.”
Let’s celebrate this award, and keep making the swamp ever greener!
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member of the DC chapter of the Sierra Club and of Green America, but her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.