One of EESI’s favorite ways to inform federal policymakers about the benefits of sustainable energy and development, including energy efficient “green” buildings, is by showcasing examples from various cities and communities. We don’t need to look far. In 2014, the District of Columbia had more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building square footage per capita than any other large U.S. city. So far in 2015, D.C. ranks first in the number of EPA ENERGY STAR buildings. For newly elected D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the environment continues to be a top priority. Her “Green D.C.” initiative continues the evolution from green building ratings to green building codes –– i.e., the universal language of design and construction professionals.

The District’s green building revolution began with the Green Building Act of 2006, which required non-residential buildings to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver rating. This policy decision brought national attention to Washington D.C.’s Green Buildings Division. The Division has approved 102 new LEED certified projects, totaling 17,716,622 LEED square feet in the District and 29.44 LEED square feet per capita, the most out of all large cities in the United States.

The District also implemented a Green Construction Code (GCC) in 2014 which adopted the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the international Code Council’s model code, along with over 100 D.C. specific amendments. The District’s GCC applies to all new commercial construction greater than or equal to 10,000 square feet, and new residential construction at least 10,000 square feet and four stories tall. Contractors can satisfy GCC requirements by certifying new buildings through LEED, Enterprise Green Communities, ASHRAE 189.1, or ICC-700.

Washington D.C. gains community support for green buildings through its Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU). The Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 created the SEU as part of the District Department of Environment (DDOE). The SEU “helps District residents, businesses, and institutions save energy and money through energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.” It serves as a resource for residents to learn about energy efficiency and a link to local partners who provide affordable, clean energy for local housing.

Reducing energy consumption in our nation’s buildings helps cut carbon emissions and costs to businesses, proving that sustainability makes both environmental and economic sense. Thanks in large part to the example of Washington D.C.’s local green building initiatives, energy efficiency is making its way into the national policy conversation. Energy efficiency has bipartisan support in Congress and is winning champions on both sides of the aisle. If policymakers on Capitol Hill were to visit and experience the successful green buildings in their backyard, even more would understand the multiple benefits of sustainability, such as low energy costs, comfort, improved public health, and resilience. Maybe then they would insist that public policies encourage and facilitate—or least not impede—green buildings.


Author: Rachael Shook