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Sustainable City

Washington, D.C., is making great strides in its sustainability.

In July 2011, Mayor Vincent Gray announced the arrival of Sustainable D.C., a wide ranging plan that seeks to transform Washington, D.C., into the cleanest, greenest, healthiest city in America by 2032. And while it may sound like a tall order, Sustainable D.C. is already changing how residents live, work, eat and commute around the District.

Let’s look at five ways the nation’s capital is putting its grand plans into action.


In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Washington, D.C. has already made measurable progress: between 2006 and 2011, the city saw a 12.5 percent decrease. Now, Sustainable D.C. seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2032—along with an 80 percent reduction by 2050—by giving residents access to carbon footprint calculators and informing them of the environmental costs of goods and services. And by strictly enforcing regulations to curb idling engines, increasing the prevalence of low-emissions fleet vehicles and offering incentives to avoid driving on days with poor air quality, the program strives to eliminate all “unhealthy” air quality index days in the city.


The city spent $400 million to treat overweight and obese residents in 2004, but with Sustainable D.C., that figure will be firmly in the past. To reach its goal of reducing the citywide obesity rate by 50 percent, the District is improving access to parks and open spaces in all neighborhoods to encourage residents to engage in the array of healthful activities held in them. By 2032, access to parks and open space will be no more than a 10-minute walk away for all residents. And for commuters, the program aims to increase walking and biking as a means for transport for 25 percent of all commuter trips.


One of the foremost goals of Sustainable D.C. is cutting the District’s energy consumption in half by 2032. Meeting this target requires an array of initiatives, including auditing buildings’ energy use (which accounts for nearly 75 percent of energy use in D.C.), establishing performance standards for buildings and spending $500 million on renewable energy installations and retrofits in the next five years. Additionally, the District seeks to derive half of its energy supply from renewable energy sources by 2032, building 1,000 new residential and commercial renewable energy projects in the process.


To harness the efficiencies and economic benefits that come from local food producers, Sustainable D.C. seeks to obtain a quarter of the city’s food supply from within a 100-mile radius by creating mechanisms to connect residents and businesses with local and regional food growers. Also, D.C. plans to plant orchards on public lands to increase local food growth by 20 acres—in addition to the 26.5 acres of community gardens already under cultivation. This action will put 75 percent of residents within a quarter-mile of a fresh food source.


The District’s waterways are in dire straits—urban pollution enters the city’s rivers and streams through roughly 25 billion gallons of stormwater runoff each year—yet clean water is crucial to recreation and the health of animals and humans alike. To meet its goal of making all waterways fishable and swimmable by 2032, Sustainable D.C. calls for dredging and other traditional treatments, innovative solutions like using plants and shellfish to filter waterways and restricting the use of pesticides, road salts and other pollutants prone to entering the city’s waterways. The program also calls for increasing the city’s green roofs, which provide a host of benefits including reduced stormwater runoff from its current level of 1.5 million to 3.5 million square feet by 2018.

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