Report finds Washington could enhance liveability and save billions with smart surface tech

By Catherine Sturman
Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, D.C., a new report authored by Capital E, documents and quantifies the large-scale environmental, health and eco...

Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, D.C., a new report authored by Capital E, documents and quantifies the large-scale environmental, health and economic benefits that Washington, D.C. could gain from citywide adoption of smart surface technologies.

The report documents how the District could save $5 billion with smart surface strategies, such as cool roofs, green roofs, solar PV and porous pavements while enhancing health and liveability and cutting summer peak temperature.

Partners in this work include the American Institute of Architects, the National League of Cities, DowntownDC BID, USGBC, the National Housing Trust and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“This report represents a major step in understanding and quantifying the benefits of adopting cost-effective strategies to manage sun and rainfall at a city level,” said Greg Kats, lead author of the report.

“Increasing summer heat and smog threaten city liveability and summer tourists. This report provides a powerful framework to combat climate change while improving public health and saving money.”

Rainfall and the effects of sunlight are under managed by cities and city planners, in turn costing cities billions of dollars from avoidable health-, energy- and storm water-related costs while undermining liveability and resilience and contributing to climate change. The 61 square miles of surface in Washington, D.C. include 16 percent roofs and over 24 percent paved area.

As a result, the District, like most cities, suffers from higher summer temperatures and lower air quality than surrounding suburban and rural areas.

“What this report convincingly demonstrates is that there are cost-effective technologies and strategies for managing sun and water that will deliver billions of dollars in financial benefits to the city and its residents,” said Dan Tangherlini, former Washington, D.C., city administrator and former administrator of the U.S. General Service Administration.

“Delaying this transition would impose large financial and social costs, particularly on places of lower economic opportunity [and on] the elderly and children. We now have the roadmap—now we must follow it.”

Implementing these smart surface solutions city-wide would cost-effectively achieve a range of sustainability, liveability and competitiveness objectives, including:

  • Energy: Reduce electricity purchases from the grid by 8.5 percent, relative to 2013 consumption levels.
  • Water: Reduce storm water runoff to protect local water bodies while reducing potable water use.
  • Climate and Environment: By full implementation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 5.5 percent of 2013 emissions while enhancing resilience to climate change by reducing city temperatures
  • Built Environment: Improve sustainability performance of new and existing buildings.
  • Nature: Expand tree canopy and other green landscape to enhance city-wide ecosystem.
  • Jobs and Economy: Create more than 2,400 well-paying green jobs in the District over 40 years.
  • Equity and Diversity: Improve liveability, particularly in low-income areas that tend to have less green cover and fewer efficient buildings.
  • Health and Wellness: Improve air quality and the public health of District residents and visitors.

Broad deployment of these smart surfaces solutions would cost-effectively reduce health and energy costs citywide while increasing employment, resilience and liveability for its citizens, institutions and companies.

"Capital E helped make the business case for green building with its research in the early 2000s, and this new research is equally important in showcasing the sustainable built environment’s financial benefits at the city scale,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC. "The Achieving Urban Resilience report provides U.S. cities with an actionable framework to engage private sector partners on solutions to advance public health, equity and climate resilience."

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