Sustainable Exterior Surfaces, Study Quantifies Benefits

Cool roofs and porous pavement are among the strategies touted in "Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, DC," authored by Capital E — focused on citywide adoption of smart surface technologies.

A new report, “Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, DC,” authored by Capital E, documents and quantifies the large-scale environmental, health, and economic benefits that the District of Columbia could gain from citywide adoption of smart surface technologies. Released today, 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 livability and cutting summer peak temperature, caused by the urban heat island effect. Partners in this work include the American Institute of Architects, the National League of Cities, DowntownDC BID, U.S. Green Building Council, 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 livability 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 undermanaged by cities and city planners, in turn costing cities billions of dollars from avoidable health-, energy- and stormwater-related costs while undermining livability and resilience and contributing to climate change. The 61 square miles of surface in Washington, DC include 16% roofs and over 24% 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.

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

  • Energy: Reduce electricity purchases from the grid by 8.5%, relative to 2013 consumption levels.
  • Water: Reduce stormwater 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% 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 green jobs in the District over 40 years.
  • Equity and Diversity: Improve livability, 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.

“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.”

Learn more about smart surface solutions and download the report from Capital E.

This report was created in partnership with USGBC, the American Institute of Architects, the Catholic Climate Conference, Casey Trees, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Department of Energy and Environment, the Department of General Services, DowntownDC BID, EcoDistricts, Enterprise Community Partners, Global Cool Cities Alliance, National Housing Trust, National League of Cities, and Rock Creek Conservancy.

The report was funded by the District of Columbia Department of General Services (DGS) and the Department of Energy and Environment.