Smart Surface Technologies Could Save DC $5 Billion

January 4, 2017

Smart surface technologies, such as green roofs, could save Washington DC $5 billion

A recent study says that smart surface technologies could save Washington, D.C. $5 billion over 40 years. The report,  Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, D.C., authored by Capital E, documents and quantifies the large-scale environmental, health and economic benefits that smart surface technologies could provide.

“How cities manage the sunlight and rain that falls on them has a huge impact on inhabitants’ health and quality of life,” the report begins. “But city leaders and planners generally do not manage or even think about their city’s rain and sun in a systematic way and, as a result, mismanage or undermanage these two great natural gifts. This mismanagement costs cities billions of dollars in unnecessary health, energy-, and stormwater-related costs, degrades city comfort, livability and resilience, and contributes to climate change.”

Smart surface technologies include the use of green roofs, cool roofs, photovoltaics, and porous pavements.

“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.”

The quoted $5 billion in savings is from avoided health care, energy, and stormwater processing costs. Cleaner air, cooler temperatures, and more controlled stormwater flow will reduce the size of the systems designed to handle this issue. According to the study, over 40 years this could reach $5 billion just in the Washington, D.C. area.

“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. [emphasis added]

“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.”

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

  • Energy: Reduce electricity purchases from the grid by 8.5 percent, 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 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 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.

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

Source and Photos: USGBC, DepositPhotos



    Dawn Killough

    has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.