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Without Cool and Green Surfaces, Cities Leave Billions of Dollars on the Table

Posted by gcca on December 7, 2016

We have known for a long time that smarter roof choices significantly improve cities and the people who live and work in them. This new report from Washington DC’s municipal government and Capital E quantifies the benefits cool, green, and solar roofs make in efficiency, air quality, health, stormwater, urban heat reduction and shows that promoting such roof choices is an economic no-brainer. I hope more cities gain access to this type of local analysis in the future. The press release follows.

Today, 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 D.C. could gain from citywide adoption of smart surface technologies. The report documents how D.C. 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. Partners in this work include the American Institute of Architects, the National League of Cities, DowntownDC BID, the 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. D.C.’s 61 square miles of surface includes 16 percent roofs and over 24 percent paved area. As a result, D.C., 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 (GSA). “Delaying this transition would impose large financial and social costs particularly on places of lower economic opportunity, 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 D.C. 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 & Environment: By full implementation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 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 & Economy: Create more than 2,400 well-paying green jobs in the District over 40 years
  • Equity & Diversity: Improve livability, particularly in low-income areas that tend to have less green cover and efficient buildings
  • Health & Wellness: Improve air quality and 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 livability for its citizens, institutions and companies.

Kurt Shickman

About this Author

Kurt Shickman is the Executive Director of Global Cool Cities Alliance (GCCA) and the Cool Roofs and Cool Pavements Toolkit.