Is Washington the Greenest City? | Science | Smithsonian
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Is Washington the Greenest City?

The Energy Star label can be found on products ranging from washing machines to televisions to ceiling fans. It can also be found on buildings, at least virtually. The Environmental Protection Agency rates commercial buildings and manufacturing plants based on energy performance. Those that rank in...

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Smithsonian magazine lives in an Energy Star building (photo by Sarah Zielinski)




The Energy Star label can be found on products ranging from washing machines to televisions to ceiling fans. It can also be found on buildings, at least virtually. The Environmental Protection Agency rates commercial buildings and manufacturing plants based on energy performance. Those that rank in the top 25 percent can be labeled an Energy Star building.



The EPA last month listed the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star labeled buildings. Washington, D.C., with 204 (including the magazine's office building), came in second behind Los Angeles. But I would argue that we're really the greener city.



Washington has just 1/6 the population of LA; based on our size, we have more labeled buildings per person. We also have more LEED-certified buildings than all but three other cities, including Los Angeles, and we'll soon have even more. (LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System is a set of building standards created by the United States Green Building Council. LEED buildings are evaluated based on "energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.") Washington now requires all public buildings, all schools of a certain size and all privately-owned non-residential buildings of 50,000 square feet in size or larger to meet LEED standards.



Green building is catching on in Washington. Earlier this year, the Embassy of Finland became the first LEED-certified embassy in the country. And the move towards being green is paying off: the embassy now uses 50 percent less electricity and 65 percent less gas than it did eight years ago. They follow in the footsteps of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was the first building in the city to meet LEED-Gold standards.



Building greener is really not so hard, as Washington is proving, and we benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions and money saved by using less water and less energy. More cities should be like mine.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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