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Top 5 Ways Washington, DC is a Sustainable City

Meeting taking place on the Newseum terrace overlooking Washington, DC's museums and more

Discover what makes Washington, DC a sustainable destination for your next meeting, convention or event.

The nation’s capital boasts a range of practices and policies that make environmental accountability a priority for residents and visitors alike, allowing them to adopt sustainable measures more readily than other cities. With closeness to a diverse range of national parks, including the National Mall, residents are often found walking to their next destination. Explore the top five ways in which Washington, DC is a top sustainable city for your next event.

1 Environmentally-Friendly Infrastructure

Sustainable hotels and venues in Washington, DC - Find LEED-certified, green, eco-friendly hotels and venues for meetings and events in DC

Washington, DC was the first of more than 100 cities globally to achieve a Platinum Rating in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Cities Certification in 2017, in part due to the city having the most LEED-certified buildings in the U.S., according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED for Cities was launched in 2016 and enables cities to measure and communicate performance, focusing on outcomes from ongoing sustainability efforts across an array of metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience. The District boasts a plethora of LEED certified hotels and venues in the nation’s capital and sustainable spaces in each quadrant.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU)’s 62,000-square-foot headquarters is the first-ever net zero energy renovation of an existing building in DC. “Net zero energy” means the total amount of energy utilized by the facility is equal to or less than the amount of energy generated onsite through the use of technologies and renewable power generation. In turn, this reduces waste, water and energy consumption to almost zero and helps the city greatly reduce its carbon footprint. Some of the strategies that the AGU building put in place to fulfill this goal of being a net zero energy building include 700 rooftop solar panels, a municipal sewer heat exchange system and a water reclamation cistern, which collects rainwater from the roof.

Waterfronts in and around DC - Discover boat cruises, tours and more from The Wharf to National Harbor and everywhere in between

Washington, DC’s LEED Platinum certification recognizes the city’s leadership in creating a sustainable and resilient environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, supporting clean energy innovation and focusing on livability in all eight wards. Over the past two and a half years, Mayor Bowser’s administration has released Climate Ready DC, which was entered into one of the largest municipal onsite solar projects in the U.S.; launched Sustainable DC 2.0, and, most recently, signed the Clean Energy DC Act in December 2018, the nation’s first 100 percent renewable energy bill and the most aggressive, fastest-acting climate change legislation in the country.

2 Walkability and Sustainable Transportation

People walking along Georgetown Waterfront Park on a sunny afternoon in Washington, DC

With 40-plus hotels within walking distance of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the ease of commuting within the nation's capital is a key benefit for business travelers. DC sets the scene for sustainable commuting. In fact, 58 percent of commuter trips in DC are by bike, walking or public transit and the DC Government is 100 percent powered by renewable energy, according to USGBC.

AGU recently hosted 28,000 attendees for its 2018 fall meeting in Washington, DC without the use of a shuttle. "We selected Washington, DC in large part because the city is so walkable and has excellent public transportation,” said Lauren Parr, vice president of meetings, AGU. "AGU never shuttles for large meetings as it’s a carbon and financial expenditure that we don’t wish to incur, and we had excellent feedback from our attendees on what a great walking city DC is. DC was a great choice for AGU and it’s a great choice for any planner looking to leverage the local transportation options and eliminate shuttles." Many meeting planners continue to look at Washington, DC as a city that doesn’t need shuttles, and is walkable and convenient for attendees.

@poodz - Capital Bikeshare riders on Washington Monument grounds - Summer activities in Washington, DC

Washington, DC was the first city in North America to launch a bikeshare system, which now has more than 4,000 bikes and 500 stations. Capital Bikeshare is one of the most popular ways to commute throughout the city and it’s easy to obtain and return a bike at one of hundreds of stations.

As an alternative to traditional diesel fuel, buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) produce roughly 45 percent less hydrocarbons, making them an attractive option for green meetings and events. In Washington, DC, more than 1,400 buses operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) run on alternative fuel that is less harmful to the environment, including CNG, advanced technology diesel fuel, and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. In addition, the DC Circulator is free (until Oct. 1, 2019 when $1 fares are implemented) for all riders along six routes designed for easy-on, easy-off access at points of interest throughout the District. The Circulator services Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Woodley Park, U Street and Capitol Hill.

Washington, DC’s environmental friendliness has a lot to do with its green space, as home to the National Park Service that operates various hiking trails, Memorial Parks, National Mall, Rock Creek Park, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and more.

3 Sustainable Restaurants

Meeting at the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown - Small meetings in Washington, DC

The term “farm-to-table” has moved beyond a trend to a standard at local restaurants. Many DC restaurants have expanded their sustainability awareness with biodynamic agriculture, local farming and more that goes far beyond the kitchen. Right Proper Brewing Company is run completely on solar power, producing almost all the company’s consumed electricity. The company also uses LED lights in the tasting rooms and production facilities and gives spent grain away for free to local farmers. The Fairmont Washington DC Georgetown is another great example, home to over 100,000 honeybees, which enhance the hotel’s culinary program providing over 150 pounds of honey annually. The honey harvested from the rooftop beehives is used in soups, salad dressings, pastries, ice cream, cocktails and in the hotel’s signature honey walnut bread. Urbana, located in the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Washington DC is also committed to being a leader in sustainability with a rooftop garden that yields produce for garden composting and the hotel’s work with DC Public Schools on cooking programs using herbs and produce from Urbana’s garden surplus.

4 Waste Reduction

Founding Farmers restaurant in Washington, DC - LEED-certified dining venue in Washington, DC

Washington, DC has taken many steps to reducing consumption, reusing materials and recycling eligible waste throughout the city. In January 2010, the District encouraged residents to use reusable bags by implementing a five-cent charge for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag purchased at a business selling food or alcohol. The majority of the proceeds from the carryout bag fee go into the new Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund.

In January 2016, the city banned the use of food service products made of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as foam. Mayor Muriel Bowser supports “Our Last Straw,” a coalition of businesses, environmental organizations, and residents seeking to eliminate the use of single-use plastic straws. In January 2019, the District implemented fines for single-use plastic straws and stirrers, which continues to help the city move towards being a leader in sustainability. The Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE)’s RiverSmart programs help to reduce stormwater runoff that harms the District’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, while also providing financial incentives for District property owners who install green infrastructure such as rain barrels, green roofs, rain gardens and more.

Brunch at Farmers and Distillers in Chinatown - Where to get the best brunch in Washington, DC

Adding to its various sustainable initiatives, Urbana is the first DC restaurant to use Bio-Digester, a food waste technology that converts food scraps into grey wastewater. Farmers Restaurant Group, the brand that runs Farmers & Distillers, Farmers Fishers Bakers and Founding Farmers, makes sustainability its mission and was named one of the “10 Most Sustainable Restaurants in America” by HuffPost in 2016. The brand has in-house recycling and composting programs that keep 90 percent of waste out of landfills and uses Energy Star qualified appliances and monitors, low-flow faucet aerators, refurbished-recycled materials in furniture and green cleaning products throughout all its restaurants.

5 Eco-Friendly Catering

Lobster and corn wonton crisps from Ridgewells Catering - Environmentally-friendly catering in the Washington, DC area

Many catering companies in DC are socially-sensitive businesses with eco-friendly practices that support local businesses, incorporate green recycling programs and produce eco-friendly offerings. Windows Catering Company focuses on green initiatives such as waste reduction, using pre-consumer waste composting as a standard practice. Occasions Caterers is one of the top catering company for events in the nation’s capital and works closely with The Green Restaurant Association, a national environmental organization that assists the company in implementing eco-friendly on-site practices. In 2008, Occasions was recognized as the nation’s first Certified Green Restaurant Caterer because of the company’s green initiatives, including a water filtration and bottling system, biodegradable service ware, local and sustainable ingredients and a water conservation system. Geppetto Catering, Ridgewells Catering, RSVP Catering, Design Cuisine and Main Event Caterers are among other companies that strive to reduce their impact on the environment and provide high quality sustainable food and beverage service for every DC meeting and convention.

From reducing greenhouse gas emissions to supporting clean energy innovation, check out why DC is a top destination for green meetings.