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Sustainable DC and the District's Response to COVID-19

Five folks standing in front a cityscape of buildings and trees

Sustainable DC is working to meet sustainability goals while keeping District workers and residents safe during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. Below are some tips and resources to be sustainable during, and after, this emergency.

COVID-19 and Sustainability
COVID-19 has exposed many of the challenges the District is experiencing. As the District’s Health Equity Report shows, disparities in education, employment, housing, transportation, food environment, and outdoor environment are some of the largest factors in health disparities. Solving these challenges in a systematic way is where sustainability shines. Mayor Bowser is addressing these disparities in the District's reopening plans as well as in her sustainability initiatives like Sustainable DC. 


HEALTH: Sustainability is about developing more high-quality, safe and sustainable places to be healthy and active, and improving population health for all residents by addressing health disparities.

  • Social distancing and wearing face coverings or masks are the best ways you can prevent the spread of COVID-19! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helpful advice on making your own face covering or mask using everyday items found in your house. The Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) has other tips for keeping your home clean and safe.
  • Building livable buildings with good natural ventilation, sustainable and resilient power sources, and that are free of harmful chemicals can reduce asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  • Increasing healthy and affordable food access in underserved communities can improve well-being and alleviate risk from chronic diseases; COVID-19 showcases how these chronic diseases can exacerbate risk.
  • With limited safe options indoors, access to quality outdoor spaces is even more important. Currently, 97% of residents live in a 10-minute walk from a park. Sustainable DC 2.0 aims to protect and restore Washington, DC’s natural environment and to create more opportunities for residents to have better access to high-quality green spaces such as trails and parks.
  • Going forward, the District plans to prioritize community-driven strategies to ensure that these parks reflect resident preferences for physical activity and recreation and that all spaces are free of contamination and hazards.

OPPORTUNITY: Sustainability is about growing and diversifying the District’s economy, focusing on sustainability, climate, and resilience industries.

  • Green jobs pay well. The median hourly wage for solar installers in the District is $26, which equally 54,000 annually. US solar jobs increased by 25% in 2016.  These jobs take place largely outdoors, which is safer during the pandemic.
  • Sustainable DC recognizes that the highest unemployment rates are in Ward 7 and 8 among black residents. Smart, green job-training programs can be part of the solution. 
  • Our transit system is vital for getting people to where they need to go. Sustainable DC reports that traveling by public transit is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by automobile in terms of reducing crashes.  Right now the District needs more transit capacity to decrease overcrowding conditions that can spread disease.
  • At this time, we simply cannot have everyone take transit. Sustainable DC and Clean Energy DC identify priorities for increasing connected infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • We must also allow more people to telework to keep transit and roads open to those who need them. It is more important than ever to protect energy, water, telecommunications and other lifeline resources from climate impacts that could leave people without the resources they need. 

PROSPERITY: Sustainability is about the District equitably growing, reducing housing costs and strengthening neighborhoods to be vibrant and walkable.

  • Thanks to prior efforts, the District ranks seventh in walkability, and ninth in bike friendliness. However, more work is needed to provide vibrant outdoor and accessible places for all people.
  • Climate Ready DC identifies opportunities to make these spaces safer and more comfortable, such as increasing access to shade where the urban heat island is most severe.
  • The District Government offers innovative financing and generous financial incentives to help small businesses use less energy, install solar panel and green roofs, while other financing programs help business of any size tackle the costs of installing energy efficiency measures.
  • Before and during the COVID-19 emergency, the District has focused on meeting food access needs by sourcing from local farms, stores, and restaurants for emergency food needs.

EQUITY: Sustainability is about ensuring residents living in less affluent communities equally enjoy the benefits of a healthier, greener, more livable city.

  • Racial equity is an integral element of a truly sustainable city. Communities of color are more prone to experience deep and persistent gaps in income, health, employment, and education. Differences in factors across the city, including racial and economic segregation result in dramatic differences in life expectancy. As we strive to create a sustainable District, we must ensure residents living in less affluent communities equally enjoy the benefits of a healthier, greener, more livable city.  
  • Create an equity impact committee to guide equity in the implementation of Sustainable DC 2.0 and develop an Equity Impact Assessment Tool to help the District immediately address racial inequities
  • Focus community engagement on communities that have been historically under-represented.
  • Ensure that all residents have access to affordable, quality, and nutritious food. Expand and promote food assistance programs at grocery stores, farmers markets, and corner stores citywide.
  • Provide all students with meaningful environmental experiences. Given the relative safety of outdoor activities, camps and nature-based educational activities may be a unique opportunity to engage young people.
  • Increase equitable access to green and space and parks