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Sustainable DC
Built Environment

Built Environment

Built Environment
Built Environment

2012 Home Price: $345,000, Rent: $2,357. 2018 Home Price: $575,800, Rent: $2,600

The District’s population is approximately 700,000 people—an 11 percent increase since 2013, when the Sustainable DC Plan was first developed. All District residents need healthy, safe and affordable places to live, work and play, even as the District continues to be one of the most expensive cities in the country. Simultaneously, climate change continues to be an increasingly serious threat with 75 percent of emissions in the District coming from buildings; the District’s buildings—both new and existing—must become more energy efficient to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are contributing to the atmosphere. The District Government must ensure that the built environment—meaning the city’s human-made components like housing, utility lines, stores, and roadways—is sustainable, equitable, and resilient to the harmful effects of the changing climate.

The District Government has already made strides in shifting the built environment toward greater sustainability, becoming the first LEED Platinum City in the world in 2017. However, sustainability is not sustainable without inclusivity, and there is more work to be done to be sure that the city’s growth benefits all residents. While the District is experiencing rapid development and growth, there is tension between this growth and the real need for adequate affordable housing. More generally, increasing density throughout the city will help accommodate incoming residents and provide housing-insecure residents with homes—without displacing existing residents.

Sustainable DC 2.0’s actions on the built environment have real benefits for Washington, DC at all levels:

Individual: Sustainable DC 2.0 aims to grow the city equitably, meaning that the actions aim to help residents find opportunities to reduce their utility bills and increase access to affordable housing. The plan also identifies ways to integrate the workforce into job opportunities in the built environment.

Neighborhood: Sustainable DC 2.0 strives to build and strengthen neighborhoods based on each area’s existing characteristics. Neighborhoods with high-capacity transit options would benefit from increased density, so more residents have access to public transit. Neighborhoods with fewer services like grocery stores would benefit t from stronger commercial corridors. Neighborhoods across the city will be able to take advantage of sustainability programs.

District: Actions in the Built Environment section of Sustainable DC 2.0 make buildings healthier and more energy and water-efficient through data collection, regulation, and incentives. While some actions target only the largest buildings with the biggest environmental footprint, others apply to all buildings, recognizing that it will take a citywide effort to reach the District’s sustainability goals.

Sustainable DC Built Environment Goals:

  • Sustainably and equitably accommodate future population growth within the District.
  • Strengthen existing neighborhoods to be vibrant and walkable while maintaining their historic character.
  • Improve the performance of existing buildings by reducing energy and water use, advancing health, and increasing livability.


  • Ensure the highest standards of building performance and operation for all new construction, including netzero energy use, while advancing health and overall livability.

Where We Are

The District Government has launched a number of programs and has made significant citywide investments in creating and preserving affordable housing. Learn more about all of these programs at

On May 10, 2019, Mayor Bowser signed an order directing District agencies to address housing affordability in the District of Columbia. To start, the District needs to create 36,000 new residential units by 2025 with at least 12,000 affordable for low-income residents to ensure all residents can live in the city without being burdened by housing costs. An additional 7,200 affordable homes need to be preserved. Learn more about the Mayor’s Order on Housing here. In October 2019, the Housing Equity Report was released, providing goals by neighborhood for the equitable distribution of affordable housing in Washington, DC. Read the Housing Equity Report here

For example, the Inclusionary Zoning affordable housing program develops mixed-income communities by requiring new residential development to include affordable units. These developments support households of diverse incomes and boost the number of consumers for neighborhood businesses. Passed in 2018, the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) guarantees tenants’ rights to organize to purchase the property if a landlord expresses interest in selling.

Clean Energy DC and Climate Ready DC, the city’s energy and climate action plan, both include sections dedicated to reducing energy use in buildings and increasing renewable energy generation.

The city has strengthened green building requirements through the original Sustainable DC Plan, the Green Building Act and the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018. As a part of the Clean Energy DC Act, Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) were set forth, mandating continuously improving energy efficiency in buildings over 50,000 square feet. Learn more about BEPS here

In 2019, DOEE and the Historic Preservation Review Board released guidelines for sustainability in historic buildings, including to incorporate solar and green roofs in ways that retain historic building characteristics.

There's More

The Built Environment goals also connect to goals in Energy, Transportation, Education, and Climate.

Read the entire Built Environment section below, or read the whole plan here.

Interested in creating or finding a career in these fields? Read more about available jobs and job training pathways here.

Want to volunteer with SDC as we work towards sustainability in the Built Environment? Find out how here.


x: Zillow, 2018, as cited in Sustainable DC 2.0.