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The World’s First LEED Platinum City

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wikimedia Commons

By George Harvey

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), was designed to help builders and renovators achieve high standards of human and environmental health in their structures. It is said to be the best known and the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

The system has grown rapidly, since its start in 1994. Numerous programs for specific building types or areas were developed over the years. In 2009, USGBC began working on LEED for Neighborhood Development, which was launched the following year. More recently, in 2016, two programs were developed, LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities. Like the original projects focused on buildings, those for neighborhoods, cities, and communities are awarded ratings of Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, with Platinum being the highest level of achievement.

In August, the USGBC announced that it had awarded LEED Platinum status to a city for the first time. Somewhat to the surprise of some people, the world’s first LEED Platinum city is Washington, D.C. (

LEED for Cities certification is based on outcomes, rather than intentions. It is evaluated on an ongoing basis. The metrics used cover energy, transportation, waste, and water. Additionally, there is focus on the human experience, including prosperity, equity, health, safety, and education. The performance is tracked using Arc (, to provide transparency and monitor progress.

In Washington, D.C., an event to present the LEED Platinum certification to the district was held on the steps of the Dunbar High School, which has the highest LEED certification rating of any school in the United States. It is, however, one of three LEED Platinum schools in Washington. There are sixteen other schools in the district that are LEED certified at other levels.

The award was presented to the District of Columbia’s Mayor Muriel Bowser by Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO of the USGBC. Much of the credit for the award goes to actions taken under her tenure. “Washington, DC is setting the bar for smart cities all around the world by leveraging technology and data to achieve sustainability and resiliency goals, creating healthy and safe communities where citizens can thrive,” said Ramanujam.

Today, 58% of all commuting in Washington D.C. is either on public transportation or by human power, walking or biking. Of the district neighborhoods, very nearly two-thirds are walkable. The district is building one of the largest solar arrays every established by a U.S. city. It has made one of the largest power purchase agreements ever entered into by a city in this country. All buildings run by the district government are powered 100% by renewable energy. The hope is that over half of all electricity used within the district will be provided from renewable sources by 2032, as the residents and businesses follow the district government’s lead.

The guidance behind these achievements came from plans and programs established very recently. Climate Ready DC is a plan that was launched last year so the district could better adapt to a changing climate in which heat waves, storms, and flooding will be more dangerous. This year, after President Trump abandoned the country’s leadership position on the Paris Climate Accord goals, the district announced it would seek to achieve those goals, at a minimum.

It appears that there are some people in Washington D.C. we can be proud of.

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