Life in the DowntownDC ecoDistrict

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

By Rachel Rose Hartman

Picture this. In the morning, you grab a Capital Bikeshare bike to work, safely cruise down a dedicated bike lane separated from cars and head to your office. At your office, you find recycling bins at every printer and you hear about a new energy-efficient HVAC being installed. For lunch, you stop at a nearby farmers' market and bring your meal to Franklin Park to enjoy, recycling your soda bottle in the blue can on the corner as you finish. 
 
This is life in the DowntownDC ecoDistrict, and you're the reason why we are working every day to make life here more sustainable and more remarkable.
 
The entire 138-block area of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), which stretches west from 16th Street to Louisiana Avenue on the east and from Massachusetts Avenue on the north to Constitution Avenue south, was designated by the BID as an ecoDistrict in 2011 as part of an effort to enhance living, working and visiting Downtown and offer a boost to business and property owners. 
 
It's no secret that people want to live, work and play in a place that is clean and green, safe and healthy, and where it's easy to get around. That quality of life is at the heart of why the BID has made a commitment to sustainability by creating an ecoDistrict, a designated area committed to accelerating neighborhood-scale sustainability, which means better energy, water, waste and transportation management.
 
In the three years since the creation of the ecoDistrict, sustainability has become an integral part of the DowntownDC community, which is now home to award-winning LEED certified buildings, park revitalization, a record-breaking bike share system and more. It's all taking place within DowntownDC’s Buildings, Transportation and its Community.
Find out more about ecoDistricts at the following upcoming event:
  • Sept 24-26, EcoDistricts Summit: Hobnob with the world’s most innovative city makers at the sixth annual EcoDistricts Summit held this year in the heart of DowntownDC. Washington, D.C.’s innovation will be on full display as District projects become teaching tools for the world as part of the summit’s “District of Collaboration” theme, exploring how EcoDistricts remake cities and improve sustainability across the world.
 
BUILDINGS
Sustainability in DowntownDC starts and ends with the approximately 550 office, residential and retail buildings located in the BID area. The sheer size and number of buildings in the BID means that sustainability at the building level offers a huge impact to DowntownDC, which trickles down to employees and the community at large.
 
The General Services Administration (GSA) is a key player in the effort to increase sustainability in the BID because GSA owns 30 percent of the buildings. GSA has been a leader in demands for sustainability in D.C. and a driver of change. That is one reason why GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini was chosen to keynote the April 1 Building Energy Summit, hosted by the DowntownDC BID and CoR Advisors
 
"Energy efficiency has to be an important part of what we do," Tangherlini said at the summit, referencing President Barack Obama's 2009 executive order calling on federal agencies to improve their environmental, energy and economic performance. "Since 2009, we’ve nearly doubled the green-registered buildings in our portfolio," Tangherlini said.
 
Tangherlini stressed that sustainability today should impact every facet of an office from the way we work, to our building systems, and even our proximity.
 
GSA's own efforts have helped the ecoDistrict reach its goals of improving the sustainability of BID buildings. In another effort to encourage higher building performance, the ecoDistrict supported the city's commitment to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Better Buildings Challenge in 2010, which aims to collectively reduce the District's energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. Energy efficiency lowers costs for building owners and managers, makes buildings more profitable and attractive, and it supports the environment. The ecoDistrict is on track to reach that goal, having reduced consumption by 7 percent from 2010-2012 at the same time that the number of occupants in those buildings increased by 30 percent!
 
For a building, sustainability can mean a number of things: Resource energy-efficient plumbing lighting and trash and recycling systems; updating the HVAC system; changing how a building's cooling towers operate; water refiltration; landscape changes and more.  
 
Several DowntownDC buildings recently invested in sustainability and not only have they received awards for their efforts, they've saved a substantial amount of money and they're reaping added benefits related to customer satisfaction.
 
Guests staying at the Hotel Monaco (700 F Street NW) often espouse the beautiful fabrics and the historic grandeur they encounter, but comments about lighting and temperature were of concern to hotel management. Following energy efficient upgrades to the hotel, they are now reporting reductions in complaints related to room lighting and temperature. 
 
Hotel Monaco, which is a General Services Administration (GSA)-owned historic building, is projected to save $350,000 in 2013 on energy costs and reduce its energy usage by 21 percent following upgrades that prompted it to be chosen as a showcase building for the Better Buildings Challenge, which encourages energy efficiency and more sustainable practices. 
 
Macy's (1201 G Street NW) is also reporting that after their own energy upgrades, guests traversing their five floors of apparel, accessories and home goods are indicating an improved customer experience related to lighting and temperature.
 
Macy's, which was also chosen as a Better Buildings Challenge showcase building for 2013, reduced energy usage by 30 percent following a $210,000 investment in energy upgrades. That resulted in projected savings of $223,450 in 2013. 
 
Not every office building is the same, which is part of what makes Downtown unique and special, and no sustainable plan is the same. Building owners and property managers are finding many ways to implement cost savings through sustainable practices.
 
The BID is home to a record 99 LEED Certified projects, including two new platinum certified projects in 2013. The McPherson Building (901 15th Street NW) and the offices for architecture and engineering firm SmithGroup (901 K Street NW) were awarded platinum certification and the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) received gold certification of their rehab of the D.C. Court Building (410 E Street NW).
 
SmithGroup's sustainable design elements, which include a "paperless" office, a central cooling plant, occupancy light sensors, and an open design plan, has led to $900,000 in annual savings. The Court Building implemented energy efficient Mechanical, Engineering and Plumbing (MEP) systems, HVAC system and new lighting systems.
 
Energy improvements are being experienced across the BID. Thirty-seven office buildings within the DowntownDC ecoDistrict are local members of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Greenprint Center alliance of real estate owners, investors and strategic partners committed to sustainability. This set of buildings reduced their energy usage by 4.8 percent from 2009 to 2012 and reduced their carbon emissions by 4.2 percent over the same period despite experiencing a 33 percent increase in the number of full-time employees (FTE's). 
 
Improved building sustainability furthers the goals of the DC Smarter Business Challenge, a partnership established between the BID and the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) to help and support building owners and tenants to improve energy efficiency and save money. The Challenge is being expanded citywide in 2014 as a primary business engagement tool for Mayor Vincent Gray's Sustainable DC plan for the District.
 
Taking sustainability internationally, the DowntownDC BID has established an important partnership with ULI Greenprint. With the BID's help, ULI Greenprint is currently preparing their first Metro Washington D.C. Office Building Performance Report, which will provide for the first time globally comparable data about D.C.'s environmental performance and a smaller subset of the BID area. This report will set benchmarks and can be used as a tool to inform and support future sustainability efforts.
 
The BID works with partners to promote sustainability in Downtown, educating property managers and other stakeholders on sustainable practices, holding sessions on storm water management and other topics. The ecoDistrict has also helped create sustainable events, such as a Sustainable Restaurant Seminar in collaboration with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW).
 
Find out more about sustainable buildings at the following upcoming events:
  • May 7-9, Better Buildings Summit: At the DOE's Better Buildings Challenge Summit, leading organizations will showcase the most innovative energy efficiency solutions. Speakers from commercial, industrial, public and multifamily sectors will share how best to save on utility costs. The DowntownDC BID is a Better Buildings partner and supporter.
  • June 4, Current Issues in Sustainability Seminar:  The Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) and the DowntownDC BID  will host a panel discussion on current sustainability issues facing the D.C. area’' commercial and multifamily properties. Our panelists will discuss how property managers, tenants, and service providers can most effectively work together. We’ll explore what’s currently working and how we can improve on areas of “disconnects.”  We’ll also discuss the most challenging issues of tracking and tenant engagement.

TRANSPORTATION

By far, the stories we write that garner the most attention are those about transportation!  We suspect that it may have something to do with the passionate bike community in D.C. or perhaps the city planners we have worked with over the years at the D.C. Office of Planning (OP), the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and DDOE championing for sustainable transportation options in the city.  We are very proud to say we were a part of many of the citywide transportation programs such as Capital Bikeshare and the D.C. Circulator.  
 
Today, a DowntownDC resident, worker or visitor has a full panoply of available transportation options from which to choose that are all sustainable: Metro, Metrobus, D.C. Circulator, bicycling, and walking and they're available rain or shine.
 
Reducing DowntownDC’s carbon footprint is part of the mission of the ecoDistrict, and promoting Downtown’s multi-modal transportation helps accomplish that goal. 
 
In 2012, 55 percent of D.C. commuters on average chose transportation other than a car for their commute: 41 percent used public transit, 13 percent walked and 4 percent biked to work, according to the American Community Survey. The Sustainable DC goal is to increase the number of non-automobile commuters to 75 percent in 2032 with 50 percent of commuters utilizing public transit, and 25 percent walking or biking.
 
It's not uncommon for Capital Bikeshare to see heavy usage on a beautiful sunny day as commuters use their system to get to and from work, tourists use them to check out the monuments and others are happy to have a way to get around midday that is healthy and efficient. But Capital Bikeshare also sees high usage during inclement weather: when snowstorms this past winter interrupted much public transit service and made roads difficult to navigate, Capital Bikeshare saw their bikes being used to help people get around the city. 
 
Today, the Capital Bikeshare system offers over 1800 bikes at more than 200 stations in the District and in areas of Maryland and Virginia and the BID is proud to have helped found what is today the current bikeshare program.
 
Transportation infrastructure improvements are a key element of the DowntownDC ecoDistrict program. In addition to bike sharing, bicycling in DowntownDC has been made easier by the availability of dedicated bike routes. DDOT, in partnership with the BID, has increased the number of dedicated bike routes in Downtown and augmented them to provide safe and convenient routes as a means of encouraging sustainable transportation for workers, residents and visitors. 
 
Instead of competing with drivers, cyclists are separated from vehicles on 15th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and L Street with flexible posts, painted barriers and parked cars. 
 
With more people using bikes for transportation, personal bike parking has been an issue in Downtown. Locking a bike to a parking meter, for example, can create problems for th cyclists as well as for the public, who might be dodging bikes parked in areas to be used by pedestrians or cars. 
 
To help combat that issue, the ecoDistrict in partnership with DDOT is currently implementing a three-year plan to double the number of bicycle racks in DowntownDC. Last year, 145 bike racks were installed between 6th and 11th streets as part of Phase 1 of the program. The installation of 175 racks between 11th and 16th streets is scheduled to take place in the summer of 2014.
 
If biking's not your thing and you want an accessible, cheap and timely transportation option, you can wait at one of the many D.C. Circulator stops located throughout the city. 
 
The Circulator launched in 2005 as a transit alternative that was accessible, affordable and helped quickly transport riders to key locations. Today, the Circulator still costs $1 per ride and serves millions every year. The Circulator reported 5.7 million riders in the year 2012.
 
The BID serves as the management entity for DC Surface Transit Inc. (DCST) which markets and plans Circulator service and exists as a partnership between the DowntownDC, Georgetown and Golden Triangle BIDs, DDOT, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation (WCTC).  
 
Find out more about sustainable transportation at the following upcoming event:
  • May 16, Bike to Work Day: The ecoDistrict will once again sponsor the biggest Bike to Work Day pit stop in D.C. at Freedom Plaza (14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW). All are invited to show up for t-shirts, prizes, snacks, guest speakers and more. The 2013 Freedom Plaza pit stop drew 900 cyclists.

HEALTHY COMMUNITIES
 
Who wouldn’t want to live, work and spend time in a place that has green space, is clean, has activity outdoors and is all around fun to be a part of? Those are just some of the many added benefits of increasing sustainability in a community.
 
The BID recognizes that a sustainable community improves the quality of life for everyone and adds value to properties that are part of that community. To that end, the BID works daily to make DowntownDC a healthy destination. 
 
Imagine a park with an interactive fountain, a children's play area, a café and restrooms and it's right in your own neighborhood. Those elements have been incorporated into several of the designs being floated for Franklin Park (13th and K streets NW) which at nearly 5 acres stands as the BID's largest park. Franklin Park has languished in recent years, but recognizing the potential and need for a revitalized park, the ecoDistrict has become a major player in the effort to renovate and reimagine this green space.
 
A major renovation plan for Franklin Park is currently underway, facilitated by the National Park Service (NPS), OP, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the BID. The public has been involved through each step of the planning process, contributing to a greater sense of community and extending the sustainability mission behind the park to a wider audience. 
 
This spring, the preferred design will be selected and it will be presented at the next public meeting to be scheduled this summer.
 
Simultaneously, the BID and the ecoDistrict are working to enliven the park with dynamic programming including “Workout Wednesdays” in the summer and “Picnics in Franklin Park" in the fall. 
 
Overall, green space significantly contributes to the mission of sustainability. The BID serves as a “Canopy Keeper” for newly planted and one-year trees adjacent to parks and recruits property managers to do the same. This has increased the number of living trees in tree pits in the BID. Canopy Keepers agree to care for and monitor specific trees.
 
The BID also supports efforts to enjoy outdoor green space in Downtown. By sponsoring the FRESHFARM Markets, which bring local farmers to Downtown and other areas, the BID encourages sustainable living and promotes the use of outdoor space.
 
But what's green space without clean green space?
 
The BID also maintains trash and recycling cans in DowntownDC. The BID established the original public recycling program for Downtown with the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) and the American Beverage Association (ABA) in 2008. That effort was dramatically expanded in 2011 through a public-private partnership between the BID, DPW and PepsiCo. PepsiCo, through its nationwide Dream Machine recycling initiative, donated 300 recycling bins now in use throughout the BID as well as a three-year marketing effort for the recycling program.
 
The BID's Safety/Hospitality and Maintenance employees (SAMs) maintain DowntownDC's recycling bins and received specialized training on recycling and sorting. They also serve as on-the-street liaisons to educate people about public recycling and the Dream Machine program. In fiscal year 2013 (from Oct. 1 2012-Sept. 30 2013), SAMs helped divert 53,951 bags of recyclables. In 2012, 98.55 tons of recyclables were diverted. 
 
Whether it's trash pickup or bike lanes or helping your building win environmental certification, the BID and the ecoDistrict are working daily to make DowntownDC a place where you want to live, work and play. Sustainability sweetens that goal by helping the environment and making life better for future generations. 
 
So the next time you're Downtown, take a look around. That recycling can, that Circulator bus, your lights and water usage at work, sustainability is all around you. You have the opportunity every day to be part of the sustainability movement that we're working so hard to build. Join us!
 
Find out more about sustainable communities at the following upcoming events:
  •  April/May and through the fall, Farmers Markets: Weekly FRESHFARM farmers' markets will be opening in the DowntownDC BID on April 3 in Penn Quarter at 8th Street between D and E streets NW and near the White House on April 10 at 810 Vermont Ave NW. Both markets will be open Thursdays. The Capital Harvest on the Plaza (CHOP) farmers market will also be returning to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center's (1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW) Woodrow Wilson Plaza on Fridays beginning May 9. http://www.freshfarmmarkets.orghttp://capitalharvestdc.com
  • May and through the fall, Picnics in Franklin Park: Look for red and white checkered blankets in Franklin Park on Fridays at lunchtime beginning in May. (Weather permitting.) Enjoy your lunch from home, a store, restaurant or food truck in the serenity and shade of DowntownDC's largest park. 
  • May 31-June 1, Green Festival: Take part in America’s largest and longest-running sustainability and green living event, which this year will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (801 Mount Vernon Place NW). Enjoy cooking demonstrations, activities for children, live music, guest speakers and shop in their giant marketplace of 300-plus eco-friendly businesses. http://www.greenfestivals.org/wdc
  • June-August 2014, Workout Wednesdays: Enjoy free weekly workouts this summer in Franklin Park as part of Workout Wednesdays, produced by the DowntownDC BID. The event enlivens and supports Franklin Park, which is undergoing a major renovation, and promotes outdoor exercise and activity in the BID and helps you contribute to a healthier lifestyle. http://www.downtowndc.org/event-series/workout-wednesdays-franklin-park