Study examines present-day policies and fiscal realities of zero energy, Living Buildings in Washington, DC

April 30 , 2014-–The District of Columbia Department of the Environment today released the findings of a recent study detailing how the District, already home to more green buildings per capita than other large cities, can best craft policy and create incentives to build zero energy, zero water and Living Buildings™.

The study, Net Zero and Living Building Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for the Buildings in the District of Columbia, was conducted by New Buildings Institute, International Living Future Institute and Skanska and conceptually transformed three LEED v3 Platinum designed buildings to net zero energy, net zero water and Living Buildings. Its scope focused on three commonly developed building types in the District: office new construction, multifamily new construction and office renovation.

“The findings in this report are eye-opening. It presents us with a policy framework that will help us achieve our goal to slash energy use to half of what it was in 2010 by 2032, and provides us with the data to back it up,” says Bill Updike, green building specialist for the District Department of the Environment. “The District has a history of leading on progressive green building policies. This report will aid our efforts to further advance the building industry toward more resilient, restorative facilities.”

Among the key financial and/or return on investment savings, the study found that:

  • For a 1 percent to 3 percent added initial cost of construction, new developments in the district could save up to 60 percent of their energy consumption.
  • The return on investment for deep energy efficiency is 6 percent to 12 percent and rises to 33 percent to 36 percent when modeled for net zero energy using solar power.
  • Advanced water conservation measures to reduce water consumption and storm water runoff from the buildings cost 1 percent to 3 percent, conserve 45 to 60 percent of the water usage and have a return on investment of 5 percent to 10 percent
  • Stormwater retention measures included in the costs mentioned above eliminate storm water runoff from most storm events and allow buildings to retain water during catastrophic storms, thus helping to make the District more resilient.

“One aspect of this study that makes it particularly compelling is that it is based on real projects in the District,” says Elizabeth Heider, Skanska’s chief sustainability officer. “We like to give a special thanks to Skanska Commercial Development and Transwestern for providing critical information that informs and gives credibility to our baseline assumptions.”

The report quantifies the investment needed to move the District closer to a more resilient, net zero future and recommends in part that District officials take the following actions:

  • Define net zero energy. Require disclosure of measured energy use and renewable energy projects annually to verify actual net zero energy performance. Promote community-based approaches.
  • Promote the evolution of energy codes, in part by continuing to update District energy codes to follow the most stringent standards.
  • Advance incentives for deep green buildings, including a pilot incentive program for deep energy retrofits, net zero energy, net zero water, and Living Building Challenge projects.
  • Create incentives for sustainable building goals to recognize and encourage the inclusion of building and development measures with significant societal benefits, including improved public health and reduced reliance on natural resources.
  • Revise net metering policies and adapt to the changing role of utilities.
  • Identify and remove regulatory impediments to deep green and Living Buildings.


“While the large buildings create a challenge for net zero energy, the District can create interim steps to advance the community to a more resilient future,” says Amy Cortese senior program manager at New Buildings Institute. “One way to do this is to focus on policy encouraging deep energy and water efficiency in new construction and major renovations, and provide clear targets and incentives for private developers.”

“At the Institute, we are constantly asking ourselves and all those we encounter, what does a good building look like? What does it do and not do,” says Richard Graves, executive director of the International Living Future Institute. “The answers have varied from year to year and place to place. Whatever the circumstances, people have been very clear that good must continue to evolve from resilience to restoration.”

Read the entire report here as well as a blog by SKANSKA on the process.

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For more information:

Stacey Hobart, New Buildings Institute, 503-407-2148, stacey@newbuildings.org

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