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New Act Will Drive Sustainability in DC

On January 18th, Washington, DC approved new legislation that established unprecedented carbon reduction targets and renewable energy goals via the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018. This bold commitment by the District will drive sustainability in the city by creating new goals for local building codes. The Act reflects DC’s leadership in the C40, a group of more than 90 of the largest global cities committed to implementing long term sustainable solutions. Alongside New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Washington has committed to addressing climate change by reducing carbon emissions and waste, while preserving natural resources. 

Designers, engineers, and contractors working in DC must understand the forthcoming changes to the building code, which may become law as soon as the end of this year. As expected, the changes are focused on energy, as well as material health and transparency (as they relate to indoor environmental quality), and other elements that will impact each of our roles in designing and building. We must partner across the A/E/C industry to meet these new challenges. 


The Act of 2018 expands upon initial sustainable commitments set in 2008 by the first Clean and Affordable Energy Act and establishes aggressive new targets. In 2008, the benchmarking of building energy consumption was required for all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet; soon, buildings greater than 50,000 square feet must benchmark their data, as well as meet performance targets. And by 2021, this requirement will expand to include all buildings over 10,000 square feet. 

The Act of 2018 sets new renewable energy and carbon reduction goals. By 2032, DC is targeting a 50% reduction in annual GHG emissions, a 50% reduction in energy consumption, and 100% of energy to be derived from renewable sources. Furthermore, the Act states that by 2032, all new buildings will be required to achieve Net Zero Energy and by 2050 all buildings will be required to achieve Net Zero Energy. 


To achieve these new targets, change begins with updating local building codes. DC operates on a four-year code cycle, which is informed by these Acts. We expect a new, more stringent code to be passed by year end. Although not yet final, the proposed code revisions include changes to the Energy Code requirements exceeding the performance requirements of ASHRAE 90.1 and 189.1 by 10% for any alteration project that includes the envelope, and requires commissioning on larger projects. The new code will require projects to include energy reduction technologies such as increased daylighting, receptacle controls for workstations, and additional submetering to aid in building performance tracking. The target for 5% of renewable energy to come from local solar, will require building projects to be solar ready. Undoubtedly, these code changes will impact project and construction costs.

In addition to the Energy Code, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ (DCRA) proposed Green Building Code is also more stringent.  

  • While DC has had energy benchmarking requirements since 2008, this new iteration of the code sets ENERGY STAR performance targets for all buildings over 50,000 square feet and will phase in all buildings over 10,000 square feet by 2021.  
  • Despite the District’s storm water management concerns, there are no significant changes to retention and treatment requirements in the proposed code.
  • DC is taking a stance on occupant health and sustainable construction by requiring a multitude of chemical transparency, lifecycle analysis, indoor air quality, and waste reduction activities for all projects over 25,000 square feet.  
  • Notably, the code requires all buildings installing HVAC systems of more than 20 tons to implement a grey water recycling system to reuse condensate onsite for fountains, irrigation, and greywater restroom systems. This may have a significant impact on project costs – especially for building upgrades versus new construction.  

We expect that in the future permitting process, projects will be required to show how they are meeting the new Energy and Green Building Codes. Unless there is a protracted implementation period after the City Council approves the new code, the new changes will likely present permitting challenges. 


These challenging new targets and codes will push the commercial real estate industry to define a path for building a city of the future. Industry leaders have declared they are ready. More than 500 firms have signed The American Institute of Architects’ 2030 Challenge and many companies (both public and private) have set carbon reduction goals and plan to disclose their data through the Carbon Disclosure Project

HITT is committed to the spirit of sustainability presented by the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018, not only at our headquarters in DC but across the country. Through Co|Lab, our research and development facility slated to open this summer, we are exploring materials, approaches, and technology to drive the productivity and efficiencies necessary to meet these critical challenges for our business. Sign up to join the Co|Lab conversation or contact our sustainability team to examine the impact of these changes on your project.