How a smart D.C. is smart on sustainability

I frequently point to the many smart programs that my hometown of Washington, D.C., is using to achieve one of the highest degrees of sustainability in the country. Aside from paralyzing traffic and a broken metro system, the city has had a string of relatively unsung achievements in sustainability, many of which have strengthened the city as a major national and international tourist destination.  

Last month, Destination DC reported preliminary results for tourism to the city in 2015:

In 2015, visitor spending totaled $7.1 billion, representing more than $757 million in new tax dollars for the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C., welcomed a record 21.3 million visitors in 2015—a record high that included more than 2 million overseas visitors. This represented a 5-percent increase overall compared with 2014 with overseas visitors increasing 7.8 percent. Aside from a few hiccups since 2003, tourism steadily increased eight out of 12 years from 2003 to 2014.   

Leading the way has been Chinese visitors, who totaled 300,000 visitors last year, a 36-percent increase from the year before. The number is expected to continue to grow.

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Sustainable Growth

A number of achievements in sustainability will help the city continue to welcome increasing numbers of visitors from all across the country and around the world.

Behind the scenes, with less visible action in areas such as energy conservation, waste and water management, and construction materials, Washington D.C., has earned its status as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. The programs of Sustainable DC, as well as initiatives such as LEED Certification and the Environmental Protection Agency’s STAR program, have helped facilitate action and achieve this status. The city is No. 1 in the U.S. for the number of LEED and ENERGY STAR certified buildings. Notably, a hotel ranks among the five most sustainable properties in the city: The Fairmont Washington, D.C.

The Sustainable DC Plan is the result of a comprehensive public consultation and consensus-building process that started in September 2011. Over 180 events involving hundreds of participants have been conducted since then resulting in a detailed framework for action in all of the areas mentioned above. The Plan set goals in Built Environment, Energy, Food, Nature, Transportation, Waste, and Water—all of which impact the quality of life in D.C.

Improvements have made D.C. a better place to live, work, invest in and visit. As with any destination success story, though, improvements attract more people, which in turn increase pressures on the destination, so plans have to be dynamic and flexible, adjusting to changing circumstances. So the DC Plan will probably never be finished.


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For an individual property and hotel brand, the Fairmont offers one of the best examples in the U.S. of sustainability.  Fairmont has a property level “Sustainability Team” that pursues sustainability measures in all of the company’s department operations. These measures include reducing the use of energy, water and waste produced through smart technology in monitoring, recording and benchmarking their environmental performance.

  • In energy management, Fairmont has in place an “Energy and Carbon Management Program” that aims to reduce their carbon footprint and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Fairmont “Water Management Program” aims to reduce total water consumption, through measures such as low-flow showerheads, low-flush toilets and tap aerators; the program also aims to reduce contaminants in wastewater and improve water quality.
  • The Fairmont “Waste Management Program” tracks and monitors waste and aims to increase diversion of waste from landfill, reduce overall waste and increase the use of product reuse and take-back initiatives.
  • The Fairmont’s Bee Sustainable Program helps reduce the threats to bee colonies, as well as increase pollination efforts, through rooftop apiaries. The program is one among 40 around the world.

Lastly, with the support of Sustainable DC, the hotel helps bring together a wide range of sustainability service providers every year with its Sustainability Fair in Washington D.C. This year’s fair showcased the sustainability work of multiple businesses, government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

A great example of tourism leading the way for sustainability throughout the city!

Scott Wayne is the president of SW Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based sustainable tourism consultancy, focused on strategic planning and investment for destinations on every continent. For further information: and [email protected].

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