Seattle’s eco-friendly population and history of environmental activism make it a likely leader in green building and living initiatives. And, if the rankings are an accurate indicator, Seattle is definitely a model for sustainability. The city ranked #1 of 655 cities in a 2009 Natural Resources Defense Council survey. Since then, Seattle’s green initiatives have earned it recognition as the “smartest city in North America” (2013) by Fast Company, based on criteria measuring sustainability, connectivity, and innovation. STAR Communities ranked Seattle the most sustainable city in the nation in 2014. And rankings from Corporate Knights, EcoSalon, and The Daily Beast have named Seattle the nation’s first, third, and fourth greenest city, respectively. Here’s a look at some of the ways the Emerald City is paving the way for sustainable urban development.
Carbon neutrality achievements and aims
In 2005, publicly owned Seattle Gas Works became the first electric utility in the country to achieve carbon neutrality. In 2011, Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment released a report titled “Getting to Zero: A Pathway to Carbon Neutrality.” This report helped guide Seattle’s Climate Action Plan, and was unanimously adopted by the Seattle City Council in 2013. As Seattle presses on toward a carbon-neutral future, the action plan is a point of pride for Seattle’s green movement.
Seattle is rich in natural parkland, and this public-private partnership is committed to restoring and maintaining it. The GSP was formed in 2004 as a one-time, 20-year investment in the city’s forested parkland. The partnership is well on its way toward meeting its goal of restoring 2,500 acres of parkland by 2025. In its first ten years, thousands of volunteers logged a collective 650,000 volunteer hours. They planted 150,000 trees and restored more than 1,000 acres. Through a partnership with Seattle Goodwill Industries, GSP provides on-the-job training in restoration and trail maintenance to at-risk young adults. GSP also organizes Green Seattle Day, a citywide tree-planting event held each fall since the GSP formed.
Energy Efficiency Programs
Seattle’s accessible energy efficiency programs are one of the major hallmarks for the city’s green building leaders. Between 2010 and 2016, Community Power Works facilitated energy upgrades for some 4,000 and 1.5 million square feet of commercial space. Local home contractors, the local economy, and the environment all benefited. Seattle’s HomeWise Weatherization Program provides free weatherization services to low-income residents. And Seattle’s Energy Benchmarking Program, which requires commercial property owners to track and report energy use, is another pillar of the city’s efficient energy use and green building practices. The program boasts a remarkably high compliance rate and contributes to Seattle’s high rate of high rate of LEED-certified projects.
A few years ago, Seattleites joked that Priuses outnumbered SUVs in the city. This was an exaggeration at the time, but Seattle’s streets are now flooded with hybrid SUVs and other alternative-fuel vehicles. Seattleites are switching to EVs at a faster rate than most Americans. To encourage the switch and make EV ownership easier for residents, the city installed hundreds of EV charging stations in 2017. AMLI Mark24, AMLI South Lake Union, and AMLI Wallingford all have EV charging stations as well.
Seattle is also one of only five U.S. cities where less than half of commuters drive alone to work. Bicycling and pedestrian traffic are both steadily increasing, but carpooling is also on the rise. Choose Your Own Way Bellevue, other King County rideshare programs, and apps like Scoop make carpooling in the area easy.
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