Smart Surface Technologies Could Save Money, Enhance Livability

A new research report, Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington, D.C., published by Capital E, a consultancy firm specializing in green living strategies, demonstrates how new technology can slow climate change, strengthen urban equity and enhance public health. By adopting and implementing smart surfaces, the city would also save more than $5 billion over the next 40 years.

Smart Surfaces

The smart surfaces that are the subject of the report include several different types, including green roofs, cool roofs, photovoltaic solar panels and porous pavement, all of which can enhance livability in the city and enhance the health of residents and tourists.

“This report represents a major step in understanding and quantifying the benefits of adopting cost-effective strategies to manage sun and rainfall at a city level,” said Greg Kats, lead author of the report. “Increasing summer heat and smog threaten city livability and summer tourists. This report provides a powerful framework to combat climate change while improving public health and saving money.”

Rainfall and Sunlight Undermanaged

The report claims that the effects of sunlight and rainfall are not properly managed by city authorities across the country, and this costs billions of dollars in wasted energy and storm-water drainage.

Washington, D.C. has 61 square miles of surfaces, 16 percent of which are roofs with 24 percent being pavement. This extensive surfacing contributes to summer temperatures that are higher and air quality that is lower than that in the surrounding suburbs and rural areas.

“What this report convincingly demonstrates is that there are cost-effective technologies and strategies for managing sun and water that will deliver billions of dollars in financial benefits to the city and its residents,” said Dan Tangherlini, former Washington, D.C., city administrator and former administrator of the U.S. General Service Administration. “Delaying this transition would impose large financial and social costs, particularly on places of lower economic opportunity [and on] the elderly and children.”

Benefits of Smart Surfaces

By implementing smart surface technologies, cities could experience the following benefits:

  • Reduce energy expenditures by 8.5 percent
  • Reduce storm-water runoff, thereby protecting local freshwater bodies and reducing water use
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 percent
  • Lower city temperatures
  • Improve sustainability of buildings
  • Enhance the local ecosystem
  • Create up to 2,400 jobs over the next 40 years
  • Improve livability in low-income areas
  • Improve air quality

“Capital E helped make the business case for green building with its research in the early 2000s, and this new research is equally important in showcasing the sustainable built environment’s financial benefits at the city scale,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of the USGBC. “The Achieving Urban Resilience report provides U.S. cities with an actionable framework to engage private sector partners on solutions to advance public health, equity and climate resilience.”

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