Cleaner, greener and more sustainable communities: What is your jurisdiction doing to help?

Apr 28, 2011

Interested in learning more about what your jurisdiction is doing to make a cleaner, greener and sustainable community? Maybe you'd like to know more on what you can do to help. Stuart Freudberg, director of Environmental programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government will be online with The Washington Post Thursday, April 28 at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions. Ask now.

Good morning, I'm Stuart Freudberg, Environmental Director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).   I'll be glad to answer questions about what's happening in our region to make it sustainable.

Thanks so much for joining us. Our guest is Stuart Freudberg, director of environmentla programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. We are ready to take your questions on greener, more sustainable communities. Let's go!

I live in the Baltimore metro region, so my county isn't part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government. Is there an equivalent environmental organization in the Baltimore region where I could find information on my local green communitiy and sustainable community projects?

I suggest you contact the Baltimore Metropolitan Council who partners with us on clean air and climate change through our Clean Air Partnership.  Also, you may wish to contact Sustainable Baltimore.  We hope to create more partnerships with the Baltimore region in the future.

As D.C. strives to become a more sustainable community, how can city leaders ensure that low-income communities benefit? For example, with home energy efficiency, without specific government measures that make home energy improvements accessible to lower-income individuals, cost-saving weatherization will be out of reach for thousands of city families. Moreover, unless city leaders focus on translating local investment in energy efficiency into jobs for people from D.C. neighborhoods blighted by high unemployment and poverty, a tremendous opportunity to inject dollars into local economic development will be lost. The benefits of good policies in this space would benefit the community at large: we can protect our environment, help reduce the burden on low-income families’ budgets and stimulate local job growth. Shefaali Desai Deputy Policy Director, The DC Project

You make a very important point.  The District government does have a low income weatherization program.  Contact DC Dept. of Environment Energy Office for more information.  The new DC Sustainable Energy Utility may be another good source.  

can you explain how they are going to filter pollutants out of storm/rainwater before it filters into the regional waterways?

Governments and developers are turning to new techniques called "environmental site design" such as rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, less paved surfaces (permeable pavement), tree planting, which help do a better job of filtering pollutants and reducing runoff.

Are there enough stations around for electric cars? Also, do you know about how much is costs for a gas station to install an electric charging station? I am wondering if enough is being done to entice enough of these stations.

Installation of electric charging  stations is beginning around the region.  Tomorrow COG is hosting an Electric Vehicle Forum to discuss where we are and how to make our region Electric Vehicle ready.  We have experts from the vehicle world, utilities and governments and other regions to share how they are making this happen.   Not sure about the cost of electric charging stations at gas stations, will look into this further.

I know that many jurisdictions, whether they're Arlington, Fairfax or Montgomery Counties and/or their independent cities, have the capability and capacity to handle plastic containers coded 1 and 2. Do any of these jurisdictions plan to expand their capability to handle containers rated higher than 2?

Most jurisdictions in the D.C. region already have expanded their recycling programs to include plastic beyond 1s and 2s. Several of these counties and cities also have gone to single-stream recycling to encourage folks to recycle more. Double-check with your local government to make sure you can toss various types of plastic into your bin. There is a very good chance you can!

Because cars just drive in them or park in them, or they're situated right next to a parking lane and drivers swing their doors open without looking. But I also hate bicycling on sidewalks, because sidewalks are for pedestrians and I don't like taking up their dedicated spaces--not to mention it's dangerous for both rider and walker. It seems like the only answer is to get fewer cars on the road, especially in large cities, so that bicyclists can have more share of the road and pedestrians can walk on sidewalks without having to worry they're about to be run over. What are some of the things that can be done to get drivers out of the city? And no, I don't buy the whole "bicyclists and cars should coexist" malarkey some people advocate. In suburbs, yes, at least until suburbs are designed better. But in a busy downtown area, not so much. There are tons of places where cars are a drawback or a hassle, and nobody should have to coexist with them. There are very few reasons people need to drive around, for example, Penn Quarter--not when there are metro stops every few blocks and buses in between, and not when it's a flat enough area that casual riders could bike at an easy-going pace if there were fewer cars. Clearing out sections of the clogged business district the way that NYC cleared out Times Square would be nothing but a boon. Is there any way to make car-free zones in the district, beyond the ones around the White House?

Our region and in the past several years the District in particular has worked to increase bicycle lane capacity to make it easier for those using bicycles.   There is also a regional bicycle-pedestrian plan that is accessible on the COG web site.  Your points about car-free zones warrant serious consideration and we'll pass your suggestions along to our transportation colleagues.

Are there tax incentives for small businesses that are looking to incorporate some of these sustainable practices on their own?

Some jurisdictions have incentives to incorporate sustainable practices including small grant programs.  We recommend contacting your local environmental department for specific program information

What is COG doing to reach out to the large hispanic community who do not seem to be as involved in the "greening" of our area?

Some of the regional outreach efforts, such as Water Use it Wisely, stormwater PSAs, and several of our web sites are now available in Spanish.  We are just beginning to address this and much more is needed.   A special forum on energy conservation for the Hispanic community has been proposed by Walter Tejada of the Arlington County Board who is also on the COG Board.  We hope to arrange this at some point later in this year.

Sustainability encompasses Environment, Equity, and Environment. Many local jurisdictions deal a lot with environment, but less so social equity. What does the COG do to help promote affordable housing in the region?

COG and area governments have created "Region Forward", a comprehensive sustainability initiative that addresses environment, housing transportation and more, and includes specific goals, targets and tracking measure in all of these areas including affordable housing.  Take a look at for more information and to join the effort.

Is the Anacostia River receiving the appropriate attention now to transform it from its current state to being a resource that everyone can enjoy.

That depends on who you ask. There are numerous organizations out there that think the Anacostia should be getting a lot more attention. There are plenty of other people out there who think other issues should take priority of the river. Both groups would agree that there is more attention now than in the past. Making the river swimmable and fishable is going to take time, so the attention is needed.

Right now as we speak, our Anacostia Restoration Partnership is meeting here at COG.  This initiative includes federal, state, local, foundation, environmental and business  partners all committed to accelerate the restoration of the Anacostia, our most polluted watershed in the region.  A major restoration plan has been developed in cooperation with the US Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the watershed; the District Water and Sewer Authority is embarking on a huge program to prevent sewage overflows and reduce runoff to District streams.  The main impediment to moving even faster is a lack of  funding.  The price tag for restoring the Anacostia is likely to be around $4 billion or even higher.

Can you explain how your organization coordinates efforts between jurisdictions? For example, if Montgomery County is trying to set stringent limits on pollutants in the Potomac, then how can you ensure that Prince Georges will get on board?

This question gets at the fundamental role of COG.  We bring together local, state and federal elected officials and their staffs as well as key stakeholders on a daily basis.  With regard to your specific example, our Anacostia Partnership is working to obtain consistent requirements across the watershed in the District, Montgomery County and Prince George's County.  EPA and state regulators are also issuing permits that are increasingly stringent to protect local streams and the Bay.

Do you find any significant differences within the Washington region (geographically and social/economic) as to what kinds of sustainable actions should be taken or what should be prioritized?

There are some obvious examples when it comes to bike lanes, for example. In dense communities like Arlington and the District, bike lanes for commuting make sense. But those bike lanes in Prince William County wouldn't work.

Yes, today's article in "Local Living" provides some excellent examples of the diversity of our region and what might be the best initiative for the inner core jurisdictions vs. the more suburban or rural ones.  With our Region Forward initiative, the intention is to move forward toward the same goals, but with the best local approaches.  For example, Frederick County is focusing on sustainable agriculture, while Arlington is focusing on community energy planning and transit oriented development.

Hello, I'm wondering what the council is doing to clean up the Anacostia River?

A lot is going on as mentioned in a previous post.  But also take a look at for a lot more specific information on our current activities. 

Good morning! I see that some jurisdictions, like Loudoun, are starting to build new electric car-charging stations. Is that something that you see continuing to become a popular pattern? Is there a sense that the car-charging stations will need to come first before people will really feel compelled to make the switch? With all the talk of trying to wean our dependence on gas, are these and other similar initiatives really going to take off in this area?

We expect that there will be many more electric car charging stations will be sited in the coming year.  This includes at rest stops along interstate highways, airport parking garages (such as BWI), local community public charging stations.   I think it depends on how people use their electric cars whether it will be that critical to have a large charging station network.  If their primary use is daily commuting, they can just recharge their vehicle at home overnight (with the right equipment).  We also are hoping to see the model happening in Houston and Chicago come to our region where companies are offering charging membership plans where you can use their entire network and obtain unlimited use of their charging system.

When will outlying communities get better recycling programs?

The local government leaders may not know it is a priority for their residents. Have you asked your local government when they will get a better recycling program? Let them know!

Where is the best place to begin green building to increase awareness, and thus demand for greener, sustainable communities? Is it local government buildings, new school construction, local businesses?

Increasing awareness means getting everyone involved. A mixture of local government actions, new "green" construction, local businesses taking action and engaging residents all work together to get the entire community working towards the same goal.

Is anyone working to makes schools more green through new construction and renovations?

Yes! Alexandria City Public Schools have several innovative building designs. The green roof at Polk Elementary was one of the featured photos in the print edition of the story. With each new school renovation, the school system's construction design team is incorporating all sorts of environmentally sound practices. This is happening all over the region. Several D.C. schools are getting green roofs. Many schools throughout the region are switching to more energy efficient heating and cooling systems at the very least.

Take a look at COG's just released Green Building Trends report which notes some great examples of green schools in our region.  

Do you know of any incentives for DC, MD, or VA homeowners (or local governments) to install best management practices to reduce runoff (i.e., permeable pavement, green roofing, catchment devices, etc?

The District Department of the Environment has a RiverSmart program that teaches residents and school children best management practices and tips for installation. I believe they also have small grants to help fund some of these improvements. Montgomery County has similar programs. The best bet is to contact your local government to get details.

I've read a lot of mixed reports about the impact -- both from an environmental and economic perspective -- of the bag tax that DC has initiated. I'm wondering what COG's take is? And looking into the near future which other jurisdictions are planning to do something similar?

The reports I'm aware of on the impact of the District's bag fee have been extremely positive - many people are now using reusable bags, much fewer plastic bags are being requested, and at least anecdotal reports are out there indicating less bag pollution in our streets and streams.  COG's Board of Directors does support bag fees like the District's be implemented across the region.  We issued a detailed report on experience elsewhere in the US a couple years ago that you might want to take a look at (see our home page,  

Can you tell me what's being done in our region to encourage more use of public transportation and, in turn, get cars off of the roadways. And at this point what sorts of statistics are known about the numbers of residents going carless?

There is a tremendous effort ongoing to encourage more use of public transportation as well as telecommuting and carpooling, walking and bicycling to reduce auto use in our region.  Currently high gasoline prices are spurring this even further.  For assistance with alternatives to using cars, see and sign up for bike to work day 2011.  As for statistics on residents "going carless", 10-15% are telecommuting, and we are one of the highest transit using communities in the U.S.  - Drive alone to work has dropped from 70% to 64%, transit use has increased from 17% to 21%, carpooling and biking and walking are 9% combined.

I've developed an educational recycling page for Prince George's County residents that can easily be used in other jurisdictions as well.  We need to get children involved in this since this mess will be handed to them and their kids eventually. Schools need to build sustainability and what it means to be green into their curriculum.

Okay. Thanks for sharing.

Does COG have a plan to deal with bed bugs? Planning should be put into place before infections get to New York levels!

COG is planning a forum this summer to deal with the bed bug problem.  It will include health officials and hotel participation.   The District of Columbia recently held a forum that was shared with the public.   We recognize this is a major problem. 

Unless its cheaper forget it. As taxpayer I want cost containment and efficiiency not making tree huggers happy. Since global warming may or may be valid local govts need to do what is cheapest.

You are not alone, my friend. Many energy conservation measures do save tax dollars on top of saving energy resources.

The reality is that cost and efficiency are critical elements and our local governments are only willing to invest in programs that provide a return - such as energy efficiency in buildings, reduced operating costs for vehicles that use less gasoline or alternative fuels.

I live in Montgomery and have worked there and in Prince George's. I don't think either jurisdiction does enough to require and monitor offices to recycle. Our staff recycled inhouse and then I watched as the cleaning crew dumped everything together. The jurisdictions need to work in the evening after workers go home to ensure that recycling by cleaning crews occurs. It doesn't help that many crews speak no or little English. Also in our neighborhood in Rockville the immigrants from various countries don't seem to get with the reccyling program and complaints fall on deaf ears to the city. What can be done?

Getting the commercial sector to recycle is a problem in many neighborhoods. Some advocates say recycling should be mandatory -- and enforced. The enforcement could pay for itself. I think each jurisidiction will have to decide what is best for them.


Several environmental organizations and governments have been distributing educational materials in various languages to help everyone in the community understand green initiatives.

The number of LEED certified green building in the region is on the rise. I'm curious which industries and sectors are responsible for this growth, where the greatest concentrations of these LEED sites are and where we need to be going/thinking next when it comes to green building. Thanks.

Take a look at our Green Building Trends report, on our home page.  Also see a blog entry on our Region Forward site,

Piggy-backing on an earlier question, do you know if any jurisdictions provide (either free or low-cost) catchment devices?

Montgomery County provides rain barrels through a program toencourage residents to reduce stormwater impacts.  Arlington also has a similar program.  There may be others - contact your local government environmental office for more information.  

Do DC public school participate in school integrated pest management to reduce kids exposure to pesticides?

Great question! I will have to look into that.

Why aren't high schools in Montgomery required to limit parking options and encourage carpooling as businesses are?

I think that is an excellent question for the Montgomery County School Board.

what's the likelihood of residential homes having a green roof and is the idea even worth exploring?

Green roofs on homes are happening. It requires the help of a professional designer and engineer, but there are plenty of those firms in the region. A quick web search will probably pull up quite a few professionals that can help you with everything from design, cost estimates and installation.

A good time to consider installing a green roof is when your roof needs to be repaired or replaced.  Some residential homes don't have the structural capability to support a green roof, so installing cool roof materials (new types of shingles) may also be worth considering.

Thanks for all the great questions - the hour sped by!  Please go to the COG and Region Forward web sites to learn more and join the conversation.

Has there been any push toward building green schools in the DC metro area?

Definitely. I mentioned Alexandria and the District's school systems in an earlier answer. I wanted to add that many teachers are using the building designs and rain gardens as teaching tools for the students, too.

What do you think needs to be done in order to help residents understand why it is important to clean Anacostia River? I know in parts of Southern Maryland they realize that the Chesapeake Bay is there livelihood. Is it possible to create a connection like that for residents who live near the Anacostia River?

Groups like the Alice Ferguson Foundation and the Anacostia Watershed Society, to name a couple, are trying to do just that. They hold events for families, businesses and school children that try to explain all the ways the Anacostia River is great and why it needs to be cleaned up. In addition to planting trees and picking up trash, these groups promote recreation on the river. How many people do you know that want to bike or canoe along a dirty river?

I'm glad to hear a forum is planned. Make sure to include an Entomologist trained in Structural Pest Management! Contact the University of Maryland Entomology Department to find one.

Thank you for the tip!

It's funny, because so much of our non-green infrastructure was and is subsidized by tax dollars. If governments want to keep costs down, they'd make incentives for things like telecommuting, living in high-density housing (say, get rid of the mortgage deduction and implement a renter's deduction, which would punish people who buy giant houses in the middle of nowhere and aid people who rent smaller places closer to town centers), and stop aiding construction of new highways over construction of new mass transit.

Some of the things you mention, like telecommuting incentives, are out there. You just have to look for them. Thanks for your thoughts. 

Why doesn't the Post do a better job of covering environmental issues in Loudoun County, one of the fastest growing counties in the US over the last decade or more? I'm a daily subscriber and I don't think I've seen anything in the Post about the highly controversial Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. There will be a Clean Stream rally at Monday's BOS meeting.

I'll make a note of it and let our Loudoun County and environmental reporters know about it. Thanks for letting us know -- and for your daily subscription.

We've got to run. Thank you all for your great questions.

In This Chat
Stuart Freudberg
Stuart Freudberg is Director of the Department of Environmental Programs for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, an association of 21 local governments in the D.C. region. At COG, he directs a staff of engineers, scientists, planners and support staff that work on a variety of environmental issues including energy planning, climate change, water resources, air quality, and solid waste. COG’s recent work includes a report on green building trends—the first time that topic had been examined regionally. COG is also developing a regional greenhouse gas reduction strategy and community energy conservation program. Freudberg is a regular presenter to a wide range of regional and national organizations. He is also actively involved in Leadership Greater Washington, a network of 1,100 top regional leaders. He is married with 3 grown children and one new grandchild.
Christy Goodman
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