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Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies for Local Governments

This page provides resources and examples to assist local governments in Washington State in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas such as municipal operations, procurement, telework, electric vehicles, land use, and waste reduction.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Climate Change.

Please contact us at climateresources@mrsc.org with questions or comments about the resources on this page.



Overview

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and are a primary contributor to a changing climate. GHGs include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, among other gases. A significant human source of GHG emissions is from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, energy use, and industrial processes. GHG emissions also occur because of deforestation and agricultural production.

Local governments can limit GHG emissions and mitigate climate impacts using a range of actions and strategies across sectors. In evaluating what actions to take, a local government should consider such factors as the resources required to implement the action, the emissions reduction potential of the action, community context, actions and plans already being implemented, and the co-benefits of the action. Co-benefits can include cost savings, public health, improved mobility, climate justice, environmental health, and others. Reducing GHG emissions is considered a climate mitigation measure.

Climate action plans (CAPs) typically list emissions reduction strategies by sector (such as buildings, transportation, land use, waste, natural systems, etc.), and there are many options for reducing emissions within each sector. Below are several strategies for local GHG reduction with associated examples and resources. 

Local governments should review adopted climate action plans for a wider range of strategies and actions. Local priorities and community context will best determine where to focus GHG reduction efforts. 


Municipal Operations

Local governments can mitigate emissions from their own operations in conjunction with reducing community emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Efficiency in Local Government Operations (2011) describes approaches for planning and designing projects and programs to improve energy efficiency in local government facilities and operations. GHG reduction strategies for municipal operations can also include managing fleets to reduce vehicle miles traveled, installing renewable energy sources in capital facilities, encouraging telework and car sharing, providing employee bus passes, and adopting green purchasing policies. See the two sections below for more information on green purchasing and telework.

Below are a few examples of local plans targeting general municipal operations.

  • Everett Climate Action Plan for Municipal Operations (2011) — Measures GHG emissions generated from its municipal operations and identifies reduction goals.
  • Snohomish County Sustainable Operations (2021) — The county adopted a five-year Sustainable Operations Action Plan (SOAP) in 2013 and began the process to update it in February 2021. The SOAP includes policies to promote green public buildings, green fleets, GHG tracking, resource conservation, waste reduction, and green purchasing.
  • Tacoma Sustainability-Related Policies — Includes resolutions, proclamations, and ordinances, including those related to green public facilities, waste diversion, and sustainable purchasing.
  • Walla Walla Operations Sustainability Plan (2013) — Establishes work plans for reducing GHG emissions including new policies in construction, energy use, materials, water, and community interaction and development.

Green Purchasing

According to the National Association of State Procurement Officials, green purchasing refers to

[P]urchasing a product that has a lesser or reduced negative effect or increased positive effect on human health and the environment, when compared with competing products that serve the same purpose.

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s (DOE) buying green – sustainable purchasing webpage includes resources on cooperative green purchasing and several local examples of green purchasing programs. The EPA’s Energy Efficient Product Procurement (2011) provides green product procurement measures, policy mechanisms, and implementation strategies. 

State agencies are directed to increase environmental purchasing by both executive order and legislation. While there is no corollary mandate for local governments, several municipalities have implemented programs related to green or sustainable purchasing practices. 

Sample Policies


Telework/Remote Work

Telecommuting, teleworking, and remote work programs allow employees to work from home (or at a neighborhood telework office) rather than commuting daily to a more distant work site. Encouraging telework can reduce a municipality’s GHG emissions by reducing employees’ vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and decreasing the physical space required for operations.

For more information and policy examples, see our page on Telecommuting.


Electric Vehicles

The 2021 State Energy Strategy estimates that one million internal combustion engine vehicles need to be replaced with zero-emission vehicles (i.e., electric vehicles, or EVs) by 2030 to meet the state’s target for reducing greenhouse gases. By 2035, all new car sales will need to be EVs.

Local governments can help create capacity for new public EV charging infrastructure throughout their community. This may require updates to transportation infrastructure strategies and changes to any relevant electrical codes. American Cities Climate Challenge’s Electrifying Transportation in Municipalities (2021) is a toolkit for local government EV deployment and adoption. Further, the Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) provides grants for electric vehicle charging infrastructure to Washington local governments, Tribal governments, and retail electric utilities.

Local governments can also facilitate the shift to more efficient/cleaner modes of travel through the purchase of electric and low emissions vehicles for municipal operations (i.e., green fleet) and investing in EV infrastructure. Vehicle fleets make up a significant share of emissions from local government operations. Local programs can prioritize a transition to clean vehicles, reduce VMT through logistical trip management, and encourage driving patterns and practices that minimize emissions.

Sample Policies

Recommended Resources


Smart Growth and Transit-Oriented Development

Transportation currently accounts for nearly half of all emissions in Washington, concentrated primarily in on-road gasoline usage. Local governments can reduce transportation emissions by reducing total VMT through strategies such as expanding transportation options (transit, biking, walking), removing or reducing parking requirements, fostering efficient land use patterns (compact growth through infill and mixed uses), and linking land use and transportation planning (urban villages and transit-oriented development).

Smart Growth is an approach to land use planning that promotes compact, mixed-use communities that support walking, biking, and transit. Transit-oriented development (TOD), a subsection of Smart Growth, is designed to increase the number of residents, employees, and potential transit riders that have convenient access to transit. A complementary mix of uses, activities, and services located in close proximity to each other allows residents to commute to work, run errands, recreate, and meet basic needs without needing a car.

Sample Policies

MRSC Recommended Resources

Recommended Resources


Urban Forest/Tree Canopy

Integrating trees and green space into urban areas mitigates GHG emissions and reduces exposure to harmful effects of climate change, such as heat. These adaptations are important for building climate resiliency in vulnerable areas. Local governments can integrate policies on urban forestry into their CAPs and comprehensive plans.

MRSC’s Urban Forestry topic page includes information on establishing urban forests, street trees, tree preservation ordinances, forest or tree stewardship plans, and relevant examples and statutes for local governments.


Buildings

In communities across Washington, buildings represent the first or second largest source of GHGs driving climate change. In light of this, building emissions are a large focus of Washington's 2021 State Energy Strategy. Likewise, addressing emissions and improving energy efficiency in buildings should be a key component of a local government’s GHG reduction strategy. This section addresses several strategies related directly to buildings: building electrification, green building incentives/performance standards, renewable energy, and C-PACER financing of efficiency upgrades. Cities and counties can use Shift Zero’s Zero Carbon Buildings Policy Toolkit (2020) and the Policy Design Tool (2020) to assist in developing comprehensive local strategies to reduce building emissions.

Here are two examples of CAPs with comprehensive building GHG reduction strategies:

Building Electrification

Washington’s 2021 State Energy Strategy found that electrifying (or eliminating the use of natural gas in) all of our buildings would be the most cost-effective way to meet statewide climate goals of achieving 95% reduction in greenhouse gases (compared to a 2005 baseline) by 2050. Some local governments in Washington have adopted ordinances requiring building electrification in new commercial and multi-family construction. Other jurisdictions are considering adopting similar and even more ambitious policies to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel use in buildings. 

Here are some sample policies and provisions from local governments:

  • Bellingham Ordinance 2022-02-004 — Adopts changes to the city’s building code to require electrification and energy efficiency standards for certain buildings.
  • Everett Climate Action Plan, Goal E-1: (2020) — Calls for the elimination of natural gas from new and existing buildings. 
  • Seattle Resolution 126278 and 126279 — Amends commercial energy code to eliminate use of fossil fuels for heating/cooling and to require the use of energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources in commercial and multi-family buildings. 
  • Shoreline Ordinance 948 — Bans the use of fossil fuels in new commercial and multi-family construction projects. 

Here are a few recommended resources for building decarbonization/electrification

Green Building Incentives/ Performance Standards 

Improving building efficiency and sustainable design cuts long-term operating/maintenance costs for both private and public facilities, and significantly reduces energy consumption and GHG emissions. Chapter 195-50 WAC, implemented in 2020, requires Commerce to institute new energy performance standards for buildings greater than 50,000 square feet. Local governments can encourage the construction of buildings meeting LEED certification, ENERGY STAR, and other energy efficiency standards and certification programs by incorporating incentives into development codes, promoting pilot or demonstration projects, and adopting performance standards for new buildings. 

Here are some examples of local incentive programs, performance standards, and pilot projects:

Here are additional resources from MRSC:

Renewable Energy Strategies

The Clean Energy Transformation Act commits Washington to reaching 100% renewable energy by 2045. Local governments can help reach this goal and their own climate action objectives by promoting and incentivizing the use of renewable energy resources in homes, commercial buildings, and public facilities. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) provides several sample incentive programs for residential and commercial solar installation. For example, local governments can streamline the installation of renewable energy in communities through their permitting processes.

These samples demonstrate how renewable energy policies can be incorporated into CAPs:

Below are examples of how local governments can incentivize the use of rooftop solar panels in residential and industrial settings through outreach and education, relaxing (or eliminating) permitting requirements, and streamlining processes.

Here are recommended resources on renewable energy adoption for local governments:

C-PACER (Energy Efficiency Financing)

Counties can help facilitate financing of energy efficiency upgrades by participating in the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience (C-PACER) program (Chapter 36.165 RCW). C-PACER is designed to allow commercial property owners access to private financing for qualifying energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and resiliency improvements for their buildings.

The C-PACER program was passed by the legislature in 2020 and requires adoption of an implementing ordinance by counties in order for commercial property owners to access the financing. ClarkWhatcom, Thurston, and King counties have all passed ordinances to implement C-PACER. To access sample documents and read more about the program, see Shift Zero’s C-PACER Financing in Washington.


Waste Reduction

Reducing waste, recycling, and composting are effective ways to reduce GHG emissions, both by reducing the energy used in the production of materials and by reducing the flow of materials to the landfill where anaerobic decomposition produces methane — a potent GHG. Many Washington local governments have adopted ambitious waste reduction policies and some are working toward the goal of zero waste. MRSC’s Solid Waste Collection, Recycling, and Disposal topic page provides examples of solid waste and demolition waste programs in Washington, including legal and rate setting policies.

Sample Policies and Plans


Last Modified: May 05, 2022