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 email@example.com with questions or comments about the resources on this page.
New legislation: Effective July 23, 2023:
- E2SHB 1216 makes certain clean energy projects eligible for a fully coordinated permitting process overseen by the Department of Ecology. Also, amends provisions of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for certain types of clean energy projects.
- E2SHB 1181 adds a climate change and resiliency goal to the Growth Management Act (GMA) and a required climate change and resiliency element to a GMA comprehensive plan.
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.
New in 2023, HB 1181 adds a climate goal to the Growth Management Act and requires comprehensive plans to include a climate element with resilience and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation sub-elements — see RCW 36.70A.070(9). For more information, see the following Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) resources, Climate Change and HB 1181 FAQ, as well as MRSC’s 2023 blog, New Legislation Related to Climate and the Environment. Commerce is expected to release guidance reflecting the new legislation by the end of 2023.
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.
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 (VMT), 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.
According to the National Association of State Procurement Officials, sustainable purchasing refers to:
[P]urchasing a product that has a lesser or reduced negative effect or increased positive effect on human health and the ecological 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 directly comparable mandate for local governments, HB 1799 requires certain municipalities to adopt compost procurement ordinances to increase the market for compost products made with organic materials that could otherwise end up in landfills. Additionally several municipalities have implemented programs related to green or sustainable purchasing practices.
Examples of Policies
- Clark County
- Seattle Green Purchasing — Offers links to the city's sustainable purchasing policies and other procurement programs.
- King County Sustainable Purchasing Guide
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’ VMT and decreasing the physical space required for operations.
For more information and policy examples, see our page on Telecommuting.
The 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, 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. For more on EV infrastructure, see our Planning for Electric Vehicles webpage.
- Jefferson County Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 6 (2018) — Includes goals and policies meant for integrating EVs into the existing transportation infrastructure.
- Redmond Environmental Sustainability Action Plan, Transportation and Land Use (2020) — Details strategies for shifting transportation toward EVs, such as improving business partnerships.
- Seattle Green Fleet Action Plan (2019) — Calls for rapid fleet electrification, reduced fuel use, and a move to fossil-free fuels by 2030 to reduce GHG emissions by 50%.
- Sequim Comprehensive Plan 2015-2035: Chapter 9, Energy & Environment — Includes section on EVs, including planning for smaller-scale neighborhood EVs (e.g., golf carts).
- MRSC: Planning for Electric Vehicles — Focused on building the infrastructure to support greater adoption of EVs.
- Washington State Department of Commerce: Transportation Electrification Strategy
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Washington State University: Green Transportation Program — Provides technical assistance and education to public agencies on the use of alternative fuels and vehicles.
Local governments can support emissions reductions from the transportation sector through VMT reduction strategies (see the Washington State Department of Transportation: VMT Targets — Final Report from 2023 for recommendations), vehicles (see EV section), and lower-carbon fuels. Transportation options like walking, biking, and transit not only produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but also improve air quality and public health. Better coordination of land use and transportation planning results in compact, mixed-use communities that foster walking, biking, and transit. Specific land use strategies that achieve these goals include urban villages or centers, downtowns, and transit-oriented development (TOD).
In addition to adding a 14th planning goal related to climate change and resiliency, E2SHB 1181 (2023) adds a new climate change element with greenhouse gas emissions reduction and resiliency sub-elements and makes changes to certain mandatory elements, including the land use and transportation elements. For example, the land use element is required to include urban planning approaches that reduce VMT without increasing greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the state, and the transportation element must incorporate multimodal level of service into land use assumptions used in estimating travel.
According to the DOE inventory of GHG emissions statewide, transportation remains the largest contributor in the state.
- Center for Neighborhood: Housing and Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index — Offers comparison mapping that shows annual GHG emissions per acre and household.
- EPA: Smart Growth and Transportation — Includes information on smart and sustainable street design, TOD, parking management, and sustainable transportation planning.
- U.S. Federal Highway Administration: Tools and Practices for Land Use Integration — Includes small area planning and zoning ordinances that achieve land use and transportation objectives at various scales.
- Quality Growth Alliance: Urban Centers and TOD in Washington State (2009) — Investigates strategies to overcome barriers to quality urban centers and TOD.
- Smart Growth America: Driving Down Emissions (2020) — Draws a connection between the built environment and climate by focusing on the role that car-oriented land use and community design plays in transportation emissions.
- Victoria Transport Policy Institute
- Guidelines for Evaluating Transportation Emission Reduction Strategies (2023) — Evaluates methods for developing local government GHG reduction targets and plans.
- Smart Growth, TDM Encyclopedia — Focus on the integration between transportation and land use.
- Washington State
- Department of Transportation: Land Use & Transportation Planning — Includes transportation planning-related resources for updating local government comprehensive plans.
- 2021 Energy Strategy, Transportation Chapter (2021) — Outlines strategies to achieve equitable transition to a zero-carbon transportation sector in Washington State (e.g. renewable fuels and reducing miles traveled through transportation options).
Transportation Options — Policy Examples
- Arlington Pedestrian Improvement Plan (2018) — Includes goals that set citywide direction in key areas related to walking.
- Bellevue Mobility Implementation Plan (2022) — Includes performance measurement and a prioritization system that aligns transportation investments with the city’s land use vision; provides a platform for the city to meet its multimodal future envisioned in the comprehensive plan.
- Bellingham Citywide Multimodal Transportation Planning — Includes information on the city’s Complete Networks Program, which emphasizes the most vulnerable user groups (pedestrians, bicycles, public transit).
- Bothell Citywide Bike Plan (2022) — Offers a vision for a state-of-the-art bicycle system throughout the city.
- Olympia Transportation Master Plan, GHG and VMT Indicators (2021) — Discusses reduction targets for GHGs and VMT.
- Spokane Bicycle Master Plan (2017) — Creates a vision for enhancing bicycling opportunities in Spokane.
Here are related MRSC webpages:
Linking Land Use and Transportation Planning — Plan and Policy Examples
- Bellingham Urban Villages — Six urban villages support the creation of vibrant mixed residential and commercial neighborhoods, boost economic development, and encourage a safe and attractive pedestrian environment.
- Issaquah Land Use Code Sec. 18.400.030 — Outlines seven urban villages zones in order to encourage innovative uses, sites, and comprehensive planning of large areas.
- Kent Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Element (2020) — Prioritizes neighborhoods that are walkable or can be easily accessed using public or alternative transportation (see Focus Area 2).
- Puget Sound Regional Council: Regional Growth Centers — Identifies regional growth centers as central places with a mix of uses/activities connected by efficient transportation. Centers are a hallmark of Vision 2050 and the Regional Growth Strategy.
- Redmond Centers and Corridors — Describes how the city is reevaluating its centers for growth capacity, character, and transitioning to pedestrian-oriented urban forms as part of a comprehensive planning effort; explores the potential for growth and development along major corridors.
- Tacoma Mixed-Use Centers — Focuses new growth in centers to helps achieve the city’s goals of complete neighborhoods with public transit and active transportation.
Here are related MRSC webpages:
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.
In communities across Washington, buildings represent the first or second largest source of GHGs driving climate change. In light of this, building emissions were 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:
- Thurston County Climate Mitigation Plan, Buildings & Energy Sector (2020) — Includes strategies for mitigating emissions from private and public buildings by improving energy efficiency. Includes incentives for permitting as well.
- King County Strategic Climate Action Plan, Green Buildings (2020) — Includes considerations for equity in green building facilities, building and energy code revisions, construction and demolition recycling requirements, and integration of public transportation access. This includes incentives and direct policy changes.
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 examples of policies and provisions from local governments:
- Bellingham Ordinance No. 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 No. 126278 and No. 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 No. 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:
- Berkeley, CA: Existing Buildings Electrification Strategy (2021) — Sets out a strategy to electrify existing buildings, with a focus on equitable outcomes.
- Clean Energy Transition Institute: Scaling Building Decarbonization in Washington State (2022) — Presents scaled strategies for Washington State to follow in order to “decarbonize, maximize efficiency, and increase demand flexibility in more than three million buildings and homes by 2050.”
- MRSC Insight offers blogs on energy resources and conservation, which address building decarbonization, electric vehicles, and other strategies for reducing GHG emissions.
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 194-50 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 projects:
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 18.49 — Includes LEED and other green construction options as part of flexible development standards. See section 020(C) for residential and Section 030(C) for mixed use sites.
- Bainbridge Island Housing Design Demonstration Projects (2022). See Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Sec. 2.16.020(S) for a program description.
- Bellevue Municipal Code Sec. 20.30D.160(B) — Includes Built Green construction certification for planned unit development.
- Bellingham Green Building Incentives — Includes a solar panel permit exemption program, and a variety of credits, fee reductions, and exemptions for qualifying projects.
- King County Green Building
- Seattle: Priority Green Expedited and Green Building Permit Incentives. See also Executive Order 2021-09 directing adoption of carbon-based building performance standards for existing commercial and multifamily buildings 20,000 sq ft or larger in 2022. This standard is estimated to reduce GHG emissions 27% by 2050.
- Tacoma Sustainable Development/Green Building Permit Program
- Thurston County Green Building
MRSC Insight offers many blogs on climate change, some of which address green building strategies and programs.
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 (UTC) 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:
- Bellingham Climate Protection Plan, Renewable Energy (2018) — Shows examples of permit exemption programs for renewables installation.
- Skagit County Climate Action Plan, Energy Conservation & Renewables (2010) — Includes comprehensive sample programs for permit streamlining, conservation in public facilities, and energy efficiency incentive programs for residential and commercial use.
- Spokane Sustainability Action Plan, Buildings & Energy (2021) — Includes strategies for improving use of energy storage along with increasing use of renewables. Also includes a public outreach component on renewables.
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.
- Bellevue Solar Panel Permits
- Bellingham Solar and Renewable Energy
- Edmonds Rooftop Solar Installation
- Issaquah Solar Panel Permits
- Kirkland Residential Rooftop-Mounted Solar Panels
- Langley Solar
- Mercer Island Solar Power
Here are recommended resources on renewable energy adoption for local governments:
- Local Climate and Energy Program — Helps local governments reduce air emissions with cost-effective energy strategies.
- Local Government Strategy Series, On-Site Renewable Energy Generation — Discusses how local governments can plan and implement on-site renewable energy generation projects at local government facilities throughout the community.
- New Energy Cities: Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up: Profiles in City-Led Energy Innovation (2012) — Reviews innovative renewable energy approaches and includes samples from small and mid-sized cities in the Pacific Northwest.
- Northwest Clean Energy Atlas — Explores the region's energy data use and provides detailed, up-to-date, and transparent system data to help inform decisions and track the progress of the clean energy transition.
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). The C-PACER program was passed by the legislature in 2020 and amended in 2022.
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. It requires adoption of an implementing ordinance by counties in order for commercial property owners to access the financing. Below are sample documents and webpages related to a few C-PACER programs in the state:
- Clark County C-PACER Program
- King County C-PACER Program
- Pierce County Ordinance No. 2022-12s
- Snohomish County Municipal Code Ch. 2.900
- Thurston County Resolution No. 16063
- Whatcom County C-PACER Program
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 webpage provides examples of solid waste and demolition waste programs, including legal and rate-setting policies.
Examples of Policies and Plans
- Lakewood Sustainability Plan, Chapter 4 (2015) — Establishes specific zero-waste goals and targets while detailing trackable indicators for different waste reduction efforts.
- Pierce County Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, Consumption and Waste Management (2021) — Includes detailed strategies for reducing waste in construction and demolition, food waste, and energy.
- Skagit County Climate Action Plan, Solid Waste (2010) — Lists specific waste-reduction strategies, such as improving recycling capture, reducing construction and demolition waste, and diverting organic waste from landfills.
- Tacoma Community Climate Action Plan (2021) — Establishes goals and targets for reducing waste within the city and city operations including from food, construction and demolition, and wood waste.