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.
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.
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.
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.
Examples of Policies
- Clark County
- Seattle Green Purchasing — Offers links to Sustainable Purchasing Policies and other procurement programs.
- Spokane Public Works & Utilities Environmental Documents — Offers links to the city's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy and other sustainability documents.
- King County Sustainable Purchasing Guide
- Pierce County Environmental Purchasing Policy (2008)
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.
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.
Examples of Policies
- Issaquah Ordinance No. 2941 (2021) — Amends Chapter 8.12 of the city's development and design standards to add EV charging stations.
- 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, strategies to reduce fuel use, and a move to fossils-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).
- BC Climate Action Toolkit: Fuel Efficient Fleets — Offers general resources on local government adoption of green fleets.
- Washington State University: Green Transportation Program — Provides technical assistance and education to public agencies on the use of alternative fuels and vehicles.
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.
Examples of Policies
- Arlington Comprehensive Plan — Includes transit-oriented development goals.
- Bellingham Climate Protection Action Plan (2018) — See page 89 for transportation strategies (car sharing and vehicle mode shift) and pages 68 and 99 for land use strategies (natural system protection and restoration, mixed-use urban villages, and high-density development). See also the city’s Multimodal Transportation Planning webpage.
- Kent Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Element (2015) — Includes strategies and goals for improving multimodal transportation access in residential zones and promoting mixed-use development.
- King County Strategic CAP, Transportation and Land Use (2020) — Prioritizes developing neighborhoods that are walkable or can be easily accessed using public or alternative transportation.
- Lynnwood Comprehensive Plan, Strategies for Reducing Travel Demand (2015) — Shows policy strategies for creating high-density mixed-use areas using multiple transportation modes.
- Olympia Transportation Master Plan, GHG and VMT Indicators (2021) — Discusses reduction targets for GHGs and vehicle miles traveled.
- Puget Sound Regional Council: Regional Transportation Plan, Appendix E (2018) — Includes a climate change analysis of the regional transportation plan.
- Complete Streets — Provides examples and analysis of ordinances and policies adopted by local governments for complete streets (i.e., designed for multiple modes of travel).
- Sustainable Development and Smart Growth — Provides resources related to smart growth and local government examples.
- Transit-Oriented Development — Provides an overview TOD, including useful resources and examples of local TOD plans and ordinances.
- Transportation Plans and Plan Elements — Includes examples of transportation elements and sample comprehensive plans and bicycle and pedestrian plans.
- EPA: Smart Growth and Transportation — Includes information on smart and sustainable street design, TOD, parking management, and sustainable transportation planning.
- Federal Transit Administration: Transit-Oriented Development Resources – Includes TOD training courses, FTA-funded TOD research, and other TOD resources and publications
- Greenroads: Rating System — Offers a free system for measuring and managing the sustainability of transportation projects.
- Oregon Department of Transportation: GHG Emissions Reduction Toolkit — Includes strategy reports and case studies that can help local jurisdictions identify and explore actions and programs to reduce vehicle emissions.
- Smart Growth America: Driving Down Emissions: Transportation, Land Use, and Climate Change — 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.
- Sustainable Development Code — Offers best practices for building communities that are more resilient, environmentally conscious, and socially equitable. Contains 32 chapters categorized by topic (e.g., urban forestry, solid waste, etc.), makes recommendations to amend development codes addressing these topics, explains how adopting the recommended ordinance may affect the code, and provides examples of local governments that have adopted the recommended code.
- Victoria Transport Policy Institute: Guidelines for Evaluating Transportation Emission Reduction Strategies (2022) — Evaluates the methods used to develop local government GHG reduction targets and plans.
- Washington State 2021 Energy Strategy, Transportation Chapter (2021) — Offers policies and strategies to use energy more efficiently and decarbonize the energy that is used.
- Washington State Department of Transportation: Land Use & Transportation Planning — Includes transportation planning-related resources for updating local government comprehensive plans.
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.
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:
- 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: To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Consider Buildings (2021) — Focuses on building electrification to reduce 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 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:
- Bainbridge Island Housing Design Demonstration Projects (2022). See Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Sec. 2.16.020(S) for a program description.
- King County Green Building
- Seattle: Priority Green Expedited. 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
Here are additional resources from MRSC:
- Green Communities and Building Design — Includes examples of local government green building incentive programs.
- Green Building Incentives that Work: Follow the Roadmap — Includes examples of green building incentives local governments can employ.
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:
- 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:
- EPA: 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). 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 amended in 2022. 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 C-PACER programs in the state as of July 2022:
- 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
To access sample documents and read more about the program, see Shift Zero’s C-PACER Financing in Washington.
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.
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.