On Wednesday, November 1, the diplomatic community and the private sector came together for ‘Green Diplomacy Day’ at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C. The event was co-hosted by the D.C. chapter of the Eco-Capitals Forum and brought together stakeholders to discuss practical energy and sustainability solutions for the operations of foreign embassies in D.C.
Seven years ago, the Forum was launched by the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State, and the diplomatic corps to recognize the role that embassies – as highly visible city landmarks and hubs for connecting people, ideas, and innovations – can play in showcasing solutions for global environmental challenges and helping cities achieve their sustainability goals. The D.C. chapter has grown to include 100 embassies and international organizations, while the Forum has also expanded to include chapters in Paris, France; Rome, Italy; and Bangkok, Thailand.
Tommy Wells, Director of the District of Colombia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), underscored the importance of the Forum, saying that partnerships and collaboration with city residents are critical in order for the city to achieve its ambitious sustainability goals.
“Cities are the problem, and cities are the solution,” he said, showcasing some of the city’s achievements. The city is the first U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified city in the world, and it has had the most Energy Star certified buildings of any metro area for three years in a row.
The diplomatic community has contributed to both of those achievements, with the Embassy of Finland obtaining the first LEED Platinum certification for an embassy in the world. The Embassy of France increased its Energy Star score through partnering with the city, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and the Sustainable Energy Utility to install energy conservation measures like a 10,000-square-foot ‘green roof,’ building automation system, and LED bulbs. Representatives from the Embassies of France and Finland noted that they have seen substantial savings from their sustainability initiatives - $150,000 and $300,000 a year, respectively.
The private sector has also seen benefits from environmental actions. “Being green makes very good business sense to us,” said Johanna Shelton, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at Google. Google has saved more than $1 billion through energy efficiency initiatives alone.
The diplomatic community, private sector, and the District have shared power purchasing best practices as well. In 2015, Washington, D.C. negotiated a precedent-setting power purchase agreement to supply 35 percent of the city’s electricity demand with wind energy, while saving D.C. taxpayers upwards of $45 million over the course of the 20-year agreement. At the same time, some embassies in the District are also entering into a precedent-setting power purchase agreement of their own. WGL Energy unveiled its plans for a new solar farm that will provide cheaper and cleaner power to participating embassies in Washington, D.C. The farm will be built in Maryland with no upfront costs to participating embassies.
“What we’re doing is uniting embassies on a common mission of cheaper and cleaner power, while also providing price stability,” said Rich Walsh, Program Lead for WGL Energy.
“Sustainable management of resources is not only good for environment, but good for business and the economy,” agreed Caroline Vicini, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, citing several similar public-private partnerships in the EU.
Sue Saarnio, Acting Special Envoy for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the U.S. Department of State, feels that it is an exciting time to be thinking about economic opportunities. “We are in the midst of profound change in the power sector,” she said. She noted that technological advances across the energy supply chain have opened up opportunities to modernize both the U.S. grid and power systems around the world, making them more flexible, resilient, secure, and cost effective.
Shelton said that Google sees these opportunities in the grid and takes them seriously. The company is investing $2.5 billion in solar and wind energy projects.
Lucia Magnaud, head of the Green Embassy Program at the Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs in France, directs the Paris chapter, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in Green Diplomacy Day.
She closed the event by reminding attendees that, ultimately, greening diplomacy “transforms not just the buildings, but the people who work in them,” and emphasized that actions are more important than rhetoric.
Other notable speakers and panelists including Christine Lagarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Gérard Araud, Ambassador of France to the United States; Roman Macaya, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States; Ted Trabue, Managing Director, District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) and Landon Van Dyke, Senior Advisor for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, and Executive Secretary for the Greening Diplomacy Initiative and the D.C. Eco-Capitals Forum, U.S. Department of State.
About the Authors: Caroline D’Angelo is an Eco-Management Analyst, and Nick Wills is a Communications Specialist in the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) at the U.S. Department of State.
About the Green Diplomacy Initiative:
As a Department-wide grassroots initiative with executive coordination supported by the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI), Green Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) works to reduce the Department’s environmental footprint and increase efficiencies through partnering with a wide variety of stakeholders and developing innovative projects. GDI’s outreach platforms include the Eco-Capitals Forum (originally called the D.C. Greening Embassies Forum) and the League of Green Embassies. To learn more about GDI and its initiatives, please contact us at Sustainability@state.gov or visit http://state.gov/ecodiplomacy.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.