Hello and welcome to our live chat with George Hawkins, Director of the District Department of the Environment. Please feel free to settle in and submit your questions. We’ll be getting started at 2pm.

Live chat with George Hawkins(04/21/2009)
1:44
GreaterGreaterWashington: Welcome to this week’s live chat with George Hawkins, Director of the District Department of the Environment.
1:44
GreaterGreaterWashington: DDOE measures air and water pollution, helps conserve wildlife and fisheries, manages storm water runoff, encourages proper disposal of waste, encourages efficient use of energy in buildings through energy audits and weatherizing programs, and manages the District Youth “Green Summer” program, where over 800 DC youth work over the summer on environmentally-related projects.
1:45
GreaterGreaterWashington: Mr. Hawkins will take your questions starting at 2 pm. In the meantime, you can submit questions by entering them in the box at the bottom of the chat window.
1:58
GreaterGreaterWashington: Mr. Hawkins is here now. Welcome! Michael Perkins will now be taking over as our moderator.
1:58
Michael Perkins: Thanks and welcome, Mr. Hawkins.

1:59
George Hawkins: Good afternoon, I am delighted to be here—quite a great day to be in the District!
1:59
Michael Perkins: Let’s start out by talking about the new “Green Agenda:”

1:59
[Comment From Alan H.]

The Mayor announced a Green DC Agenda today. What’s that all about?

1:59
[Comment From T. Grant]

Is the GreenDC Agenda still being drafted?

1:59
Michael Perkins: Couple of comments from readers about that…
2:01
George Hawkins: This morning the Mayor announced a sustainability plan for the District—the Green DC Agenda. This is a web-based agenda located at green.dc.gov/agenda. We have organized it by how people live their lives—greening the home, schools, parks, neighborhoods, business and jobs, transit and city government. We also have two spotlights on the Anacostia and Global Warming. So yes, the Agenda is live!
2:01
Michael Perkins: DC Green Agenda (Washington Post)

2:01
Michael Perkins: Haven’t had a chance to look at it this AM. What’s the big picture?
2:02
George Hawkins: We met with almost every agency and received more than 500 initiatives to be included. The Agenda 1.0 presents the greening plan for government efforts—next on the docket is a 2.0 version which will outline what residents, businesses and community groups can do.
2:03
George Hawkins: Big picture is that DC government is leading the charge in one of the great green cities in the world. Bike lanes, low impact development, retrofitting building, green purchasing—the agenda is a roadmap of current successes and future commitments.
2:04
Michael Perkins: Looks like a big expansion of the DC Smartbike program. I know on GGW we’ve talked about compatibility with Arlington’s programs that are being developed. Is that in the works? Are you talking to Arlington about this?
2:04
George Hawkins: And, we are sending out a post card to every district household seeking their feedback. On the Green.DC.gov/agenda website, there is a place for folks to give us feedback, and for people to join us by committing to go green.
2:06
George Hawkins: We have talked with Arlington—and there certainly is good reason to make the programs compatible. Gabe Klein, the exciting new Director at DDOT, is in the lead.
2:06
Michael Perkins: Let’s talk about making homes more efficient. One of the programs DDOE sponsors is free energy audits. I’ve got a question about those.
2:06
[Comment From David Alpert]

Last year, I signed up for a free energy audit through DDOE. The auditor pointed out many places where my house was not as energy efficient as it could be. However, there were no clear next steps. I don’t know how to find a good contractor to weatherize my house. Does DDOE have lists of these, or other ways for me to easily find someone to do the work without having to put in a lot of research time on my own?

2:08
George Hawkins: Our HERS (Home Energy Rating System) is one of our most popular programs—and provides a roadmap to greening the home and saving energy and money. For weatherization, we do not recommend private firms—but do recommend that any contractor be checked for a DC license. I would suggest dcra.dc.gov for a list of licensed home contractors. I do know that there are many new businesses in this field, which is changing fast.
2:09
George Hawkins: Also, I would check with the company that actually did the audit—they could probably give some good references.
2:10
[Comment From Lance B]

Mr. Hawkins, I was wondering how the DDOE balances the cost effectiveness of environmental programs like the free energy audits or the Energy Star credits with their environmental benefits.

2:12
George Hawkins: Good question—we regularly assess our energy efficiency programs to get a read on which give the best bang for the buck. We do seek both to encourage experimentation in energy projects, and to emphasize the most effective efforts. We are getting more feedback all the time, and refining the focus of our programs as we go.
2:12
George Hawkins: And many of these programs are federally funded and directed—so the cost/benefit analysis is done at the federal level before the funding is directed to us.
2:14
Michael Perkins: There are a lot of questions about recycling here

2:14
[Comment From Pam]

I’m not seeing a comprehensive effort to enforce the District rules about business recycling. Especially at the new ballpark, it’s not easy to tell where to recycle bottles, even when you’re looking for it. What’s being done to increase recycling in businesses and event venues?

2:14
Michael Perkins: I notice that on the street I don’t see a lot of places to recycle beverage containers.
2:17
George Hawkins: I tend to agree that we need to expand recycling on the street, including in lands governed by the Park Service. We do have a pilot with the Downtown BID to place the green recycling bins, which has been a success. We hope to expand. Enforcement of business recycling is done the the Department of Public Works, which has been enphasizing enforcement in recent days. I will pass on this comment to Bill Howland, the Director.

2:17
[Comment From Pam]

Why aren’t businesses allowed to single stream our recycling, when our recycling vendor allows this?

2:19
George Hawkins: We are checking on the single stream recycling question—so more in a moment. In the meantime, take a look at our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Washington-DC/DC-Department-of-the-Environment/18765892269?ref=ts

We would like everyone to become a fan of the agency so you can regularly get updated on our work. There is much afoot!

2:19
[Comment From Brian]

Do you have any initiatives for recylcling printer cartridges? I recenly heard that when you send the cartridges back to the manufacturer, they use the materials for other uses instead of new printer cartridges. We go through a lot of them and are feeling that the current practice isn’t very green. What does the DC gov’t do with their printer cartridges? Sorry to be so specific

2:20
Michael Perkins: Probably another one you’ll have to look into…
2:20
[Comment From Guest]

Hello Mr. Hawkins. I would like to know why the green section of dc.gov has not included information on how to recycle more difficult things like refrigerators and televisions on the site. Not all of us own our homes. Environmentally conscious renters need more.

2:20
Michael Perkins: And another
2:22
George Hawkins: First, let me give information for DPW—which is 202-645-8245 and the recycling website at recycle.dpw.dc.gov.

Second, on televisions, we do have a targeted recycling program for old TVs at the Benning Road and Fort Totten transfer stations on Saturdays. More info on the DPW website on how to get there and hours. They will also take refrigerators and other appliances at both sites.

2:23
George Hawkins: Plus, I think that printing cartridges are usually handled at office supply chains like Staples. The District does not have a specific initiative on that topic. Some non-profits collect the cartridges to raise money.
2:23
Michael Perkins: So where’s the boundary between DDOE and DPW when it comes to recycling? It seems like they actually do the pickups including what they can process?
2:24
George Hawkins: Generally, DPW does all the implementation and enforcement on recycling, and DDOE shares with DPW on recycling policy. For example, we are working with DPW now on developing a program for Construction Debris recycling.
2:25
[Comment From Brian]

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that “re-using” is superior to “recycling” because of the high energy needs of some recycling plants. Are you aware of any initiatives to re-use instead of recycle?

2:27
George Hawkins: We certainly agree that reuse is the better option rather than resource extraction for new materials. The ultimate reuse is the redevelopment of existing buildings rather than tearing them down and building anew—which is favored in the District for many reasons. LEED scoring gives points for reuse of materials, which is connected to the most aggressive green building requirements in the country.
2:27
[Comment From Veronique]

To Brian: There are people on utube that teach how to reuse things that are in your home. There is lots of free information out there if you are willing to hunt for it.

2:28
Michael Perkins: Not a question, just a comment.

2:28
Michael Perkins: We have a lot of questions out there about green businesses…
2:28
[Comment From Jessica Gray]

How do Green Contractors gain access to the DC Green Fund grants?

2:29
George Hawkins: Jessica—maybe you can tell me a bit more about “DC Green Fund” grants—I am not sure what you are referring to—is this a federal stimulus fund?
2:29
Michael Perkins: While we’re waiting for a response ...
2:29
[Comment From Mark R]

The DC Green Building Act is one of the most progressive pieces of legislation mandating construction practices and requiring certification by the USGBC for both publicly and privately funded projects. How has the development community responded to the proposal?

2:31
George Hawkins: The development community is way out in front, which is most impressive. Requirements in the law, which now apply to new and substantially renovated district buildings, as well as district-funded buildings, will not extent to private development until 2011 and 2012. I am delighted to report that our private sector friends are not waiting—and that DC has more buildings that are registered under LEED than any city in the country of any size! I hear the market is pushing this direction, as renters want to work in green buildings.
2:32
Michael Perkins: I read that part of the reason is that Tenants typically have to pay for utilities costs. Do you know if that’s true?
2:33
Michael Perkins: There are some questions about why LEED is the standard as opposed to other codes:
2:33
[Comment From Will]

Could you speak more about the enforcement mechanisms of the DC GBA? Why LEED (and a bond) instead of making ASHRAE or other standards part of the building code?

2:33
George Hawkins: Tenants will pay utility costs either as annualized in rent or as a separate charge. But in both cases, significantly reduced costs can cut rental charges. We also know that green buildings are healthier, lighter and generally preferable to work in.

2:34
[Comment From Will]

Why did the Council favor LEED for the DC GBA instead of the EPA’s Energy Star system, which a recent RICS/CoStar study identifies as providing a greater and more measurable benefit.

2:34
[Comment From Veronique]

My utilities are included and I have cfls and everything I’ve bought new is energy star so I don’t thing personal savings is always the reason.

2:35
Michael Perkins: A tenant weighs in on utilitiy costs. Sometimes it’s not just dollars and cents…

2:35
George Hawkins: We have adopted LEED and Green Communities (for public housing) in the statute mostly because they were the best understood mechanisms at the time the legislation was passed. We have recently updated the District’s building codes pertaining to energy with the latest ASHRAE standards, and will continue to do so in thd days ahead. We are looking at the bond question, which seems controversial on many fronts.

2:36
Michael Perkins: Let’s talk about starting small green businesses
2:36
[Comment From Veronique Jones]

I’ve been trying to start a business with a greener concept of reducing the carbon foot print of intellectual properties such as art etc. via making the delivery across country unnecessary. I don’t know if you can even answer this, but is this sort of development an environmentally significant one?

2:36
George Hawkins: Agreed on the cost question—I think many people are seeking green solutions as a lifestyle choice. New energy legislation in the District does focus on Energy Star ratings, and we are benchmarking all District buildings based on Energy Star now.
2:38
George Hawkins: This idea sounds intriguing. We are developing a concept for a green business incubator, which could help ideas like this come to fruition. I’d recommend contact MaryLynn Wilhere at Marylynn.wilhere@dc.gov —who is our business outreach specialist.
2:39
Michael Perkins: I think that would go for our other commenter asking a similar question . . .
2:39
[Comment From Liv]

Are there grants or other resources for small businesses to apply for who have a green plan in mind. I am looking to start a green business and need help getting started.

2:40
George Hawkins: Hi Liv—we hope to be able to help you and others seeking to start green businesses. Contact Marylynn, and the Department of Small and Local Business Development can help too: www.dslbd.dc.gov.
2:40
[Comment From Richard Wallace]

“Big picture is that DC government is leading the charge in one of the great green cities in the world. Bike lanes, low impact development, retrofitting building, green purchasing—the agenda is a roadmap of current successes and future commitments. ” DC area had 18 CNG stations in the late ‘90s. Now there are ~ 2. There is no way this situation can be characterized as ‘leading’. Our cabs should all be on NG today in 2009. The effort was started in 1992. How is DC making progress? It seems like we’re going backwards here.

2:43
George Hawkins: This is a good comment—there is always more we can do, and we did not get much support for alternative fuels in the last several years. On the bright side, DC is greening its fleet, is the first to use fleet share and zipcar for government business, and is aggressively expanding smart bikes, bike valets and stations, bike lanes and the rest. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but we recently learned that despite the increase in population in the District, the number of registered vehicles is falling. People are walking more, taking public transportation, and getting to know their neighbors to boot!

2:44
Michael Perkins: Here’s something that I know has worked well in my home town. There you get charged for the size of the trash cart you use. You get unlimited size recycling cart, but the largest cart (90 gallons) costs about four times as much as the smallest (30) . . .
2:44
[Comment From Trash Man]

We could increase the recycling rate if people were charged for the weight or volume of trash they threw out, instead a flat cost. That would give people an incentive to recycle; the less you throw out, the less you pay. The Stimulus Bill money for energy efficiency can be used for improving solid waste management programs. Is DC considering moving to pay-as-you-throw?

2:44
George Hawkins: We are also talking with PEPCO, car companies and others to develop a program to connect charging stations at bus stops with an effort to expand electric vehicle use in the District.

2:46
George Hawkins: We have looked at this issue, but are not currently thinking of moving to a pay-as-you-throw program until we have improved our core recycling program. Good point though—in our office we shifted to very small waste containers with a recycling box. Making it more difficult to collect trash in each office has helped our team (me very much included) rethink how much waste I generate.

2:46
Michael Perkins: Those are excellent steps re: the DC car fleet, but what can we do to improve the emissions coming from DC’s taxicab fleet? Those are always on the road and it seems like we could get a lot of bang for the buck if we improve emissions there.
2:47
George Hawkins: Good point. We have had much change with the cab fleet in the last 12 months, and we are still evaluating the cost and benefit of the cab business. I think greening the cab fleet is very much on the list for consideration though - I certainly have been in a cab that seemed less than optimal on that score.
2:48
Michael Perkins: I think Arlington’s approach was to partner with a cab company that exclusively uses hybrids like Camrys or Highlanders.
2:49
[Comment From Chris]

I really like the idea of tax incentives for solar developments on DC property. Can you tell us more about the plan you came up with?

2:50
George Hawkins: The District does not have a tax incentive program for solar—instead we have adopted an approach to provide rebates in a competitive process. There are federal tax incentives, and we are aware the state incentive programs have frequently been successful (NJ is a great example). Our program provides assistance up to $33,000, depending on the installation. More

2:51
George Hawkins: Check out Greenenergy.dc.gov. We are expanding the program later this year to include geothermal, biomass and other innovative sources to our existing rebates for wind and solar.
2:52
Michael Perkins: Where in DC would you install Geothermal or Biomass? It doesn’t seem like those would make sense in an urban environment.
2:54
George Hawkins: We have installed geothermal down near the Mall, and have had requests to experiment with this approach in several locations. There will certainly be space limitations to where these sources can be used—but we will need every new source we can use to meet our goal to reduce green house gases.
2:54
[Comment From Pat Bailey]

Today the Mayor announced his “green” agenda which included planting trees to make a larger canopy in the District. I live at the edge of the city near 16th St. The 16th st corridor into the city was the site of a landscaping improvement plan taken on by DDOT. The plan modeled landscaping improvements done in Chicago. INitially it looked great, however it shows wear and tear and there are many trees missing. It needs HELP. Who will pay attention to that project? Why does DDOT have to manage landscaping work? I just don’t get it.

2:56
George Hawkins: First, you are right that the Agenda includes a commitment to expand the tree canopy from about 36% to 40% in the next 25 years—which seems like a long time, but will require planting about 8,600 trees a year during that time frame. We are certainly aware that maintaining the trees is as important as planting them, and are supplementing DDOT efforts this summer with a dedicated team of summer youth in the Mayor’s Green Summer program that will focus exclusively on trees. So the maintenance effort will get a huge shot in the arm from our kids!
2:56
[Comment From T. Grant]

What steps will DDOT/DDOE take to “green” the roads that these new energy efficient and emissions reducing vehicles will be traveling on?

2:58
George Hawkins: DDOT has adopted a new green strategy for roads, and is also building roads within a “Great Streets” program. DDOE’s stormwater regulations and requirements under a federal permit require more low impact development in public spaces, and we have a good partnership with DDOT to make that happen. The Office of Planning under Harriet Tregoning also pushes street level green design with great vigor.
2:58
Michael Perkins: This is going to have to be the last question…

2:58
[Comment From Bill]

Do you think the District would move to a Renewable Portfolio-based renewable policy instead of using rebates?

2:59
George Hawkins: The District just increased its renewable portfolio commitment to 20% by 2020 in the recent Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008—so we are embracing both approaches.
3:00
Michael Perkins: Thanks. We have some unanswered questions and comments, and I’d like to send them to you if that’s alright.
3:01
George Hawkins: I am terribly sorry we were not able to get to all the questions—but visit green.dc.gov and click on “Ask the Director” and we will answer all. Thank you for having me, we are delighted to serve the District and help all of us achieve our green aspirations!
3:01
Michael Perkins: Thanks for chatting with us today, and thanks to our commenters for the excellent questions.
3:01
Michael Perkins: David?

3:01
GreaterGreaterWashington: Thanks everyone for participating and thanks again to Director Hawkins!
3:01
GreaterGreaterWashington: You can continue the conversation in the comments thread: /post/2095
3:02
GreaterGreaterWashington: And tune in for our next exciting chat soon.
3:02

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.