Tysons, VA

What would it take for you to reduce your carbon footprint?

That’s the question Fairfax County is posing as it enters the public engagement portion of its Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) initiative, which will establish goals and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change.

Launched in early 2020, the CECAP process is being led by the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax-based consulting firm ICF.

The county previously sought public input on the plan in August and September, when a CECAP Task Force started developing draft mitigation goals.

In addition to holding two public meetings last week, one focused on energy and another on transportation, waste, and development, the county is looking to gather more public feedback through a trio of short surveys.

“We want to make sure that we expand our reach and get information from as many county residents and business owners as we can,” ICF Director of Human Capital Michelle Heelan said when facilitating the energy community meeting on Feb. 23.

One survey gauges respondents’ interest in undertaking projects to make their home more energy-efficient and sustainable, like installing solar panels and replacing light bulbs and HVAC systems. Another deals with transportation and development, asking questions about public transit, electric vehicles, and mixed-use development.

There is also a more open-ended survey for people to share general comments on the CECAP initiative.

“In Fairfax County, energy use and transportation are the two greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the OEEC says. “The CECAP will address both issue areas, and with your input, we can ensure that the final plan reflects the needs of everyone in our community as we work to reduce our collective carbon footprint.”

The surveys are currently available in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. They will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Mar. 14.

ICF will draft a final report with input from a CECAP Working Group and the community for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to adopt this summer, according to OEEC Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale.

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Combatting climate change will be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and at least one private company in Fairfax County has promised to do its part to help.

HITT Contracting, a construction contractor headquartered in Falls Church, announced a commitment on Feb. 11 to become carbon-neutral by 2023. The company pledged to reduce its reliance on carbon after starting to track its emissions in 2018 and learning that its operations generated 19,173 carbon-equivalent metric tons of greenhouse gases.

“Environmental stewardship is at the core of all we do. After tracking and understanding our greenhouse gas emissions, we could not ignore the effect our operations have on the environment,” HITT Director of Sustainability Isaiah Walston said. “By reducing our carbon footprint and moving toward carbon neutrality, we can positively impact our workforce, clients, and society as a whole.”

Walston acknowledged that carbon neutrality is not the same as eliminating all carbon emissions, but says the company sees this as a starting point and is “committed to taking further steps to reduce our emissions in the future.”

HITT’s emissions reduction strategy will involve purchasing primarily U.S.-based carbon offsets in locales where it operates. It has also pledged to focus on making its office and on-site operations efficient and sustainable even as it plans to expand.

The company also says in its press release that it will continue tracking its corporate emissions and present annual feasibility studies on its reduction practices.

“The commitment to becoming carbon neutral is our next major investment in fighting climate change,” HITT CEO Kim Roy said. “Making the world a better place through our work is a core value that aligns with our clients and partners. It’s simply the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen.”

Fairfax County commended HITT’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint, as the county pursues similar green aspirations.

“The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination is pleased to see local business leaders, like HITT, taking steps to address climate change,” OEEC Deputy Director Susan Hafeli said. “The business community has a large role to play in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, and Fairfax County is fortunate to have numerous examples of companies making strides in sustainability planning and action.”

Reducing emissions is especially critical for building operations and construction, which collectively account for 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally, according to a United Nations report published in December.

Hafeli says Fairfax County will look to businesses, as well as community organizations and individuals, to help drive emissions down as it develops its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which will set goals and strategies for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the impacts of climate change.

The county is also developing a Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan to address and identify risks and areas of concern in the county that could eventually be impacted by climate change.

Fairfax County will hold two community meetings next week to discuss the CECAP. The first meeting on Feb. 23 will focus on energy issues, while the second on Feb. 25 will center on transportation, waste, and development.

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Fairfax County should attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and eliminate all waste from county government and school operations by 2030, the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) recommends in a new report.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 20 and the Fairfax County School Board on Oct. 22, the report urges both boards, along with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Regional Housing Authority, to commit to producing net-zero carbon emissions from their energy usage by 2040.

To achieve this goal, the task force suggests that Fairfax County aim to cut its carbon emissions in half from 2019 levels by 2030, while transitioning to renewable sources to generate 25% of its energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

The task force also recommends reducing the total amount of energy used by all county facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, and requiring all new county buildings and major renovation projects meet net-zero energy standards starting in 2021.

Other recommendations proposed by the JET include:

  • Fairfax government and schools should aim to produce zero solid waste by 2030
  • The Fairfax Connector bus fleet should transition to electricity or other non-carbon-emitting fuel sources by 2030, with the Fairfax County Public Schools fleet and non-bus vehicles following suit by 2035
  • The county government and schools should develop resources to educate students and adults about job options in “green” industries, including renewable energy, green building, resource and wildlife management, and stormwater management

“The JET’s ambitious goals and recommendations send a powerful message that our county and school system are committed to doing what it takes to protect our environment and address the threat of climate change,” Providence District School Board member Karl Frisch said.

Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions executive director Meg Mall, one of nine community members on the JET, says her environmental advocacy group is “pleased that strong goals have been incorporated” into the task force’s report and hopes to see continued collaboration not just between different county agencies, but also between Fairfax County and the general public.

“FACS has been a strong advocate for the adoption of aggressive goals in the county’s climate mitigation and adaptation work,” Mall said. “…The county must lead by example within its own operations while concurrently working toward community-wide goals.”

The Board of Supervisors and school board formed the JET in April 2019 to coordinate county government and schools efforts to address climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability issues.

While the threat of climate change has loomed for decades, its urgency became newly apparent when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2018 that found the world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and potentially avoid the most drastic impacts of climate change.

In addition to creating the JET, Fairfax County signaled that it intends to prioritize climate issues by establishing the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination in July 2019 and awarding contracts to solar providers in December to install solar panels at more than 100 publicly owned facilities.

Mothers Out Front Fairfax County, which launched a campaign advocating for electric school buses in August 2019, praised the JET’s zero waste and carbon neutrality recommendations but urged Fairfax County to convert its school bus fleet to electricity by 2030.

“Mothers Out Front’s priority is the health and future of our children, and we have been pushing to convert school bus fleets across the state to electric by 2030,” Mothers Out Front Fairfax County co-founder Julie Kimmel said. “While we fully support the recommendation that the Fairfax Connector bus fleet be transitioned to electric by 2030, we think all Fairfax County school buses should also be converted to electric in the same time frame.”

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the JET recommendations and get updates on the solar power purchase agreement initiative, the development of a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), and the county’s yard waste collection bag policy during its environmental committee meeting today at 11 a.m.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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Fairfax County is pushing ahead with work on its new climate plan in an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairfax County officials are seeking the public’s feedback on the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) through a series of virtual public meetings. The three upcoming meetings will facilitate conversations on the county’s climate change management goals.

People can register for the meetings through the links below:

The CECAP Task Force, which is composed of representatives from associations and businesses, will incorporate the public’s feedback into their final draft of the policy. 

Here’s more from the county on the plan:

The Fairfax County Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) development process is administered by the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax County-based management consulting firm ICF. The plan, which will be the first of its kind for the county, will include a greenhouse gas inventory as well as targets for greenhouse gas reduction in the coming years.

The CECAP will also include actions and strategies to help mitigate climate change and to reduce the impact of climate-related events on county residents and businesses. At the conclusion of the development process, a final plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for adoption. 

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Virtual Job Fair — “The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) is still looking for enthusiastic workers to fill seasonal positions now that COVID-19 safety restrictions are being eased and park facilities are reopening under Gov. Ralph Northam’s phased Forward Virginia Blueprint.” [Fairfax County]

Fine Free — “The Mary Riley Styles Public Library no longer charges fines for overdue books and other materials. All previously assessed fines for overdue materials will also be forgiven.” [City of Falls Church]

Support for Climate Crisis — “U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, who represents the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church, [Tuesday] hailed the release of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis action plan, “Solving The Climate Crisis.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Instead of holdings strikes around the globe to advocate for climate change activism, the organization behind Earth Day is urging activists to participate in virtual events.

“On Earth Day, April 22, 2020, we have two crises: One is the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The other is a slowly building disaster for our climate,” according to the Earth Day website.

Earth Day Live today is offering 24 hours of messages, performances and educational components, including appearances from Zac Efron and Al Gore.

While  Fairfax County’s 2020 Earth Day Festival has been canceled, the McLean Community Center tweeted about Earth Day opportunities:

Let Tysons Reporter know in the poll below if you plan to join Earth Day events:

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Officials from Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday (Tuesday) that the county plans to expand the use of solar energy across 87 FCPS schools and facilities.

The new contracts, which are known as solar power purchase agreements (PPA), with service providers are the largest “solar PPA initiative by a local municipality in Virginia to date,” according to a press release from Fairfax County.

“Our move toward solar reinforces the School Board’s commitment to our environmental stewardship responsibilities,” said FCPS School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders in a statement.

The following area schools are being considered for solar modifications:

Vienna

McLean

Falls Church

Merrifield

Photo via Flickr / Minoru Karamatsu 

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Dozens of students and adults joined a climate strike today in the Town of Vienna as part of an international effort.

Protesters, elected officials, local groups — including 350 Fairfax and Mothers Out Front Fairfax — and community members gathered outside at the Vienna Town Green (144 E. Maple Avenue) from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“WAKE THE HELL UP,” said one sign with a drawing of the earth on fire.

“‘Once we begin to act, hope is everywhere’ – Greta Thunberg,” another sign said with the message of the Swedish environmental activist who has sparked climate change activism among young adults and kids.

The strike in Vienna was a part of a larger effort organized by the Sunrise Movement, along with the help of youth coalition groups, ahead of the UN’s annual climate conference.

The student strike in Vienna is being organized by Katie M., a high school climate activist.

Katie told Tysons Reporter that she grew up in a family of climate activists. After becoming interested in climate change as a sophomore, she started planning strikes and events in D.C.

She said she decided to organize the strike in Vienna, because “D.C. already has a strong climate movement.”

Katie said that she was “really excited about the turnout” today and is hoping to plan another strike for Earth Day.

At the strike, protesters urged people to write a postcard to the Fairfax County School Board. The students and adult allies are pushing for a Green New Deal for FCPS that would switch all of the schools to net-zero carbon emissions by installing solar panels and energy-efficient windows. The plan would also continue the push for electric school buses in the county.

“I just want to make sure [my kids] have a liveable planet to live in,” Tiziana Bottino, a community organizer for Mothers Out Front, told Tysons Reporter about why she joined the strike.

While Bottino said that she’s impressed by the recent youth activism, she said the students shouldn’t have to be the ones calling for climate action.

“They should be worried prom,” Bottino said.

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In two weeks, Fairfax County public school students plan to demand action on climate change in Vienna as part of an international strike.

“This is not a hypothetical. This is not a partisan issue,” Deepa R., a climate activist and junior at James Madison High School, said in a press release. “This is real, this is now, and this is the way that we as a species will die if we don’t take action.”

The strike is set to take place on the Vienna Town Green (144 E. Maple Avenue) from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on  Friday (Dec. 6), the press release said.

Elected officials and local groups are expected to attend the strike, including School Board Member Ryan McElveen, 350 Fairfax and Mothers Out Front Fairfax, the press release said.

The strike in Vienna is a part of a larger effort organized by the Sunrise Movement, along with the help of youth coalition groups.

After the nationwide climate strike in September ahead of the UN Climate Change panel, this strike aims to encourage young activists to strike during the UN’s annual climate conference.

The student strike in Vienna is being organized by Katie M., a high school climate activist who was recently honored along with fellow student Wendy G. by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for pushing for climate change, according to the press release.

At the strike, the students and adult allies plan to call for a Green New Deal for Fairfax County Public Schools that works switch all of the schools to net-zero carbon emissions by installing solar panels and energy-efficient windows. The plan would also continue the push for electric school buses in the county.

“The students also demand that the county require comprehensive climate education in schools,” the press release said.

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Locals want more eco-friendly guidelines as Fairfax County looks ahead to the next 10 to 20 years.

Roughly four dozen attendees showed up to the meeting at Marshall High School last night (Wednesday) to provide feedback on the county’s preliminary strategies.

After brief presentations by County Executive Bryan Hill and James Patterson, the manager of the countywide strategic planning process, attendees were able to choose three out of the nine areas they wanted to learn more about by talking to team members.

Attendees were given copies of the preliminary strategies — 166 in total — and asked to provide feedback to the teams.

The county is especially interested in these nine areas:

  • cultural and recreational opportunities
  • economic opportunity
  • education and lifelong learning
  • effective and efficient government
  • health and environment
  • housing and neighborhood livability
  • mobility and transportation
  • safety and security
  • self-sufficiency for people with vulnerabilities

The nine areas have five shared themes: affordability, equity, sustainability, innovation and collaboration, Patterson said.

Many of the people told the various teams that they support environmentally-friendly strategies, urging the staffers to strengthen or add language that would reduce pollution and waste. “I feel like the environment is critical,” one attendee said.

Locals talking to the “Health and Environment” team pushed for replanting of older instead of younger trees and stronger recycling rules.

People also suggested mandating that businesses recycle, adding urban gardens to schools and reducing food waste. Several attendees expressed frustration about unclear recycling rules and suggested that Fairfax County use stickers and more communication to clarify its glass recycling rules.

“We’re a wealthy county,” one person said. “Give us a glass recycling bin.”

While attendees seemed to come to a consensus that they want stronger protections in place to protect the environment, not everyone agreed on the specifics. In response to a suggested plastic ban, an attendee pointed out that plastic bans can hurt low-income families.

Over at the “Mobility and Transportation” station, people pushed for more frequent bus transit, suggesting different size buses — like double-deckers and buses of various lengths — to accommodate more riders.

Brent Riddle, a transportation planner for Fairfax County, said that the staffers are exploring different ways to add more cross-county transportation, like adding buses between Annadale and the Mosaic District and creating bus-only lanes.

“Public transit is more oriented as a feeder system into D.C,” Riddle said about current transit options.

Overall, attendees said that it’s better to incentivize group travel than disadvantage single-occupancy vehicles — possibly hurting lower-income communities in the process.

Some of the strategies that attendees showed strong support for include:

  • Increase the walkable access (within half-mile or 10-mile walk countywide) to parks, facilty entrances or trailheads to connect people to nature and receational experiences, prioritizing implementation in areas with disparate health outcomes and other equity measures.
  • Prioritize and incentivize the use of high-occupany vs. single-occupant vehicles; this includes transit buses, vanpools and carpools.
  • Shift the design of selected roadways away from a sole focus on automobile traffic to a multi-modal focus by incorporating sidewalks, bike lanes and high-occupancy vehicle and bus lanes and rail lines.

The meeting last night was the last of six recent meetings to seek community input. Currently, county staffers are working to develop and refine strategies before finalizing the draft by the end of the year, Patterson said. Early next year, the draft will get publicized and adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

The county plans to use the input to identify priority areas and success metrics for the county-wide strategic plan.

People can still submit feedback on the preliminary strategies through an online survey that is available in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Urdu and Vietnamese.

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