Arlington Updates Green Building Incentive Policy

Published on December 12, 2020

  • Incentivizes site plan developments to achieve higher energy efficiency, reduced overall environmental impact
  • Emphasizes post-occupancy energy performance with additional incentives for Net-Zero and Zero-Carbon building certification
  • Reflects the goals of County's Community Energy Plan including being Carbon Neutral by 2050

The County Board today adopted an update to the Green Building Incentive Policy for site plan projects that strengthens Arlington's commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality.

First adopted in 1999 and last updated in 2014, the policy is the County's main tool for encouraging the private sector to voluntarily reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in new projects to help achieve Arlington's long-term carbon emission goals.  It offers bonus density in exchange for meeting specific energy and environmental criteria.

"By raising the bar on green building incentives for site plan developments, Arlington is reaffirming our commitment to our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050," Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. "With buildings generating about 58 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, we need to encourage builders to reach for a higher standard of energy efficiency. The standards in this updated program are ambitious — but achievable. We hope many developers will choose to participate."

The Board voted 4 to 0 to approve the new policy. Board Member Katie Cristol, who is on medical leave, was not present.

Buildings generate about 58 percent of greenhouse gas emissionsCarbon Neutral Arlington

Arlington's Community Energy Plan (CEP), updated in 2019, laid out aggressive energy targets and set Arlington's goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Buildings generate approximately 58 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Arlington.

Revisions to building codes and the LEED (Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system; advances in green building technology; and the CEP spurred the County's update to its Green Building Incentive program.

Broad community involvement

Developers, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), members of the County's Planning Commission and its Long Range Planning Committee, along with the Park and Recreation, Economic Development, Urban Forestry, and Climate Change Energy and Environment commissions; architects; energy engineers; environmental groups; commercial leasing brokers; Arlington Chamber of Commerce, utilities, citizens; other stakeholders, and County planners collaborated to shape the updated incentive program.

Voluntary participation

Participation in the program is voluntary for all site plan projects in Arlington. The policy incentivizes large commercial developments to significantly reduce their overall environmental footprint, with a focus on energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Developers who file special exception site plans before March 12, 2021 would be able to follow the requirements of the 2014 Green Building Incentive policy.

Updates include:

  • Requiring the achievement of LEED Gold certification (or "Earthcraft Gold") for multi-family project certification as the minimum to receive bonus density in site plan projects, raising the baseline from the previous LEED Silver.
  • New prerequisites for participation include the use of renewable energy; meeting specific energy efficiency criteria; supplying electric vehicle charging stations; post-occupancy energy performance; and community sustainability criteria including social equity and bird-protection features.
  • At the higher levels of density, projects must include some additional components focused on energy efficiencies such as additional renewable energy, energy storage and resilience, electrification of building systems, and low carbon materials.
  • The highest levels of participation offer options to comply with exceptional energy performance standards such as Passive House, Net-Zero or Zero-Carbon
  • To ensure that the policy continues to remain rigorous and in line with the Community Energy Plan goals, it includes an automatic update that will take effect on June 30, 2023. This update will increase the minimum requirements for energy optimization specified for each level of participation. A full review and update of the Policy will occur within three years of today's adoption.



Since Arlington's first LEED bonus density project was approved in 2001, 146 site plan buildings have been approved by the County Board. Of those, 92 were subject to an agreement to achieve LEED certification and other environmental commitments. Fifty-seven have been built, achieving their LEED commitments, and complying with the green building site plan conditions.

Approximately 17 million square feet of development in Arlington have been certified green in the last 20 years.

To read the staff report on this item visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 35 on the agenda for the Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, Regular County Board Meeting.

Learn more about Green Building in Arlington.