Burgeoning Sustainability Trends Shaping Northern Virginia’s Building Industry

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Burgeoning Sustainability Trends Shaping Northern Virginia’s Building Industry

April 10, 2024

By: Deirdre Smith, Associate Director of Landscape & Sustainability of Ox Hill Companies- LEED


April is earth month. With that in mind, it’s a great opportunity to examine the emerging

ideas and sustainability trends impacting building development in Northern Virginia and



Last year went down in the record books as the warmest year on record. As a result,

government and business leaders, investors and other stakeholders are finally coming

to the realization that time is running short. Climate change tops the list in terms of its

global impact on sustainability and the environment.


“As the new year unfolds, the momentum towards net zero energy buildings is surging,

signaling a profound shift toward genuine sustainability,” according to Kathy Lawson,

Director of Sustainability at Tysons-based architectural firm Davis, Carter, Scott. Ms.

Lawson has been a leading voice for sustainability in green design for the last 15 years.

She continues, “while progress in building codes and green building rating systems has

been steady over the past decade, it’s now, more than ever, that industry pioneers are

stepping up and technological advancements are converging, making the promise of

abundant net zero buildings a tangible reality.”


Here are some interesting trends to watch that have been emerging in the Capital area

as we combat environmental changes.


Effort in Decarbonization Continues

As a result of the climate change crisis, the decarbonization push is on and remains the

most pressing sustainability issue faced by the building industry. While U.S. buildings

are on average 26% more efficient than they were in 1990, those gains have been offset

by the development of new buildings and their carbon emissions. Kind of a good news,

bad news situation!


In New York City, a stringent new law, Local Law 97 (LL97), went into effect in January

and applies to all buildings over 25,000 square feet. The ruling includes stricter

emission standards with hefty penalties for non-compliance over the next 16 years –

towards the goal of net-zero buildings in Manhattan by 2050.


LL 97 is second only in its ambitious intent to the Clean Energy DC Omnibus

Amendment Act of 2018 which sets forth an action plan to cut greenhouse gas

emissions by 50% in the District of Columbia by 2032. It is expected that more states

and jurisdictions will follow suit with their own laws and regulations to reduce

greenhouse gas emissions — utilizing less carrot and more stick — as the world draws

closer to the climate deadlines set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement.


Private companies are also coming on board with their own sustainability reports which

have been surprisingly transparent and include equally lofty goals.


Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Better Utilization of Resource

Artificial Intelligence (AI) seemingly burst into the collective consciousness in 2023.

Don’t look for anything to change there. In a way, the extent of AI’s capabilities has yet

to be determined – especially in the area of building development.


Buildings designed with the help of integrative AI will be more sustainable, better

performing and more responsive. In addition, building systems operated by AI will not

only make that building more efficient but will improve and accelerate the collection and

management of Equity, Social and Governance (ESG) data.


Building Design and Regulations Are Shaping Transformation

Office-to-residential conversions are continuing to surge in the Washington metro as

well as other urban areas throughout the U.S. This trend began in 2023 to address the

vital need for more housing as well as an opportunity to resurrect downtown office areas

devastated by the work force exodus during Covid. However, retrofitting the aged and

inherently inefficient physical plant may prove challenging if the goal is to create more

sustainable spaces.


To that end, LEED and WELL designed and certified buildings will continue to be the

gold (or even Platinum) standard for spaces that are sustainably built, energy efficient

and focused on human health and well-being.


Fairfax City-based Ox Hill Companies has pledged to achieve LEED certification on all

of its developments. City Centre West, the firm’s premier development set for Summer

2026 delivery, will provide Fairfax City’s first WELL certified building. Another first for an

already landmark project.

(Ox Hill Companies’ Latest Venture: City Centre West)

Locally, Fairfax City has recently initiated a committee to reshape and update current

building requirements to include more green building policies. The goal is to establish

green building standards and incentives for both private and public sector construction

and major renovations.


The Use of Green Materials in Construction

The emphasis in 2024 will be on the development and use of more sustainable

materials as well as sustainable sourcing. As the decarbonization drumbeat grows

louder, the need to make changes becomes harder to ignore. While some of these

materials – such as green cement and mass timber — have been on the market for a

while, only now are they becoming more well-known and accepted.


A case in point is green cement. A key ingredient in concrete, the production of cement

is responsible for roughly eight percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. If the cement

industry were a country, it would be right behind China and the United States as the 3rd

largest emitter of CO2 in the world! That’s a pretty harrowing statistic – considering

concrete is also the world’s most used construction material. However, utilizing new

technology, concrete can now be produced through a “carbon-negative manufacturing

process,” creating what has been dubbed “green cement.”


Similarly, due to technological innovations, mass timber can be utilized to construct

buildings up to 18 stories tall. These laminated wood products have been touted to be

as strong as steel or concrete. That strength, combined with their environmental

benefits, makes mass timber a very attractive option for the construction industry

seeking to reduce its carbon footprint.


Another material on the horizon is hemp-based products which have the added benefit

of providing high levels of carbon sequestration. A sustainable win-win! Look for the

development of more hemp-based construction products, such as insulation, to hit the

market in 2024.


The Growing Popularity in New Energy

Solar technology is another area that is set to explode with the introduction of new

applications beyond the familiar yet bulky solar roof panels or solar farms. Companies,

like Reston-based, Thriving Solar Solutions, are showcasing Building Integrated

Photovoltaics (BIPV) that are seamlessly integrated into the structure of a building

replacing, for example, traditional glass on building facades.


Last but not least, with more affordable and government incentivized electric vehicles

(EVs) on the road, there will be a much-need boom in EV-charging stations in most

metropolitan areas in 2024. But, given that electric vehicles still comprise just 1% of the

total vehicles on the road, don’t expect those gas pumps at the 7-Eleven to go away any

time soon.



What once began as a single day – Earth Day – has now evolved into an entire month.

However, in all reality, the focus the caring for the environment and looking for

sustainable solutions should be a year-round endeavor both globally and locally.

As Chris Smith, Managing Director, sums up, “at Ox Hill Companies, we’ve not only

anticipated these trends but are leaning into them. Sustainability and green design are

at the forefront of all the developments that we are bringing to the city of Fairfax.”