Reducing urban heat through smart building surfaces — a new coalition can help you do just that

by Brianna Crandall — September 5, 2018 — This past week, 22 leading sustainability and urban organizations, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), announced the formation of the Smart Surfaces Coalition, a group of experts and organizations helping cities rapidly adopt cost-effective solutions to cut excess heat radiation from buildings and surfaces, reduce flood risk and improve livability, health and equity — while saving billions of dollars and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Greg Kats, Smart Surfaces Coalition founder, stated:

The Smart Surfaces Coalition shows cities how to use advanced surface technologies to reduce heat and prevent flooding. These solutions deliver enormous health and financial benefits, slowing global warming, enhancing quality of life and saving taxpayers billions of dollars in energy costs.

Excessive summer heat waves are the new norm in the United States, with scientists finding that most American cities will experience a huge jump, up to five or even 10 times as many excessively hot (90+ degrees Fahrenheit) days, within just a few decades. The five hottest years on record globally have all occurred since 2010. In the US, May 2018 was the hottest on record, and June 2018 was the third hottest in the 124-year temperature record. Rapidly rising temperatures are already costing consumers and companies billions in higher energy and health care costs, and making American communities less livable and healthy.

By adopting proven smart surface measures such as reflective or green roofs, cities can reduce the amount of hot air being reflected back into the surrounding environment, lowering temperatures of cities and communities, saving money and improving lives.

Smart surface technologies allow cities to better manage sun radiation and runoff through:

  • Cool roofs and pavements that reflect away (instead of absorbing) sunlight — cutting temperatures and smog
  • Green roofs and trees that provide shade and reduce flood risk
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) power that converts sunshine into electricity and provides shade
  • Porous pavements, sidewalks and roads that reduce water runoff, flooding and cut the cost of managing storm water

USGBC, which manages the LEED green building rating system used around the world, incorporates many of these tactics into credits that building owners can use to earn LEED certification.

The Smart Surfaces Coalition is already working with a dozen cities to develop tools and training to support mayors, city managers and other key officials around the US to understand and adopt these “remarkable” new opportunities to improve quality of life, health and fiscal bottom line. The Coalition’s goal is to partner with more than 250 cities to adopt and begin implementing smart surfaces as standard city-wide policy by 2023.

Along with the announcement, the Coalition released a new eight-page white paper, “Stay Cool/Save Cash.” Its recommendations and findings are based on a 300-page report, Delivering Urban Resilience, which is built on four years of data collection and research on greening the cities of El Paso, TX; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC.

Fifteen organizations collaborated on the report, which found that smart surface adoption would save El Paso $540 million, Philadelphia $3.6 billion, and Washington, DC, $1.8 billion, not including large additional financial benefits from avoiding lost tourism revenue.

According to USGBC, smart surface technologies produce savings in the form of lower energy and water bills, lower health costs, and reduced water treatment and infrastructure costs. New jobs would result from manufacture, installation and maintenance of smart surfaces, many of which are labor-intensive.

Low-income urban areas are generally more vulnerable to extreme heat, as they have fewer green spaces and more impervious surfaces, resulting in hotter temperatures and poor environmental air quality, points out USGBC. This leads to higher energy bills and greater health risks. Smart surfaces help solve all these structural inequalities.

Kats added:

Cities are increasingly at risk from severe summer heat. This coalition will support adoption of smart surface technologies to save billions of dollars and cut greenhouse gases while making cities cooler, more resilient, healthier and equitable.

Smart Surfaces Coalition members include:

  • Amalgamated Bank
  • The American Institute of Architects
  • Atlantic Council
  • Capital E
  • Casey Trees
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • City of El Paso Office of Resilience and Sustainability
  • City of Philadelphia Office of Sustainability
  • City of Washington, DC, Department of Energy and Environment
  • City of Washington, DC, Department of General Services
  • DowntownDC
  • Eco Districts
  • Energy Coordinating Agency
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • Global Cool Cities Alliance
  • The JPB Foundation
  • National Association of State Energy Officials
  • National Housing Trust
  • National League of Cities
  • Rock Creek Conservancy
  • Smart Growth America
  • Urban Sustainability Directors Network
  • U.S. Green Building Council

To find out more about the Smart Surfaces Coalition and additional smart surfaces resources, visit the Stay Cool / Save Cash website. The USGBC announcement also provides links to climate reports.