The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Shaping National Preservation Policy

Sustainability

Arguing for the role of historic preservation in environmental sustainability.

From the energy crises in the 1970s to the recent concerns in the past decade about community livability and climate resilience, the ACHP has consistently championed historic preservation as a key component of environmental sustainability. This has included arguing for special consideration for historic properties in the application of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) standards promulgated by the U.S. Green Building Council, which had largely overlooked or underplayed the role of historic resources in sustainability.

While the federal government, especially the General Services Administration as the government’s landlord, did get involved more generally in these programs as well as consumer and government energy savings activities through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, the preservation role was minor. The Arab oil embargo and America’s resulting energy crisis in the 1970s sparked intense interest in energy conservation. Consequently, the ACHP issued a report, “Assessing the Energy Conservation Benefits of Historic Preservation: Methods and Examples” (1979), which documented that rehabilitation of historic buildings could produce significant energy conservation benefits. An initial ground-breaking Programmatic Agreement with the Department of Energy for its weatherization grants programs was completed in the 1980s so that the Department and applicants could ensure sensitive application of weatherization treatments for historic properties.

While many historic buildings are inherently “green” in their materials and construction, and can have their energy efficiency maximized by sensitive retrofitting, federal agencies managing such properties have often had to struggle to “sell” that idea to leaders and managers. Public reinvestment in historic districts and communities promotes reuse of existing infrastructure and supports areas that generally are walkable and have good transit access options. In 1996 the ACHP participated in interagency efforts that resulted in issuance of Executive Order 13006, “Locating Federal Facilities on Historic Properties in Our Nation’s Central Cities.”

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

401 F Street NW, Suite 308, Washington, DC 20001-2637, (202) 517-0200