ICF facilitates Fairfax County climate change initiative

Editor’s note: The following is adapted from a case study posted by ICF, a Fairfax-based global consulting and technology services provider. The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority thanks ICF for its collaboration with county leaders.

Home to about 1.15 million people, Fairfax County has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050. Fairfax-based ICF, a global consulting and technology services provider, facilitated a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) Working Group to set greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction goals for the community. ICF also built models to show the potential GHG reductions of various strategies. The final action plan was accepted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September 2021.

In 2018, the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC)—an advisory group appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors—proposed the creation of a community-led climate plan to establish how the county would meet its carbon reduction goals. The Board of Supervisors voted to support the development of the CECAP in 2019.

Typically, these types of plans are undertaken through a top-down approach. Recognizing that this plan would impact residents, businesses, and other county stakeholders, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wanted the community to be directly involved in determining the areas of focus.

In collaboration with county staff, ICF facilitated the Working Group with more than 50 members which included members of local businesses, utilities, environmental groups, religious organizations, and social justice institutions. Broader public input was also incorporated through surveys, meetings and feedback sessions.

While ICF’s original plan called for a series of in-person meetings, the initiative shifted to a virtual meeting environment due to COVID. ICF made use of online collaboration tools and virtual meeting environments to reach more people, effectively brainstorm and share ideas. More than 50 community feedback meetings were held.

ICF also built out a model to evaluate the potential GHG reduction of each strategy the Working Group considered for the plan. The Working Group identified various priorities and ICF showed them a working model of how well that action could be used to reduce GHG emissions, according to ICF.

In term of results, ICF compiled its recommendations after achieving consensus from the wide variety of stakeholders. The Working Group collectively agreed on 12 strategies and 37 actions for the community to reduce GHG emissions in Fairfax County.

CECAP Goals:

  • Long-term target goal: Fairfax County will aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 from a 2005 base year, with at least 87 percent coming from GHG emissions reduction.
  • Interim year goal 2030: Fairfax County will reduce GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030, from a 2005 base year.
  • Interim year goal 2040: Fairfax County will reduce GHG emissions by 75 percent by 2040, from a 2005 base year.

Sector-specific goals:

The sector-specific goals include two goals specific to the Building and Energy Efficiency sector, two goals specific to the Transportation sector, one goal specific to the Natural Resources sector, and one goal specific to the Waste sector.

  • All new, eligible buildings will have a commitment to green building.
  • Retrofit at least 100,000 housing units with energy efficiency measures by 2030.
  • Increase transit and non-motorized commuting to 30 percent (including teleworking) by 2030.
  • Increase plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles to at least 15 percent of all light-duty vehicle registrations by 2030.
  • Expand the tree canopy to 60 percent with a minimum of 40 percent tree canopy coverage in every census block by 2030 and a minimum of 50 percent tree canopy coverage in every census block by 2050, prioritizing areas of highest socioeconomic need first.
  • Achieve zero waste by 2040, defined as at least 90 percent waste diverted from landfill/ incineration. In alignment with the Zero Waste International Alliance, “zero waste” is defined as the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

With the Board of Supervisors accepting the recommendations, CECAP showcases how businesses, organizations, and residents can work together to make significant, community-wide reductions to GHG emissions that drive climate change, according to ICF.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing Fairfax County today,” writes Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay in the CEPAP report. “As our region experiences more frequent and severe storm and precipitation events, flooding, high wind, and extreme heat, we are already grappling with the social, economic and environmental effects of a changing climate. As the largest county in Virginia, Fairfax County must lead in making significant, community-wide reductions to its greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.”

Click here to download the Fairfax County Community-wide Energy and Community Action Plan.