Explore Washington D.C.

An Eco-Friendly Itinerary in D.C.

Calling all tree huggers for a day’s worth of “green” sightseeing at LEED-certified spots.

As Kermit the Frog lamented, “It’s not easy being green.” But that hasn’t stopped Washington from going green, environmentally speaking that is.

In April the capital marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day with events all over—including on the National Mall, our ultimate symbolic green. There, on April 18, chart toppers like No Doubt and Usher perform music-with-a-message for “Global Citizen Earth Day.”

But as an admitted tree hugger, I’m proud that D.C. takes sustainability seriously year round. One clear sign? The ever-increasing real estate with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit based here. The Embassy of Finland just earned the (highest) Platinum ranking, joining the only other embassy in this rarified sphere: the U.S. Embassy in Finland.

Just four cities worldwide have certified 100 million-plus square feet of space, and D.C.’s one of them. So it’s possible, even easy, to plan a full day’s sightseeing at green “LEEDers.”


National Geographic Museum, Washington D.C.
Going face-to-snout with wildlife at Nat Geo’s museum (©Michelle Maloney, Courtesy National Geographic)

It’s no surprise that National Geographic boasts some serious eco-friendly cred. In 2003 its HQ, near Dupont Circle, became the first existing buildings in the country to claim LEED Silver (now it’s Gold). A staff Green Team implements programs to save water and electricity, recycle electronics and maintain a rooftop beehive, whose inhabitants help pollinate the capital’s flora. (We assume the cherry blossoms top their to-do list!)

In the museum, open from 10 am, stunning photos of the world’s landscapes, wildlife and cultures inspire conservation. Tuesdays at noon, visitors pack the auditorium for free films.


Founding Farmers, Washington D.C.
Bellying up to the bar for sustainable sustenance (Courtesy Founding Farmers)

A few blocks southwest in Foggy Bottom, find D.C.’s first LEED Gold restaurant. At Founding Farmers, an industrial-chic “farmhouse” vibe draws hungry crowds for responsibly sourced dishes like pickled seasonal veggies, chicken with waffles and a rice-bean burger with smoked tofu.

Many of the cocktails come spiked with Founding Farmers rye, custom blended by Sperryville, Virginia’s Copper Fox Distillery. Winner of a 2014 mayor’s sustainability award, the popular spot has sprouted offshoots, all certified, in Georgetown, Potomac and Tysons Corner.

In the same neighborhood, D.C.’s acclaimed Textile Museum has reopened as part of George Washington University in a new LEED Gold temple to handmade Persian carpets, Indonesian batiks and Chinese ceremonial garb.


Nationals Park
At Nationals Park, Stephen Strasburg on the field of green (©Brooke Sabin)

At Nationals Park in southeast, it’s not just the ball field that’s green. When the riverside home of the Washington Nationals opened in 2008, it became the first major pro sports stadium to attain LEED Silver.

Some of its eco-friendly features? Free valet parking for, yes, bicycles, plus a 6,300-square-foot green roof atop a zone for concessions, which include local craft brews, crab cakes and an outpost of famed D.C. eatery Ben’s Chili Bowl.

When night falls, energy-efficient lights shine on fan favorites like Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and those goofy, bobble-headed Racing Presidents. They take the field for the home opener April 6.