Fairfax County Releases its First Greenhouse Gas Inventory

April 10, 2013

News Highlights

  • Total greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3 percent during the five-year period studied but emissions declined by 1 percent when measured per resident.
  • In 2010, buildings' energy consumption accounted for 63 percent of total emissions residential and commerical buildings were responsible for all but three percent of this amount. Transportation accounted for 37 percent of total emissions.
  • Passenger cars are the number source for transportation-related emissions. Total emissions from passenger cars grew by nearly 4 percent over five years, and emissions from commuters passing through Fairfax County to other destinations accounted for 70 percent of this increase.


Greenhouse gas emissions in Fairfax County rose at a rate just below its population growth during a five-year period, according to a new county study.

This finding comes from the county’s first Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory that was recently released. The inventory accounts for emissions from residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and county government sources within Fairfax. The study covers 2006 to 2010 and was funded by a stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

During this five-year span, greenhouse emissions rose by 3 percent in total — but emissions declined by 1 percent when measured per resident. The county’s population grew by 4 percent over this period.

Per capita, greenhouse emissions fell from 11.41 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent in 2006 to 11.30 million in 2010.

Fairfax County conducted the inventory to provide a baseline measurement, as well as to guide its future efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on the findings, officials say that residents can play an important role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by saving energy. Home and business energy use creates the majority of the emissions in the county. Cars and trucks make up the second largest source for emissions.

In total, residential, commercial, industrial and government buildings’ consumption of electricity, natural gas and fuel oil produced 63 percent of the total emissions. Transportation accounted for 37 percent.

The energy used by county government buildings, including schools, only generated 2.42 percent of emissions in 2010.

These numbers remained roughly the same during the five-year period studied. However, household electricity use spiked while commercial and industrial use dropped.

This increased household electricity demand produced 6 percent more greenhouse gases in 2010 compared to 2006, and greater residential natural gas consumption caused a 13 percent jump in emissions. In contrast, commercial electricity usage declined 1.61 percent and industrial use plummeted 26.5 percent.

Between 2006 and 2010, total emissions from passenger cars increased by nearly 4 percent. Emissions associated with commuters passing through the county to other destinations accounted for 70 percent of the increase.

This trend demonstrates how mass transit, like Metro, can reduce greenhouse gases. This is one reason Fairfax County is concentrating future growth in urban centers served by transit, such as Tysons. Transit-oriented development combats sprawl, reduces traffic congestion and curbs greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, the report’s findings support regional forecasts that emissions in the D.C. area will continue to grow if left unchecked. Total emissions from energy use will increase by 43 percent by 2050, and emissions from transportation will climb by 47 percent, according to a 2008 report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

 Although county government facilities only generate a very small fraction of total emissions, Fairfax is actively working to conserve energy and cut greenhouse gases. This includes:

  • The county’s waste-to-energy operation is carbon neutral to negative, and it generates enough electricity to power 75,000 homes, plus the plant. For every ton of garbage incinerated, half a ton of greenhouse gases are prevented from entering the atmosphere.
  • The county cut electricity consumption by its computer servers, resulting in more than a 2.3 million kilowatt estimated reduction in energy use.  As a result, a projected 1,524 tons of greenhouse gas emissions are avoided.
  • Oakton High School’s hybrid pneumatic/electronic building controls cut energy use by more than 1.2 million kilowatt hours, avoiding the emission of 747 tons of greenhouse gases.
  • At the I-95 and I-66 landfills, the county captures methane and carbon dioxide, turning it into energy. As a result, the county prevents the release of 600,000 tons of greenhouse gases, and I-95 produces enough energy to power 6,000 homes.

Fairfax County’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory includes emissions created by buildings or energy-consuming properties and cars, trucks, light rail and off-road vehicles. The inventory excludes state and federal properties that are not controlled or influenced by county policy or plans.

Greenhouse gases consist of six chemicals: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide,hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. These first three gases, all related to energy production and consumption, together made up more than 98 percent of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2006.


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Greenhouse Gas Pie Chart: 63% of emissions from stationary sources

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