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Sustainability and Historic Preservation

Image: Venn Diagram, captioned "Sustainability is the nexus of society, the environment, and the economy."

Historic preservation has long been in the forefront of sustainable development. Many historic buildings are inherently “green” in their materials and construction, and can have their energy efficiency maximized by sensitive retrofitting. Reinvestment in historic districts and communities promotes reuse of existing infrastructure and supports areas that generally are walkable and have good transit access options. When it comes to historic buildings, in most cases the greenest building indeed is the one already built. 

Because of its unique mission and structure, the ACHP can play a role in helping other federal agencies enhance their sustainability efforts. The ACHP brings together representatives of federal, state, tribal, and local interests, and this diverse membership is reflected in its efforts to mesh preservation goals with other public needs, including promotion of sustainable practices and development of renewable energy sources.

Energy Efficiency and Community Livability

In 2010, the ACHP created a Task Force on Sustainability and Historic Preservation. The Task Force addressed issues of energy efficiency and community livability in response to Executive Order 13514, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance," which was issued by President Obama in 2009. In 2013, the work of the Task Force was shifted to a Sustainability Subcommittee of the ACHP’s Preservation Initiatives Committee. Among other accomplishments, the Task Force coordinated development of ACHP guidance on sustainability and historic federal buildings.

The ACHP also worked with the Department of Energy to develop Programmatic Agreements to guide how the agency would address impacts to historic properties from its weatherization programs. Click here for more information.  

Renewable Energy

ACHP also is working with federal agencies to address the potential impacts to historic properties from projects to expand the development and transmission of renewable energy resources. These impacts include the direct effects of large-scale land development associated with solar energy development on many types of historic properties including archaeological sites, historic structures, cultural landscapes, and properties of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations as well as the introduction of visual intrusions imposed by the construction of wind turbines and transmission lines. Click here to learn more.

Climate Change

Severe weather events brought on by climate change can wreak havoc on historic properties. Cultural resources can be affected by storm damage, flooding, coastal erosion, drought and associated wildfires, melting permafrost, and changing temperature patterns. The National Park Service (NPS) is taking a leadership role in developing guidance on cultural resources and climate change. Links to several NPS publications and webinars is available at Sustainability and Historic Preservation Links.


For more information on the ACHP’s sustainability efforts and the role of preservation in sustainability, see:

Federal Agency Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans

Sustainability and Historic Preservation Links

Included are links to major guidance documents, case studies, and analyses prepared by the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Department of Energy, and Department of Defense, and others.



Updated April 23, 2014

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