Denise Quarles, city’s new sustainability director, introduced to local environmental groups

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta now aims to be a “top tier” sustainable city rather than a “top 10” sustainable city, according to Denise Quarles, the new director of sustainability.

After three months working at the city, Quarles addressed several environmental organizations Wednesday at a luncheon at Hyatt Regency Atlanta

During her talk, Quarles said the city is “refreshing” it strategic sustainability plan. And that should be unveiled in the fall.

Meanwhile, the city is putting together eight impact areas for its sustainability initiative: air quality, human health and community vitality, transportation and mobility, land use and green space, recycling and materials resource management, water, energy and fuels, and sustainability planning.

So why is the city backing away from saying it wants to be a top 10 city for sustainability?

The prevailing agency that ranked cities — Sustain Lane — is no longer ranking cities. Atlanta had improved its ranking to No. 17 at the last ranking a few years ago.

Quarles said Atlanta intends to rank well with “whoever attempts to rank us.”

Apparently, there is an effort underway — Star Beta Communities Programs — which is working with nine cities (including Atlanta) to develop a LEED ranking for cities.

Before joining the city, Quarles was vice president of environmental affairs for Southwire, a Carrollton-based manufacturer of electric wiring. She also had worked at DaimlerChrysler for 12 years in business and operations management.

Quarles also told the luncheon crowd that the city is working on four focus areas — to identify and engage all stakeholder groups, to identify and inventory programs that exist throughout the city, to set realistic goals and to draw a clear distinction between the City of Atlanta’s goals and the goals for a city at large.

Several times in her talk, Quarles referred to her partnership with Sustainable Atlanta, a privately-funded effort that had been established by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Sustainable Atlanta was one of the hosts of the lunch along with the Green Chamber of the South, Southeast Green and BOMA Atlanta.

One of the goals that has been mentioned before has been the city’s desire to reduce its greenhouse gasses emissions by 20 percent by 2020; 40 percent by 2030; and 80 percent by 2050.

The city also tried a few years ago to pass a green building ordinance aimed at making developments in Atlanta more sustainable. But that effort failed because several builders felt it would make their projects more expensive.

Quarles said the city may revisit that issue in the future, but it would have more engagement from a wide cross-section of stakeholders.

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