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Atlanta Climate Action Plan to set sustainability agenda for region’s urban core

BB&T at Atlantic Station

Hines plans to develop a 210,000-square-foot office building near these office towers at Atlantic Station. File/Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Atlanta is poised to adopt a comprehensive plan intended to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and forestall climate change, much like sustainability initiatives at Emory University and Spelman College that have resulted in their ranking among the greenest campuses in the country.

BB&T at Atlantic Station

Atlanta’s proposed Climate Action Plan would encourage commercial landlords to reduce water and energy consumption. The BB&T building at Atlantic Station (left) and the adjacent 201 building reached Energy Star and LEED Energy Star certifications through voluntary programs. File/Credit: David Pendered

Lofty goals outlined in the introduction of the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan can be achieved through, “common sense approaches and cutting edge policies.” The goals include reducing energy use and waste, creating local jobs, improving air quality, and improving the local landscape and history.

The proposed sustainability policy has evolved into one that addresses many more aspects of the city’s carbon footprint than a proposal introduced at the start of the Great Recession, in 2007. Rather than focusing on commercial buildings, the current proposal covers everything from energy audits on buildings to urban farms and food deserts.

The Atlanta City Council could consider adopting the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan as early as Sept. 21. This schedule presumes that two council committees support the proposal at their meetings on Tuesday. Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the resolution.

The Utilities Committee is to begin the discussion. If members approve the proposal, they are slated to refer it to the Community Development Committee for consideration Tuesday afternoon. If the proposal clears the second committee, it is to be placed on the city council’s Sept. 21 agenda.

The sweeping proposal encompasses several initiatives the city now is implementing, but in a piecemeal fashion. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is to bring all the initiatives, both existing and future, into one program overseen by the Office of Sustainability, now headed by Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.

Atlanta is home to at least 85 community and school gardens, and at least 10 urban farms, according to the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan, which proposes to expand the city's food programs. Credit: westsidecommunities.org

Atlanta is home to at least 85 community and school gardens, and at least 10 urban farms, according to the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan, which proposes to expand the city’s food programs. Credit: westsidecommunities.org

For example, Mayor Kasim Reed recently created and posted the position of “urban agriculture director.” The duties will include the implementation of a food security program that’s identified in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan. The notion is for the new position to promote new policies regarding farming in the city, and the conversion of brownfields into urban gardens.

The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge now has 100 million square feet of commercial space enrolled in a program that aims to reduce water and energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan calls for expanding the program. The plan states that 45 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from commercial buildings and industrial processes.

An example cited in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan involves the cost savings and emissions reductions related to the illumination of the exterior of Atlanta City Hall. The older lighting system was replaced in 2013 with a system of light emitting diodes (LEDs). Annual maintenance costs were trimmed by $8,000, electricity costs by $8,000, and 36 tons of greenhouse gases were abated.

The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is the result of a stakeholder process that brought together more than 50 individuals with expertise in six categories:

  • Energy efficiency, commercial and residential buildings
  • Energy production
    Atlanta Climate Action Plan, CO2 emissions

    Buckhead produces more greenhouse gases on a per capita basis than any other region in metro Atlanta, according to a report by the Atlanta Regional Commission. Credit: ARC

  • Waste and recycling
  • Water and wastewater management
  • Transportation
  • Green spaces/Food security

The organizations that participated on a Technical Steering Committee include:

  • Southface Energy Institute
  • Georgia Power
  • Environment Georgia
  • Georgia Tech
  • Atlanta Housing Authority
  • Atlanta Regional Commission
  • Atlanta Bicycle Coalition
  • Georgia Organics
    Smoothing porcelain

    The Toto facility in Atlanta produces toilets that reduce water consumption by using far less water than a typical toilet to process waste. File/Credit: Donita Pendered

  • Park Pride
  • Trees Atlanta
  • Central Atlanta Progress

One participant previously produced a significant report on air quality in metro Atlanta that’s received scant attention. David D’Onofrio is the ARC’s air quality and climate change principal planner, and he released a report last year entitled, Understanding the regulatory environment of climate change and the Impact of community design on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Buckhead community in Atlanta produces the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions, per person, in the Atlanta region. The ranking includes emissions for both powering homes and tailpipe exhaust.

On a related point, Atlanta’s sustainability plan is more aggressive than Georgia’s pending State Wildlife Plan.

Atlanta’s plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the state plan seeks to devise ways of, “preparing for and coping with climate change impacts on fish and wildlife.”

The two campuses in metro Atlanta that achieved national rankings for the success of sustainability programs were announced in the August edition of Sierra magazine.

Out of a pool of 153 schools, on a scale of 1 to 1,000 points, the schools were scored:

  • Emory University – rank, 28; score, 712.1
  • Spelman College – rank, 131; score, 458.95


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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