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Atlanta contemplates more energy efficiency from all city-owned properties

By David Pendered

The Atlanta City Council is considering another significant measure regarding the city’s impact on the environment. This one aims to boost the sustainability rankings of city-owned properties to a minimum of LEED Silver certification.

Atlanta’s existing city code requires all new buildings to be constructed in a manner that meets LEED Silver standards. The pending legislation raises the bar by requiring, among other things, that renovations of existing structures be completed to meet LEED Silver standards.

LEED is a green building certification devised by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The four certification levels, including Silver, are based on points awarded for various aspects

The measure pending approval in Atlanta is on the Tuesday agenda of the council’s Utilities Committee. If the committee approves the legislation, it will be eligible for passage by the full city council at its next meeting, May 15.

The measure aims to update the city’s code section on Sustainable Development Design Standards.

The proposal was issued by Stephanie Stuckey, Atlanta’s director of sustainability. It follows another significant policy update in regards to climate. Just last week, on May 1, the council approved legislation proposed by a mayoral candidate, Councilmember Kwanza Hall.

Stephanie Stuckey

Stephanie Stuckey

Hall’s non-binding resolution sets the aspirational goal of having all electricity consumed in Atlanta being generated by renewable resources by the year 2035.

Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia, said the council’s passage of Hall’s resolution sets the stage for a discussion over ways to reduce the climate impact of mobility in Atlanta.

The city’s code section on Sustainable Development Design Standards was amended in its entirety in December 2003, according to a footnote. The pending legislation would surgically amend the code. The purpose is to bring the code into compliance with the Climate Action Plan the council enacted in 2015.

Some of the proposed amendments are fairly nuanced.

For example, a section that outlines the stated policies of the code eliminates a requirement that the city consider “solar access” when considering a land purchase. The “solar access” provision is replaced by one that requires, “renewable energy opportunities.”

National Center for Civil and Human Rights Credit: Kelly Jordan

The Center for Civil and Human Rights, in Atlanta was designed for LEED Gold certification by HOK. Atlanta works with its development partners to promote sustainability. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Another proposed amendment speaks to the definition of a sustainable building.

The new definition of a sustainable building, “encompasses the following broad topics: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, stormwater infiltration and the building energy management.”

This definition would replace the current version, which reads: “efficient management of energy and water resources, management of material resources and waste, protection of environmental quality, protection of health and indoor environmental quality, reinforcement of natural systems, and integrating the design approach.”

The pedigree attached to the paper shows it emanated from the office of the city’s sustainability director, Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, on April 13. The mayor’s office approved it the same day. The paper was accepted as a “walk-in paper” April 25 by the Utilities Committee, acting on a motion by Councilmember C.T. Martin. The Atlanta City Council voted May 1 to refer the paper to the Utilities Committee, where it will have its second and, possibly, final reading on Tuesday.


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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  1. Burroughston Broch May 7, 2017 4:51 pm

    Upgrading all existing buildings to comply with LEED Silver will be very expensive and will produce a low return on investment.
    If this sort of funding is available, it would be better used to reduce the $1.5 billion pension underfunding or replace some of the $0.75 billion backlog of rotted, decrepit infrastructure.Report

  2. Mike Vinciquerra May 9, 2017 10:32 am

    I believe you misread the proposal. Only when a building is undergoing renovation (there is no indication of what qualifies as a “renovation” in this article) would it have to be brought up to Silver LEED standards. The funds to bring the buildings up to that standard would fall on the contractor/developer doing the work, not taxpayers, so the funds spent on that work would not have an alternative use such as public infrastructure spending or pension funding. It is actually not significantly more expensive these days, when a building is undergoing a major upgrade, to incorporate fixtures and build quality to meet LEED standards. Additionally, buildings that don’t meet those standards become progressively less attractive to prospective lessees. Greener buildings generate, on average, higher rental rates and greater occupancy. The bottom line is that this proposal makes a lot of sense and continues a gradual move towards reduced energy and water use in Atlanta’s built environment.Report


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