What Does it Mean to be a Sustainable City?
Though “sustainable” is the new “green,” the term itself means different things to different people. For the City of Atlanta, working to be more sustainable means reconciling the city’s developmental goals with its environmental limits over the long term. In order to do this, all city government operations are being filtered through the lens of ensuring that current levels of consumption can be maintained in perpetuity. Implementing the Power to Change plan, the City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability is working with all city departments to balance Atlanta’s economic growth with environmental protection while being mindful of social justice.
What has Atlanta Accomplished So Far?
Thanks to help in 2008 from the Georgia Institute of Technology and ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), Atlanta was the first city in the state to determine its municipal carbon footprint, and by 2010, Atlanta reduced it by 12.5 percent. This surpassed a 2012 goal by five and half percentage points that was set when Atlanta joined the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement in 2006. Since the start of 2010, substantial progress has been made by many city departments in environmentally sensitive areas such as reduced energy use, water pipe leak repairs and reduced gasoline use by municipal fleet. In fact, more than 50 percent of the plan laid out in 2008 has been achieved with the following results:
- 12.5 percent greenhouse gas reduction
- 23 percent fossil fuel reduction
- 16 percent natural gas reduction
- 25 percent reduction in energy use at City Hall
- 13 percent decrease in water use at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
What is Next?
The City of Atlanta plans to continue successful and funded programs and undertake new projects and policy initiatives that have been successful in benchmark cities. All city departments will continue to develop their own sustainability plans that target their biggest “wins” and that are aligned with greenhouse gas reduction goals. The Office of Sustainability will work with city leadership to encourage policy development and reform in select areas. Office staff will develop and grow education and training programs in key action areas to employees and the Atlanta community, and will work to communicate its progress by tracking its success and sharing it within Atlanta city government and the greater Atlanta community.
Under Mayor Reed, the Office of Sustainability was able to secure four federal and state grants to the sum of $28 million that will be leveraged up to $164 million in improvements and at least 25 new projects. Targets guiding those projects include:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the City of Atlanta’s jurisdiction 25 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle 30 percent of the city’s residential waste by 2013, 50 percent by 2015, and 90 percent by 2020.
- Provide a minimum of 10 acres of greenspace per 1,000 residents and protect and restore the city’s tree canopy to 40 percent coverage.
- Reduce energy use for existing municipal operations 15 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Make renewable energy five percent of total municipal use by 2015.
- Bring local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of all residents by 2020.