Why Sustainability Matters

By Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, City of Atlanta
This article originally appeared in the Saporta Report Thought Leaders section in February, 2016.

Atlanta is emerging as a top-tier city internationally for sustainability. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of roll-up-your-sleeves hard work and a commitment on the part of Mayor Kasim Reed to commit the funding, resources, and political will behind key initiatives.

Taking Paris metro with Mayor Reed, Claire Angelle head of international affairs office & press secretary Jenna Garland

Taking Paris metro with Mayor Reed, Claire Angelle head of international affairs office & press secretary Jenna Garland

We’ve got a lot to show for the City’s sustainability program. Just in the past 12 months, we’ve:

  • Passed a Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Building Ordinance that was the first in the country to include water efficiency
  • Begun rolling out the first of 50 electric vehicles for the City’s fleet
  • Become the only City in Georgia to pass a climate action plan
  • Awarded bids to retrofit over 180 City buildings for water and energy efficiency through a performance savings contract
  • Participated in the historic climate talks in Paris that resulted in an agreement to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius
  • Hired a full-time Urban Agriculture Director
  • Issued an RFP to deploy solar on 28 municipal facilities
  • Achieved Green Communities Gold Level status with the Atlanta Regional Commission
  • Been named first in the country for square footage of commercial building space enrolled in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge; and
  • Committed to a 3-year, $3 million ecological habitat restoration study of Proctor Creek with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But why does all this matter? Sustainability is important because human nature wants us to preserve our natural environment for future generations. And it also makes financial sense to use our resources wisely and effectively. In fact, a strong business case can be made for every one of the above-listed sustainability initiatives. Moreover, corporations looking to expand or relocate focus on cities likeAtlanta that can boast of greenspace, natural amenities, accessibility to alternate transit, and a commitment to clean energy.

A piece of legislation has been introduced that threatens our recent progress. Senate Bill 321 is a direct response to the carefully crafted compromise Commercial Energy Efficiency Building Ordinance. SB 321 would hinder the City’s ability to leverage the ordinance by making utility bills a trade secret. Passing this ordinance placed Atlanta alongside nine other cities that signed on to the City Energy Project – cities with which we regularly compete to attract business and international investment. While the bill passed favorably out of committee, there are many businesses and organizations opposed to the legislation.

There is still more to accomplish, but the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability aims to continue our momentum as we expand our city-wide initiatives. We hope you’ll join us in achieving our vision of being a top-tier city for Sustainability.

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