City of Atlanta Utility Benchmarking Measures Up To NYC

By Alyson Laura, LEED AP BD+C, O+M
Sustainability Maven, Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

photo of Atlanta skyline at dusk | Sustainable Investment GroupAs a green building educator, my favorite job tasks are getting in front of influential leaders and educating them on how we can work together to build partnerships with the environment. Monday, April 20th was one of those days. The Atlanta City Council was accepting public comment on a proposed ordinance to mandate utility benchmarking for city-owned and private buildings over 25,000 square feet within City of Atlanta limits. It passed unanimously!

This ordinance means that starting this year, City of Atlanta buildings will have to upload their energy and water utility data to the EPA’s Portfolio Manager database. This program compares each building profile to similar profiles among the tens of thousands of buildings across the nation, and gives it a score between 1 and 100. Score of 75 or higher earn the original green building mark called the ENERGY STAR Award.

A highly sophisticated group of concerns citizens showed up to have their voices heard. Two PhD candidates from Georgia Tech talked about the importance of benchmarking from an academically validated position. A representative of Southface highlighted the perfect intersection with another city initiative, the Better Buildings Challenge. Even the Chattahoochee River Keepers had something to say—that benchmarking will support our conservation of natural water resources.

For me, the water component is the prime driver in our region. Unlike the northeast, our electricity is cheap and solar subsidies are rare. However, we have some of the highest sewer fees in America. Speakers were not afraid to mention the notorious ‘tri-state water war.’ An embarrassing reality that highlights our most urgent environmental issue: water.

My message was different. My message was to demystify the power of benchmarking. On the surface, it can appear simple and unmoving. From my position, as a green building educator, I know that it is a powerful tool for change. Since I know City Council members are not experts on buildings, I needed to make a clear distinction between what works for sustainability and what falls short of the goal. If your goal is measureable, meaningful change, then you need to separate myth from reality.

Myth #1:
Cell phone chargers suck ‘vampire energy’ while plugged in and not in use.

The amount of electricity cell phone chargers consume is so negligible that you won’t notice any savings on your utility bill. If you want savings, you need to ‘pull the plug’ on your entertainment system when not in use.

Myth #2:
Disclosure and transparency of building performance is bad for business. (or else why haven’t we done it already?)

Benchmarking works. The underperformers receive the knowledge they need to improve, and the high achievers earn the recognition they deserve.

Myth #3:
Atlanta can be a sustainable, world class city without building benchmarking.

To be a role model for the future, we need to know how we perform today. Thanks to my comrades and our elected leaders, Atlanta is now poised to lead the way into a greener future.

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