I want to thank Pascal Le Deunff, Consul General of France, for his considerable support and work on France-Atlanta 2011 and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce for hosting this session.
I am exceptionally pleased to be a part of this important conversation with the French Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Francois Delattre (pronounced duh-LOT), and the rest of our distinguished panel. The concept of the “Green City of the Future” strikes many as an ambitious yet tenable goal for many cities. And it certainly stands as one for the City of Atlanta.
During the first two years of my tenure as Mayor of Atlanta, I have heard from many “green” experts on this side of the Atlantic, particularly those who have taken a direct interest in the sustainability of our great city. But I am eager to hear about some of the experiences and innovations our colleagues in France have to share.
Likewise, I am hoping that the efforts in Atlanta prove to be inspiring, effective and most importantly, transferable here and abroad. After all, I want Atlanta to be a model, best-in-class city for sustainability efforts not only in our country but around the world.
I have to say a major catalyst for our efforts came from a survey … a survey from Siemens that ranked us 21 out of 27 among the major cities across the United States.
Now some of you already know this, but for our new friends gathered here today who don’t know me well … I do not like to be in last place ... or anywhere near it. I like to win … be at the top … especially on matters and issues as important as sustainability.
So we, the City of Atlanta, made it a major goal to land in the survey’s Top 10. To that end, we drafted the city’s first Sustainability Plan, Power to Change, in October 2010 and began implementing city-wide reform toward measurable objectives.
The initiatives and 10-year targets within the Sustainability Plan include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and energy use by 15 percent; reducing, reusing and recycling 90 percent of the city’s residential waste; and bringing local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of all residents.
To meet these objectives, the Office of Sustainability uses federal funding across 52 different programs. These programs are designed to motivate and support community efforts that aim to enhance environmental quality, while supporting jobs and long-term economic growth.
I’m proud to say that we have already reduced our municipal carbon footprint by 12.5 percent in 2010, beating our goal to reduce it by 5.5 percent by 2012.
But there are many aspects and layers to sustainability and “green” efforts. They involve energy policies and building, transportation, energy and water efficiencies; residential and commercial design projects, public transportation innovations, wastewater treatment and water recycling initiatives and more.
Let’s look at public transportation first.
In Atlanta, we recognize that dependence on cars and urban sprawl must be transformed into more dense, transit-oriented development to improve mobility, air quality and our quality of life. Improving our current MARTA system of buses and 32 rail stations is only part of a plan to solve the region’s traffic problems.
The city joined with other municipalities in our region to develop a project list for a proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. If approved by voters next year, this regional, one-cent tax will make about $6.1 billion available over the next ten years. Transportation improvements include the Atlanta Beltline and projects in the Connect Atlanta Plan designed to improve transit, bicycle and pedestrian systems in the city center.
These projects, as they near completion, will push Atlanta forward not only as a model for sustainability but for transportation and urban design. I promise you will hear much more about the Atlanta Beltline and related projects in the future.
On the matter of water efficiency and wastewater treatment, we have a number of initiatives. We currently have before the Atlanta City Council an ordinance to legalize the residential capture, cleansing and reuse of rainwater for potable use. Allowing this harvesting of rainwater is not only an innovative water resource management program, it is a community-building effort among our progressive residents who want to help the environment.
Development of the RM Clayton Wastewater Treatment Plant Combined Heat & Power Project is also underway. An innovative renewable energy technology and one of the first of its kind nationally, the biogas CHP generator will save the city $1.5 million annually in utility costs, create more than 80 construction jobs and a handful of permanent jobs, cut municipal emissions by 3 percent and put the City halfway toward its renewable energy goal.
The sustainability office has subsequently engaged in a host of other initiatives involving energy efficiency, alternative fuel, local food and water conservation. We will be deploying nearly 40 compressed natural gas shuttles at the airport, conducting a series of energy-efficient lighting improvements, launching broader citywide energy efficiency improvements and more.
This spring, the City of Atlanta launched Sustainable Home Initiative in the New Economy—SHINE, for short—a weatherization rebate program available to city residents. This federal grant-funded program offers City of Atlanta homeowners the ability to receive up to $3,500 in rebates towards qualifying improvements. SHINE contracting firms have already completed improvement work on more than 200 Atlanta homes. Over the next year, the program will provide up to $1 million in rebates, supporting local small business while reducing our residential energy use.
Finally, this summer we announced a contest to design the Trinity Avenue Urban Farm, an effort to create a productive, crop-producing plot of land and a designated space for innovative projects. The project aims to inspire community awareness and interest in local, sustainable food systems and to encourage citizens to take these practices home.
It’s but one step, but it’s a transformational one. Transformational not just for that one plot of land that happens to sit right across the street from Atlanta City Hall but for the entire city and our mindset about environmental issues and sustainability.
Through projects such as these, urban agriculture initiatives in local communities can become more widespread, effectively working to support and maintain healthier lifestyles in every neighborhood while saving money on families’ grocery bills.
Those are just a sampling of the many efforts and initiatives underway in the City of Atlanta. Members of the city’s Office of Sustainability and I remain eager to discuss any and all of them with you today or at any point in the future.
Thank you again for your kind attention and your efforts toward a “Green City of the Future.”