Leading by protecting the environment
By Stephanie Stuckey Benfield
From Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s first days in office, he has made sustainability a priority, which is reflected in the substantial and inspiring progress we have made in the last few years. Starting in 2010, Mayor Reed expanded the Office of Sustainability, and has empowered this office to be proactive in working with Atlanta’s business and civic communities to support innovative and effective initiatives, such as our new urban agriculture program. We are so excited about this program that we chose to kick off Earth Week by hosting our first Taste of AGlanta event in support of urban agriculture, featuring terrific local food prepared by some of Atlanta’s most exciting chefs.
In the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, we see endless opportunities to work on creative, exciting and meaningful projects. And in a short period of time, we have emerged as not just a national but an international leader in sustainability. Atlanta tops all participating cities in the White House’s Better Buildings Challenge, in which municipal governments partner with commercial property owners to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent by year 2020. The City of Atlanta ranks number one in the country with 100 million square feet of building space committed to reducing energy and water usage.
Last year, the City launched its first solar energy program, Solar Atlanta. Solar panels will be installed on 28 municipal buildings, reducing energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.
We also announced a groundbreaking electric-vehicle fleet program for the city that will deploy 60 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, thus reducing fuel consumption and taxpayer costs.
In addition to promoting energy-saving programs, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has worked closely with the department of Parks and Recreation to ensure sustainable greenspace expansion. One example is the Bellwood Quarry which the City purchased to convert for water storage. We will invest $250 million to develop the 300 acres surrounding the reservoir and transform it into the largest park in Atlanta. The park will feature hiking and biking trails, innovative green infrastructure, baseball fields, open meadows and an amphitheater.
In another partnership, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revitalize Proctor Creek, which once served as a source of pride for Northwest Atlanta communities but now sits as a neglected and contaminated eyesore. Mayor Reed signed a groundbreaking agreement with the federal agency to conduct a three-year environmental study to determine the best methods of cleaning and restoring the creek.
Building on all of those experiences, Mayor Reed and I joined more than 500 mayors and municipal representatives from 115 countries in Paris last December to make the case for how cities can implement local climate change solutions. I am proud that our input helped foster the adoption of a deal that represents historic and meaningful progress to combat climate change. The agreement will unlock innovation and investment to reduce emissions and help our communities adapt to climate change.
When Mayor Reed appointed me as director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability last year, he gave me a challenge that I take seriously every day – make Atlanta the Southeast leader in sustainability and one of the top-tier sustainable cities in the U.S.
We are well on our way. By leading on climate action, Atlanta and other cities will build a healthier, more prosperous and more competitive America.