Why Atlanta’s nearly tops in U.S. in having energy efficient buildings

April 20,2016

The best new feature of Atlanta’s iconic skyline is something no one can see.

It’s our disappearing carbon footprint.

Just in time for Earth Week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is out with its “Top Cities” list of metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star certified commercial buildings. With an eyepopping total of 311 “star” buildings ranging from soaring skyscrapers to neighborhood schoolhouses, Atlanta ranked No. 4 and was the only Southern city to crack the top 25 (unless you count Texas, as Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston came in at No. 7 and 8 respectively).

That’s good news for Mayor Kasim Reed and a number of leading civic and business organizations that have invested a lot of energy of late in reducing energy and water consumption.

But it’s an even better development for everyone living or doing business in the city, Reed suggested.

“Atlanta is honored … to be recognized as a leader for showing the way forward for a more sustainable future,” the mayor said in a statement. “We are fully committed to working with local business leaders to reduce our carbon footprint to spend less on energy and to push toward a stronger local economy and healthier community for all of us.”

Indeed, coming in fourth isn’t just about having bragging rights over every other city except Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco (No.’s 1, 2 and 3 respectively). Energy Star certified buildings, which are independently verified as performing better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide, achieve significant reductions in both their energy bills and their greenhouse gas emissions.

“In terms of public health, the main benefit is averting respiratory diseases like asthma and allergies,” said Megan O’Neil, an adviser in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

When it comes to those lower bills, there’s the obvious, dollars-and-sense benefit:

“Money saved on energy bills can boost the bottom line and be reinvested” in the business or elsewhere, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

There’s also the harder to quantify, yet no less important benefit that comes from gaining a reputation as an energy efficient city.

“These are things that can inform people’s decisions about where they want to live or move or start a business,” said Dr. Jairo Garcia, director of climate initiatives for the sustainability office. “There are generations now that are very, very environmentally concerned.”