Rick Austin/Flickr Creative Commons license

Late Monday night, the city of Atlanta adopted legislation requiring the benchmarking of commercial building energy use. The ordinance targets a 20 percent reduction in commercial energy consumption and a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2013 levels by 2030, along with the creation of more than 1,000 jobs annually for the first few years.

Eleven other major U.S. cities have passed benchmarking legislation, but Atlanta is the first in the Southeast to do so. The ordinance complements the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, an initiative developed to further President Obama's goal of boosting energy efficiency in the built environment.

The benchmarking legislation requires building owners to report their properties’ energy use annually. Using this data, owners will complete an online energy audit every 10 years to assess potential performance improvements. That building performance data will be made available to the public, allowing the market to recognize, reward, and push for more energy-efficient buildings. The ordinance addresses energy use in private and city-owned buildings more than 25,000 square feet in area. This totals 2,350 buildings, and a majority of Atlanta’s commercial sector. The city is expected to begin reporting data for its properties in the fall of 2015, with private buildings being phased in next year.

The ordinance is part of Atlanta's work under the City Energy Project, a joint initiative by the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit​, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to create healthier cities by improving buildings' performance and helping cities create policies and programs that will cut energy waste in large buildings. 

“Atlanta is paving the way for other cities to take advantage of the significant environmental and economic benefits that come with making city skylines more energy efficient,” said Melissa Wright, director of the City Energy Project at NRDC, in a press release. “This ordinance is tailor-made for Atlanta, taking best practices from other cities and refining them to meet local needs. It will not only reduce harmful air pollution that threatens public health, but drive local job creation, and help the city and building owners lower their energy bills.”