By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has rolled out a plan he says will make Atlanta one of the nation’s top 10 “green” cities, with less smog, more park space, a larger percentage of locally produced food and improved water conservation.

The top 10 ranking that Reed seeks is from Sustainlane.com, an online site for fans of “green” living. Atlanta ranked 19th, up from 38th, in the group’s 2008 peer-reviewed survey.

On Oct. 25, Reed announced a plan to achieve the top 10 ranking. His plan includes a combination of new projects and policy initiatives, as well as the continuation of several successful, well-established programs. The plan sets sustainability benchmarks for all city departments, such as the reduction of petroleum fuel usage and water system leakage.

“It’s an ambitious plan,” said Mandy Mahoney, the city’s director of sustainability, who heads up the program. “Mayor Reed has set a high bar. The mayor believes sustainability is critical to the growth of the city,” she said.

The goal is to make the city more competitive against cities like Seattle, Chicago and New York, which have recognized leading-edge policies on green building, electric vehicle infrastructure and pedestrian-only zones, and to improve quality of life.

“I believe the city of Atlanta should be a leading example of how a major urban municipality can take greater responsibility for efficient energy and water use, the conservation of green space, and the promotion of a healthier, cleaner and greener environment,” Reed said. “It is vital we take concrete, measurable actions around sustainability now to protect the future of our city.”

Reed’s new initiatives are intended to create green jobs, push more transit and transit-oriented development, and increase the number of city neighborhoods with access to locally grown produce, according to an announcement from the mayor’s office.

The program offered targets guiding the new projects. The targets included:

·Reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the city of Atlanta’s jurisdiction by 25 percent by 2020, by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050;

·Reducing energy use for existing municipal operations by 15 percent by 2020, by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050;

·Making renewable energy 5 percent of total municipal use by 2015;

·Bringing local food to within 10 minutes of 75 percent of all residents by 2020.

“Being a more sustainable city not only protects and preserves the environment, it makes economic sense for the city,” said Mahoney. “It helps drive financial savings and efficiency and creates jobs.”

Reed outlined Atlanta’s Sustainability Plan as the first event of the city’s first Sustainability Week, which ran Oct. 25-29.

Just days before the mayor’s announcement, the Buckhead Business Association featured a panel of “green business” experts at its quarterly luncheon meeting. The luncheon, held Oct. 21 at 103 West events facility in Buckhead, was attended by more than 100 Buckhead business leaders.

The panel discussion of “Trends and Initiatives in Corporate Sustainability,” featured Todd Jarvis, president of Servidyne, discussing energy efficiency; Eric Taub, chief executive officer of Versus Carbon Neutral, discussing the importance of dealing with carbon footprints; and Rachel Belew, public relations and communications manager for GREENGUARD Environmental Institute discussing the truths and myths of working in a healthy environment.

One of Atlanta’s first wins in sustainability was to become the first city in Georgia to determine its municipal carbon footprint, which occurred in 2008. By 2010, Atlanta reduced its footprint by 12.5 percent.

Cities also are taking advantage of billions in federal funding directed toward green or sustainable projects, according to Ben Taube, executive director of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

But there are challenges, Taube said. Acquiring land for parks can be expensive, and improving water treatment facilities can cost millions.

According to Mahoney, one of the first projects undertaken under the plan will be the construction of more efficient turbines at the R.M. Clayton Water Reclamation Center in northwest Atlanta.

The city has received $7 million in grants and loans from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority for the work, which Mahoney said will create renewable energy to lessen the amount Atlanta has to buy from Georgia Power.

Creating a sustainable future can be challenging on a practical level, said Taube, who worked with the city on its plans. For instance, Reed wants to increase the number of days Atlanta receives a “good” rating on air quality from the Environmental Protection Agency from a little more than 40 percent to more than half of the year.

To achieve that, however, the region and the state would have to improve its air quality at the same time since Atlanta does not live in a vacuum.”You can’t control where emissions are coming from all the time,” he said.

Still, Tom Salyers, executive director of green space advocate Park Pride, thinks the plan is critical.

“Especially as the city’s population is expected to grow tremendously in the next five years, it’s essential to look at plans for increasing green space per capita,” he said. “The mayor’s sustainability plan is taking that into consideration, which is essential for our quality of life and having a greener city.”