recyclingBy Gregory Wallace

Last October, Mayor Kasim Reed unveiled Power to Change, a plan that will guide the City of Atlanta’s sustainability efforts for the next several years. As part of the plan, Reed set the aggressive goal of making Atlanta a top 10 city for sustainability.

The mayor’s 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.

Spearheading the effort is Mandy Mahoney, Director of Sustainability for the Mayor’s Office for the City of Atlanta. “We started this work under Mayor Franklin because she was one of the first signatories to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement,” Mahoney said. “ We actually did the first sustainability plan in 2007.”

Mahoney and her five-person staff branded their work the Power to Change campaign and focused on empowering city employees to take action in their daily lives, both at home as well as at work. Power to Change stuck, and it’s now the branding for the whole sustainability plan, Mahoney said.

Reed charged Mahoney’s office with making recommendations for what needed to be done to lead by example internally and also what strides needed to be made to catapult Atlanta into being a top 10 city. Mahoney’s office looked at the plans of other cities, both in the U.S., as well as Europe, Canada, and Asia, and then did an inventory of what the city of Atlanta is doing in comparison.

As evidence of progress the city has already made, has ranked Atlanta number one in the southeast and number 19 overall in the country, up from number 38 in 2006. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we think we’re poised well to achieve the top 10 status,” Mahoney said.

Because of this progress, the city has been able to secure four federal and state grants totaling $28 million that will be leveraged up to $164 million in improvements and at least 25 new projects.

Mahoney cites the Sustainable Home Initiative in the New Economy (SHINE) residential energy efficient rebate program as a prime example. The city is offering up to $2,000 in partnership with Georgia Power and Energy Star for single-family homeowners to weatherize their homes.

One of the plan’s key goals is to increase the operating efficiency of the city while at the same time expanding and creating green jobs. “The city has a lot of opportunity for reducing electricity and natural gas and water use in our facilities,” Mahoney said.

Job growth in the green sector is also a goal of the plan. Mahoney said the city would soon put out a call for energy service contracts, including the airport and watershed, worth more than $50 million.

Mahoney said: “By creating the economic opportunity and demand, that naturally is a green jobs program. The city has one of the leading minority small business requirements of all contracts in the country. We’re very proud of that and we’re always looked at by cities all over as to how, that’s a really strong program for that. We are working to ensure that the green jobs component continues to be a part of the energy service contract that will roll out.”

To ensure that continues to happen, the city is partnering with Emerald Cities, which is the leading national group for workforce development for green jobs. Atlanta holds the distinction of being the only southeastern city in the partnership.  The mayor’s own Green Jobs Taskforce, which was also rolled out in October, is devoted to developing a strategic plan around green jobs for the city.

Private-public partnerships are central to the sustainability plan. Partnerships with Southface, Sustainable Atlanta, Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, Georgia Standup and Georgia Tradeup, the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, Atlanta Local Food Initiative, Georgia Organics, local colleges, as well as many private sector groups are all part of reaching the top 10 sustainable cities in America.

The city already has several projects planned over the next year, including the ground breaking this month of the R.M. Clayton Wastewater Treatment Plan. By capturing the methane off of the sewer sludge, cleaning it, and running it through turbines, R.M. Clayton will be able to generate 30 percent of the electricity needed at the station.

The city will also be rolling out a major anti-idling campaign and launch an as yet unnamed local food taskforce to fight childhood obesity.

Mahoney said residents could take action right now to help the city reach its goal. She suggested thinking of them as “new year’s resolutions” to help ring in a new green year.

  • Single-family home residents can request a free 95-gallon recycling bin from the Department of Public Works.
  • The Department of Watershed Management is offering water conservation kits and rebates on low-flow toilets for both single family and multi-family residences.
  • The SHINE residential weatherization rebate program, offering homeowners the ability to receive up to a $2,000 rebate towards qualifying improvements, including duct and air sealing, insulation improvement, caulking, weather-stripping, and the replacement of doors and windows that are the source of significant heating and cooling loss.

Mahoney also encouraged residents to sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and to shop at the city’s local farmers markets. She also suggested that residents consider using a commute alternative one or two days a week, such as carpooling or taking MARTA.

When asked if the sustainability goal would bring real, tangible benefits to the lives of Atlanta’s citizen’s, Mahoney said, “That is my dream. We do all these things because we want our quality of life improved and we want a more secure system. And so what we hold as the ultimate reasons for doing this is to create sustainable economy.”

For more information on the Power to Change, visit

3 replies on “Emerald City: Atlanta’s Sustainable Dream”

  1. There is a lot of push for sustainability in Atlanta. Love it. The Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable brings together a lot of key leaders in the city advance the cause. Still, we have to think about how we frame the debate to make sure anything happens. The economics of jobs, government finance and local economies needs to be considered to make sure we can turn our talk into actual change.

    Blog Post on the issue:

  2. Great article. Atlanta needs people like Mandy Mahoney who are passionate about improving the lives of Atlanta citizens by means of a more sustainable future. Sustainability and quality of life go hand in hand. Thank you Gregory Wallace, Mandy Mahoney, and Kasim Reed!

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