By Joe Winslow

Atlanta, we did it! The Braves will not win the upcoming pennant and our traffic situation is still among the worst in the world, but Atlantans have something to boast about this year. The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge (ABBC) has achieved many firsts over the past eight years that civic and business leaders and residents of Atlanta can be proud of, culminating in a successful program completion this fall.

The Better Buildings Challenge, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is a national leadership initiative calling on CEOs, university presidents, building owners, state and local government leaders and residential housing developers to publicly pledge to reduce the energy and water use of their building portfolios. It was one of the first such initiatives when it was launched in 2011 by the City of Atlanta, Central Atlanta Progress and Southface Institute.

ABBC was founded with the ambitious goal of recruiting property owners and building managers in Downtown to commit to reducing their energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020. Along the way, the partnership grew to include Midtown Alliance and the Livable Buckhead Initiative and span the metro area from Madison in the east to Villa Rica in the west. Atlanta’s civic and business leaders showed the dynamism our region is known for in becoming the first program in the country to set a goal of reducing water consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

ABBC beat the clock handily by surpassing its energy reduction goal with a total 20.3 percent reduction—two years ahead of the 2020 goal—and had already achieved the water savings goal by 2015. ABBC is the largest Challenge initiative in the country, with more than 450 buildings representing 114 million square feet of property committed or roughly 15 percent of the commercial property space in the City. The portfolio of buildings committed to the challenge include offices, municipal buildings, K-12 schools, public libraries, universities, hospitals, hotels and multi-family residential properties.

Over the eight years of the ABBC, participants have reported enough energy savings to power more than 150,000 single family homes (457.3 million kBTU of energy). ABBC participants have also directly saved more than 1.3 million gallons of water or the equivalent of nearly 2000 Olympic swimming pools. ABBC participants’ energy savings also resulted in an estimated 49 million gallons of water consumption avoided, as a result using less electricity from the grid, which still heavily relies on fossil-fueled power plants cooled with water withdrawn from our waterways. To put this use in context, the City of Atlanta consumes roughly 2.2 million gallons of water every month. Imagine the impact if every commercial property undertook water efficiency measures.

To achieve these savings, ABBC participants had to invest in new equipment for their buildings and retrain and expand their workforce to meet the demands of assessing and retrofitting their properties. Analysis by the Greenlink Group estimates that the economic impacts of these investments created or sustained 654 jobs over the course of the initiative and stimulated economic growth by adding $51.63 million to the regional economy. Reducing demand for energy and water has also reduced electricity generation, resulting in improved air quality and better public health outcomes. Greenlink Group’s analysis also found that electricity savings by ABBC participants generated an estimated $12 million in societal benefits resulting from reduced respiratory illness-related healthcare spending and fewer work loss days due to avoided pollutant emissions from electric power plants.

With the goals of the ABBC achieved, this is just the beginning for Atlanta’s leadership in building efficiency. In 2015, Atlanta became one of the first cities in the Southeast to pass an ordinance that requires all commercial and multifamily residential buildings greater than 25,000 square feet to report their energy and water usage annually. Additionally, Atlanta is the first city in the country to enact a water audit requirement for buildings, in response to our region’s unique vulnerabilities to water scarcity and drought. Under the leadership of the City of Atlanta, Southface is working with the property ownership and management community to fully implement the ordinance in future years through training, outreach, and technical support. The founding idea of the ABBC is within sight, because ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure.’

Learn more about how the City of Atlanta and national partners developed the first national water efficiency audit standard at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable set for Nov. 8 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Southface offices, 241 Pine St. Visit for more information.

Joe Winslow is Senior Project Manager for Southface Institute and an advisor for the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge.