Capping a years-long effort, Atlanta reached its Better Buildings Challenge goal at the end of October 2019, nearly two years early, reducing the energy use of participating buildings by more than 20% ahead of the 10-year deadline.
The effort kicked off in 2011, the year the Better Buildings Challenge initiative launched, with a modest goal of enrolling 1-2 million square feet in the program. By the time Atlanta met its goals, more than 100 million square feet were participating.
“We were halfway out of the recession and people were thinking about how to do things differently,” AJ Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, remembers of the circumstances behind Atlanta’s impressive achievement.
Central Atlanta Progress was one of the key partners driving participation in the initiative. “It was just a perfect storm. Here was a competition we could rally around and do something good for our community, good for our buildings, save money and do something that was environmentally sound as well.”
Robinson shares four takeaways from the city’s inspiring effort.
1. Look Beyond the Baseline
The Better Buildings Challenge set a goal for participants of reducing 20% of energy use by 2020. Atlanta quickly added a similar reduction for water. Look for ways you can increase the reach of your initiatives as you get started—the extra challenge pushes participants to step up their game and get serious about conservation.
2. Make It Easy to Start
The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge discovered that free energy and water audits created an easy inroad into the program for people who might otherwise have been intimidated by the 20% goal. The audits identified water and energy savings opportunities that would help building owners meet the goal and save money while doing so.
Some of the properties with the lowest ENERGY STAR scores at the beginning of the competition ended up finding the most low-hanging fruit, such as lighting upgrades, window replacements and tighter building envelopes, Robinson says. Ongoing workshops educated participants about resources and savings strategies they could use in their own buildings.
“Some buildings adopted automated monitoring systems and separated metering between indoor and outdoor water use. It really was a very large gamut of [improvements],” Robinson adds. “It ran all the way from someone who only upgraded their light bulbs to people who spent millions of dollars on new systems to really upgrade what they had.”
3. Incentivize Participation
The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge partnership made a point of recognizing participants’ achievements—an especially important strategy given that the facility and property managers responsible for achieving the goals typically don’t receive much recognition.
“We thought it was very important to recognize people who achieved things. We were working really hard to bring them out of the shadows,” Robinson says. “That was the most important thing we learned as we developed the campaign.”
The partnership also hosted a yearly celebration for participants who met the goal, continually incentivizing people who hadn’t reached the threshold yet to keep striving. “At its core, it’s buying into the competitive nature of our real estate community,” Robinson explains. “Nobody wanted to be left out.”
4. Share Your Strategies
Atlanta became the first city in the Better Buildings Challenge to publish an implementation model to show other public-private partnerships how to achieve similar savings. The report, available at atlantabbc.com, is a highly detailed document covering every aspect of how Atlanta built its Better Buildings Challenge partnership, from branding and marketing considerations to data management recommendations.
The effort involved more than 450 buildings, but the end result was a victory shared by all of them—a savings of more than $380 million and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 544,276 cars off the road for a full year, as well as avoiding the use of 1.3 billion gallons of water (roughly a 30-day supply for the city).