The Metropolitan Club

A new urban program aims to curb emissions nationwide—starting with innovative energy-efficiency strategies in 10 of America’s biggest cities.

Our program, the City Energy Project, recruits U.S. cities to make their buildings more energy-efficient and cut carbon emissions. As it happens, when we were looking for models, we needed to look no further than right outside the window of NRDC’s Manhattan headquarters. Several years ago, New York set an ambitious climate goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030. It was widely understood then, as it is now, that the only way for the city to reach that goal was by targeting the single largest source of those emissions: buildings. But that’s no easy task in a city with nearly one million of them. Since the majority of the city’s square footage is actually concentrated in less than 2 percent of its largest properties, it follows that focusing on the biggest buildings—the 15,000 of them that are more than 50,000 square feet—would obviously have a huge effect. The resulting program, New York’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, works to connect the owners and managers of these properties with the most technologically up-to-date and cost-effective efficiency measures in areas such as lighting, insulation, and the monitoring and measuring of energy use.

At the City Energy Project—a partnership between NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation—we’re encouraging similar strategies and forging similar connections in 10 pioneering cities across the country: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City. The basic idea is that by participating in a concerted and publicly visible effort, these high-profile cities can go on to serve as models for other cities around the country that may want to cut millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually—and save millions of dollars while doing so.

The project has already sparked some important conversations and led to some encouraging developments. Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando recently hosted a Climate & Energy Summit that attracted more than 200 community, business, nonprofit, and public-sector leaders; afterward, he announced five new efficiency initiatives, including a commitment by the City of Orlando to craft a green-building policy. In the Midwest, Kansas City has launched something called the Mayor’s Energy Challenge, which encourages building owners to commit to receiving an EPA Energy Star rating; the first step of the challenge, benchmarking the energy performance of the city’s buildings, is now underway. (You can keep tabs on the progress of the various cities participating in the City Energy Project here.)

Originally, we had thought it would take longer to bring 10 cities of this size on board. But we were surprised—quite happily—by the powerful interest mayors and their staffs showed when it came to pursuing aggressive energy-efficiency agendas; we really could sense the intense and immediate enthusiasm for taking on this kind of work. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that while the City Energy Project may be nationwide in its scope, it’s not about finding a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. These cities are all different from one another in several ways: demographically, politically, in terms of their age, economies and weather, and so on. So we’re consulting closely with them all as they craft programs and policies that will work for them individually. But the collective impact of local energy-efficiency programs like these will be dramatic change that will be felt and measured at a national scale. Maybe your city should be next.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.