Mayors from 10 major cities unite to reduce climate pollution from buildings

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New City Energy Project could save $1 billion annually and cut emissions by targeting largest source of energy use and climate pollution: buildings.

The mayors from 10 major U.S. cities today announced they will undertake a united effort to boost energy efficiency in the buildings in their communities.

The move could cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

Buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide – more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings. Much of the energy these buildings use is wasted. Improved efficiency would reduce costs and pollution.

The Kresge Foundation is supporting the multiyear City Energy Project in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The project is an initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation.

Kresge works to expand opportunity for low-income people in America’s cities. Funding for the project comes from its Environment Program, which helps communities build environmental, economic and social resilience in the face of climate change.

As a society, we need act in a way that simultaneously ameliorates current crises, prepares for the challenges climate change will visit on us in coming years, and preserves the possibility of maintaining resilience over the decades to come,” says Rip Rapson, Kresge’s CEO. “The City Energy Project is an important effort toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We’re proud to support this landmark initiative.”

The participating cities are Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Orlando; Philadelphia; and Salt Lake City.

Kresge has previously supported similar efforts in New York, Washington and San Francisco. 

Projected benefits

Boosting building efficiency reduces the pollution that is turbocharging weather across the country. It reduces demand for new power plants. It makes cities more resilient to energy-related crises. And it helps clean up the air by reducing other hazardous air pollution.

The City Energy Project is projected to cut a combined total of 5 million to 7 million tons of carbon emissions annually. That’s equivalent to the amount of electricity used by roughly 700,000 to nearly 1 million American homes annually, or taking three to four power plants offline.

Economic benefits include creating jobs related to implementing the efficiency measures – from electricians to architects, construction workers to engineers, and building technicians to software providers. The improvements should also increase property values, reduce the costs of living and doing business, and free up money that can flow back into the local economy.

“City skylines have long been symbols of aspiration and innovation – this project takes that to a new level,” says Laurie Kerr, director of the City Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In the face of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather, these city leaders know they cannot wait for the state or federal government to make them more resilient and sustainable – they are taking action now.”

Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, notes that the know-how and technology to make buildings more efficient are available. The critical element is a coordinated effort by major cities and the private sector to make it happen, he says. “The City Energy Project will give city leaders and the real estate industry the support they need to make buildings better, improving the lives of millions of city residents.”

How it works

The cities will develop their own locally tailored plans to advance energy efficiency and reduce waste in their large buildings.

The City Energy Project will offer expertise to help guide the cities through the planning, designing and implementing processes. The energy efficiency solutions will be flexible to each city’s unique situation and support the following goals:

  • Promote efficient building operations: Strong building energy performance can be achieved through efficient operations and maintenance, and the training of facilities personnel.
  • Encourage private investment: Common-sense solutions to financial and legal barriers to energy efficiency should be adopted to increase private investment in building energy improvements.
  • City leadership: Cities should lead by example and reduce taxpayer-funded energy consumption in municipal buildings, and encourage the private sector to match their actions.
  • Promote transparency: Building energy performance information should be transparent and accessible to enable market demand and competition for energy-efficient buildings

The City of Chicago is working to become a more energy efficient city, says Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable city, which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.”

Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist and former mayor of New York, says that city’s sustainability efforts – which include building energy efficiency – are a major reason its greenhouse gas emissions are down 19 percent since 2007. “The City Energy Project will bring the significant economic and environmental benefits that energy efficiency has to offer to other cities – and accelerate progress by helping them learn from each other's successes.”

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