7 ways Atlantans are saving the planet—or our little corner of it

Atlanta buildings are reducing their carbon footprints with the Better Buildings Challenge

Atlanta skyline
Photograph by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Atlanta’s twinkling skyline is lovely, but those high-rises—combined with our houses, malls, and office parks—illuminate a stark reality: Heating and cooling U.S. residential and commercial buildings accounts for 40 percent of the country’s total energy usage and much of our greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011 the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings initiative to encourage commercial property owners to cut their energy and water use by 20 percent by 2020. With prodding from Mayor Kasim Reed, more than 400 buildings in Atlanta signed on to the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge. Participants have already hit the 20 percent water savings goal and have curbed energy consumption by 17 percent. It’s no mean feat, considering that some of the best performers are downtown structures with large footprints—historic buildings that predate today’s efficiency standards, as well as energy- and water-sucking structures like hospitals. In most cases, the upgrades weren’t even high-tech; LED lighting, low-flow plumbing, and improved utility monitoring proved to be some of the most important tools. Now that they’ve tackled the easy fixes, Shelby Busó, director of sustainability at Central Atlanta Progress, which partners with the city to manage the Better Buildings program, predicts we’ll start seeing more advanced technology, particularly solar installations.

Buildings in the challenge:

  • 191 Peachtree Tower
  • 1180 Peachtree
  • American Cancer Society Center
  • Bank of America Plaza
  • Emory University
  • Fox Theatre
  • Hyatt Regency Atlanta
  • Philips Arena
  • Ponce City Market
  • The Promenade

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.