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Blueprints for Building a Green City

By Debra DeHaney-Howard
November 19, 2007

Conference Energy Committee Chair Austin Mayor Will Wynn facilitated an interactive session, Blueprints for Building a Green City, which highlighted best practices for greening cities and featured the release of a new toolkit to support improved city practices in greening buildings and neighborhoods.

“It has been left to cities to lead the way in addressing the growing climate crisis, and Austin is proving indispensable on this front,” Wynn said in his opening remarks at the session. “We’re showing how local economies can thrive with advanced energy policies like stronger energy codes.”

Wynn reported that the City of Austin has dramatically increased energy efficiency requirements in its energy code. “Austin has recently adopted energy codes that by 2015 will make all new single-family homes in Austin zero energy capable,” he said. A zero-energy home is one capable of producing as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

“The savings here are staggering — over the next ten years these policies will save homeowners almost $125 million on utility bills and have the same greenhouse gas reduction effect as taking almost 200,000 cars off the road,” said Wynn.

Created in 1991, the City of Austin’s green building program was the first of its kind in the nation to rate buildings on the number of energy-efficient features incorporated into their design and construction, a program which now has become a model for other cities throughout the nation.

“As far as greenhouse gases go, we’re in the heart of the most polluting state in the country. Yet, we’re meeting the growing energy demand of the fastest growing economy of any city our size through conservation, efficiency, renewable power and better land-use and building practices,” Wynn said.

“Albuquerque Green” Guides Actions

“Cities are large consumers of energy. While Albuquerque is no exception, we have an opportunity to look critically at our day-to-day operations and policies and see where we can make changes that have a significant impact on resource conservation, the environment and economic development. As mayors we must do what we do best, which is to lead,” said Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.

Chavez said that “sustainable energy is at the forefront of his administrative priorities” and told the participants how the Albuquerque community came together through a Sustainable Energy Town Hall meeting to help formulate a blueprint for Albuquerque’s sustainable energy plan. The energy plan, which is called Albuquerque Green, is a multi-faceted, integrated approach with real solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the city’s impact on climate change.

He then outlined the program’s goals: committing to make Albuquerque the most bicycle-friendly city in the Southwest; promoting the growth of green-tech companies, employment and investment; making sure all newly-purchased city vehicles are alternatively fueled; changing city operations, which so far have resulted in cutting natural gas by 42 percent, refrigerants by 95 percent, and cutting green house gas emissions by 67 percent; and promoting pedestrian-friendly mixed-use urban village initiatives.

“Albuquerque is becoming a hot spot for green innovation. From solar power to wind energy, local companies are leading the way in developing and utilizing sustainable technology,” said Chavez.

In June, Chavez was recognized at the Conference of Mayors 75th Annual Meeting for his city’s leadership on climate protection, receiving First Place among large cities in the 2007 Mayors Climate Protection Awards.

North Miami Reclaims Former Landfill

Mayor Kevin Burns described how his city embraced the idea of making North Miami one of the greenest cities in the U. S. and discussed his continuing efforts to develop ways to involve the community in this effort.

“Our city is making progress by including green initiatives in many aspects of our organization — from our Comprehensive Plan, to our new procurement policy and establishment of administrative regulations within our own government operations that aim to reduce our city’s carbon imprint on our environment,” Burns said.

He described major revitalization efforts that have occurred in recent years, including the development of a 193-acre master planned community, which is currently underway on land that was formerly the city’s landfill. The site, which is known as Biscayne Landing, was on the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list of contaminated properties. “The site was literally a dump, serving as a landfill for many years, starting in the mid 70s,” said Burns. While over the years there have been many attempts to redevelopment this property, it was not developed until recently, when the City of North Miami entered into a long-term lease with a local developer.

Boston’s Green Action Plan

Jim Hunt, Chief of the Office of Environmental and Energy Services for the City of Boston, described Boston’s Green Action plan, which includes a number of climate protection strategies on green buildings, renewable energy and sustainable transportation. He reported that the City of Boston is the largest purchaser of renewable energy and biodiesel fuel in the New England area.

Discussing the importance of greening buildings in Boston, Hunt indicated that 75 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Boston come from buildings, which explains why the city focuses so extensively on programs and policies for greening buildings.

Earlier this year, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino signed an Executive Order for Climate Action, which sets a goal of reducing Boston’s annual greenhouse gas emissions seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012, and calls for a further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This Executive Order, Hunt explained, requires all new construction and major renovation of city facilities to obtain a LEED Silver certification from the U. S. Green Building Council. “Through these new policies and programs, the City of Boston is reducing costs, creating jobs while improving our environment,” Hunt said.

Rick Fedrizzi

Rick Fedrizzi, President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), discussed a number of green building issues, including the USGBC’s green building rating system, which has produced a record number of LEED-registered and LEED-certified green building projects across the nation.

Fedrizzi also discussed its newest program, The Green Playbook for Green Buildings and Neighborhoods, which resulted from a collaboration among a number of climate leading organizations and cities. This new toolkit provides a user-friendly, web-based resource to support local leaders in their efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and neighborhoods. Launched on the eve of the Summit, this new resource, providing climate protection strategies, tips, and tools for cities and counties to take action on climate change, can be found at —