If building efficiency were an indicator of success in sports, we could likely declare a winner in this week's Super Bowl matchup between Seattle and Denver. As one of the top five most efficient cities in the country, Seattle takes the crown.
But other cities -- even ones with better rankings -- aren't waiting on the sidelines. A new initiative announced yesterday aims to create the Pro Bowl of efficiency, where top cities around the country come together for a friendly competition around which of them can save more energy.
With $9 million in seed funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, two leading advocacy organizations have set up a multi-year effort to boost efficiency in buildings across ten cities. The plan is perhaps the strongest coordinated effort between U.S. cities on energy efficiency.
Led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), the City Energy Project is designed to help mayors develop aggressive plans for tackling energy waste in large, existing buildings. The eventual goal is to save $1 billion in energy costs annually across the ten participating cities.
The ten cities are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.
Over the next year, each city will craft a comprehensive plan (or an addition to existing plans) for monitoring and incentivizing efficiency in large buildings. The program will not be prescriptive, so every city can develop its own plan based on local conditions.
"Each [city] can bring new solutions to the table," said former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg on a press call.
Bloomberg helped channel $3 million over the next three years into the initiative through his philanthropic organization, and is consulting with other mayors about how to develop their efficiency programs.
As mayor of New York City from 2001 to 2013, Bloomberg was a leader in pushing for energy efficiency. Because three-quarters of New York City's greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, he supported one of the country's first building disclosure laws and helped get half the city's landlords to switch from fuel oil to natural gas.
Over Bloomberg's tenure, New York reduced its carbon emissions by 19 percent, and it is headed toward a 30 percent reduction by 2017.
This new project is designed to create a collaborative process for mayors to learn from other cities like New York. They will set targets for building efficiency, develop transparent policies and monitor progress closely over the coming years.
"Nobody has a monopoly on the great ideas," said Bloomberg. "Each city should feel free to steal each other's ideas."
NRDC and IMT will serve as "matchmakers" for city officials, providing policy assistance and consulting.
"There’s a real opportunity to serve as matchmaker. We’ll give them tips and pointers," said Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT, an organization that specializes in building efficiency. "Half of carbon emissions are from buildings in cities. We can change that by using best practices."
Because the program is so localized, advisors from NRDC and IMT were purposely vague about what exactly those "best practices" might be. But energy disclosure policies combined with loans for upgrades were at the top of the list.
"We find many replicable solutions," said Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. "We’re going to share ideas and use each other's ideas. It’s not a zero-sum game."
The announcement comes one week ahead of the C40 meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, where leaders from the world's top cities will discuss their climate action plans. By 2015, there will likely be more than 3,000 cities with greenhouse gas reduction plans in place, according to the World Resources Institute.
"This is really a big deal. It shows that cities are stepping up," said Bloomberg.
It will be another year before the participating U.S. cities put their plans in place. Over the next three years, performance will be tracked in deep detail and used as case studies for smaller cities.