Philadelphia: Soon to be America’s Greenest City?

If Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter meets his goal, the City of Brotherly Love could soon be called the City of Sustainability instead. He plans to make the nation’s first capital the greenest city in America. And he has set out 15 targets to achieve that goal by 2015, before his term is up. The plan is practical, too. “This is not an environmental plan; this is an economic plan,” said Mark Alan Hughes (pictured), director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and a senior advisor in his cabinet, speaking as the opening keynote at CPN’s inaugural Hidden Opportunities conference in Philadelphia yesterday. The targets fall into a framework of five categories: energy, economy, environment, equity and engagement. They consider that many buildings are old and could be improved with retrofits that could greatly improve sustainable performance. Energy use, for instance, is a big focus, as the buildings and even the layout of the city itself were designed when energy was less expensive. Among Nutter’s first targets: By 2015, the city government will reduce total energy consumption by 30 percent–a reduction of 1.62 trillion BTUs, or a savings of $36 million, in 2015. The goal for buildings citywide is a 10 percent reduction, or 12.9 trillion BTUs, by 2015. In addition, Hughes said, plans address the need for greater accessibility on foot. For instance, his office has a goal of placing access to food within a 10-minute walk for 75 percent of residents, up from about 48 percent now. That requires increasing the number of farms and farmer’s markets and ensuring the latter can be suitably spaced out around the city. “The city of Philadelphia is one big TOD site,” he quipped, referring to efforts at carbon reduction. A panel later in the conference, moderated by Matthew Weko, first vice president of project and development services for the Philadelphia region for Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., considered how much companies and other developer/owners should do to further sustainability. While there are still many owners not yet sold on the cost benefits and even some users for which it is not a focus, according to Liberty Property Trust senior vice president of urban and national development & regional director John Gattuso, many are now in favor, with tenants drawn to a variety of benefits, from reduced operating costs to social reasons to improved productivity. Such benefits are also behind interest at the university level, noted Daniel Garofalo, environmental sustainability coordinator & senior facilities planner for the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services for the University of Pennsylvania, since sustainability for its own sake falls far behind student enrollment and high-profile achievements like having winning football or basketball teams. But Scott Kelly, principal for Re:Vision Architecture, has found interest to be so widespread that his firm now designs sustainability into everything. Economic incentives like tax credits have been less of a draw for REITs, universities and others that can’t benefit directly from them, but there are a growing number of entities seeking the credits in exchange for deals that incorporate installation of solar panels and other elements. Liberty Property Trust and the University of Pennsylvania have both been exploring some possibilities that allow them to benefit from the credits, but the entities offers have been slow to catch on. However, that is likely to change with deregulation of the energy industry in 2011, Gattuso noted. Put in Kelly: “There are ways to be creative. [You need to] put the incentive money in the right place.”Log on to CPN Radio for an interview with Terry Munoz of Nielsen Claritas. And look for more Philadelphia conference coverage later this week on and CPN TV.