Tuesday morning's news conference at City Hall to announce Chattanooga's participation in the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge was a lot like most announcements of civic initiatives.
Nicely dressed executives from prominent organizations in the city introduced each other to the audience and then aired prim marks of praise for the city's commitment to sustainability.facebook
But then Mayor Andy Berke took the podium for a third time in the 20-minute ceremony and issued a reflective statement that brought the day's announcement full circle.
He recalled the Chattanooga he grew up in with a core that was "hollowing out," rivers and air that were polluted and people who were moving out.
"It was a dying city, and a large part of that was because we hadn't taken care of what God had given us," he said. "But now, Outside Magazine calls us 'Best Town Ever,' and that's in large part because we understand the role sustainability plays in our city and our country. The city can help lead by example."
Over the next 10 years, the city will try to do that by reducing energy usage in its 200 buildings by 20 percent, in accordance with the Better Buildings Challenge that was launched by President Barack Obama in 2011.
Berke said the 200 city-owned buildings amount to two million square feet that use about 250 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity. Completing the challenge would require cutting that amount by 50 million kilowatt hours per year within a decade.
"We were trying to find a new goal to go for that would spur us to bigger heights," Berke said after the announcement. "The accountability part is important, because once we accept that challenge, we will meet it. The goal is important."
The challenge calls for participants to develop a schedule, milestones and a "showcase" project.
Berke said the showcase project will be revealed in the next few weeks, and that the city website will be updated soon with information on how residents can get connected with the initiative.
The Department of Energy offers technical assistance to participants on how to reduce energy use, and the city will be able to get tips from others who have taken the challenge.
Wal-Mart, Sprint and Macy's are among corporations that have taken the challenge. Atlanta, Knoxville, Los Angeles, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among other cities that are participating.
Berke said the city will continue to look at what "capital improvements" it needs to work toward the goal. He said grants are available to help with the process.
Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce president Bill Kilbride said the chamber will spread word of the initiative to its 2,000-plus member businesses so they can set goals, too.
"We're very eager to get started, just to spread the word and talk about the importance of this," Kilbride said. "I believe by now that most good business people understand that being sustainable in every way is good for business."
"The city can help lead by example," Berke added. "We know that reducing our energy consumption by 20 percent is big for the city, but we want to encourage you to do the same."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.
Updated Jan. 19 at 11:15 p.m.