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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, June 2015
WEB Exclusive story

Boston Uncommon

Beantown is the only city to top 80 points in newly released biannual energy efficiency rankings.

Walkability and transit options play a key role in enhancing the energy efficiency profile of No. 1-ranked Boston.
Photo by Leise Jones Photography courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

by Adam Bruns 

The second edition of the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released May 20 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), named Boston the most energy-efficient city among the 51 largest cities in the United States for the second consecutive time.

The ACEEE report finds that Boston continues to be the most energy-efficient city in the nation, receiving 82 out of a possible 100 points, an improvement of more than five points from the city's 2013 score. Nine of the top 10 improved their scores from two years ago. Trailing Boston, the top 10 US cities for energy efficiency are:

  1. 2. New York City (78 points)
  2. 3. Washington, DC (76.5)
  3. 4. San Francisco (75.5)
  4. 5. Seattle (75)
  5. 6. Chicago (69.5)
  6. 7. Minneapolis (67)
  7. 8. Portland (66.5)
  8. 9. Austin (62.5)
  9. 10. Denver (58.5).

Key findings include the following:

  • Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle are the most improved cities compared to 2013, with many showing double-digit improvements in their scores. "Los Angeles, for example, established a strong energy savings goal, and Chicago enacted a new commercial building benchmarking ordinance," said ACEEE.
  • Other cities have also improved their scores since the last edition, including several in the Southeast United States. Atlanta, the leading city in the Southeast, saw an improvement of five points, earning new points for local government operations, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies. "Charlotte made a strong showing as well, improving by nearly eight points," said ACEEE. "Jacksonville, the lowest scoring city in the 2013 edition, saw a 50-percent increase in its score."
  • Boston was the only city to earn over 80 points, and only 13 cities earned more than half of the possible points.  

"Our findings show that cities continue to be laboratories of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency, with many pushing the envelope for more energy savings in the last few years," said ACEEE research analyst David Ribeiro, the report's lead author. "Cities are also improving their approaches when it comes to tracking and communicating their efforts to save energy. By capturing these efforts in the Scorecard we hope local leaders from cities of all sizes can learn best practices from each other and deliver the benefits of energy efficiency to their communities, such as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment."

"Our goal is to help Boston residents and businesses save energy and money, and through collaborative efforts with our utility partners, Eversource and National Grid, we are creating a thriving, healthy and innovative Boston," said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Among the city's best practices, says the report, are a Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance requiring all large buildings to benchmark and report energy use, and the Renew Boston partnership with those local utilities, which connects residents with energy-saving services.

In the Arena

While not mentioned in the rankings announcement, the top performers for energy efficiency also happen to be among the perennial top performers in walkability — the ultimate low-fossil-fuel locomotion mode. The top six ACEEE cities also happen to be the top six cities for "walkable urbanism" according to rankings released last year.

Though outside the top 10, Los Angeles, at No. 12, was among the most improved cities since 2013, earning 20 more points. "With the release of my Sustainable City pLAn and new bold goals for energy efficiency, transportation, and municipal operations, I am confident LA is on its way to the top of the list," said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

"The City of Atlanta and its stakeholders are fully invested in making Atlanta a top-tier city for sustainability, and our ranking in the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard recognizes our achievements," said Mayor Kasim Reed of No. 15 Atlanta. "Just recently, Atlanta became the first city in the Southeast to adopt a comprehensive energy policy that aims to significantly reduce citywide commercial energy use."

The report covered five key areas, with ACEEE providing the following highlights in each:

  • Government operations. Leaders in efficiency in local government operations are Denver, New York City, and Phoenix, all of which have set policies to increase efficiency in city government, procurement, and asset management.
  • Community initiatives. The top-scoring cities in community-wide initiatives are New York City and Boston. They both have systems to track progress toward efficiency-related goals for the whole community, and strategies to mitigate urban heat islands. They also have efficient distributed-energy systems, such as district energy and combined heat and power, and policies or programs to plan for future ones.
  • Buildings. Leading cities in buildings policies include Boston, New York City, and Washington. These cities have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to building code compliance, established requirements and incentives for efficient buildings, and increased the availability of information on energy use in buildings through benchmarking and transparency policies. Residents and business owners can also access programs that take a systemic, building-wide approach to retrofits and upgrades.
  • Utilities. The leading cities in the energy utilities area are Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Their energy efficiency programs offer high levels of savings. These cities also have productive relationships with their utilities in program implementation and access to energy data. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Atlanta, Fort Worth, and El Paso are the leading cities in tackling efficiency in their water systems.
  • Transportation. Cities with the top transportation policy scores include Portland, Washington, Boston, and Seattle. Their initiatives include location-efficiency strategies, shifts to efficient modes of transportation, transit investments, efficient vehicles and vehicle infrastructure, and energy-efficient freight transport.

One of the most appealing aspects of ACEEE is its open-source attitude. First, it offers complete access to its city and state policy databases, which are free to download in their entirety. Updated at least once a year, ACEEE’s State and Local Policy Database includes comprehensive information on energy efficiency policies currently implemented at the state and local level. The database tracks policy activity across multiple sectors, including government, utilities, transportation, buildings, combined heat and power, and appliance standards.

The organization also offers its Local Energy Efficiency Self-Scoring Tool so communities can see where they stand by answering groups of questions related to the five key areas noted above.

While the city rankings only examine the nation's 51 largest cities, 10 cities have used the self-scoring tool to evaluate their own energy-efficiency profiles. Only one of those 10 — Boulder, Colo. — would place in the overall Top 10, with a score of 69.25.

Los Angeles, seen here from an evening gathering at Griffith Observatory, is among the most improved cities in the nation when it comes to energy efficiency.
Photo courtesy of Visit California

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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