Nice work, Portland
Portland, Maine, punches above its weight. Our city produces food that’s superior to cities with ten times its population. The beer scene is one of the best in the U.S. And, as a coastal city that’s dependent on its rich natural resources and threatened by unmitigated climate change, we are proud that this exceptionality now extends to sustainability.
On Monday evening, the Portland City Council voted 6-3 to become the first community in Maine to require large businesses and residential buildings to report their energy usage to the city. This places Portland in the vanguard of municipal sustainability, joining major cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco, and relatively smaller communities like Cambridge and Berkeley. (The EPA maintains a list of federal agencies and state and local governments that have enacted policies, to which Portland will be added in the next few days.)
We applaud the councilors who voted for the bill. It takes courage to make hard decisions, especially when they may not be particularly popular with real estate owners and businesses. And we understand the reluctance of those councilors who voted no. Collecting energy data for “benchmarking” may seem like busy-work with dubious business value. But tracking and reporting energy use is the fundamental first step in improving efficiency and controlling costs.
As we begin to analyze and leverage increasingly accessible impact data, we can establish more sophisticated processes for comparing buildings, identifying poor performers, and determining the potential cost and return — both financial and environmental — of action and inaction.
We believe that in being required to report, the largest real estate owners and businesses in Portland will come to see the value of leveraging this data to improve their operational efficiency and bottom line. That they will be helping to make Portland and Maine more sustainable will be just icing on the cake. And, eventually, we believe that environmental reporting can, should, and will shift from a regulatory-driven effort to a market-driven one.
Bold action on climate change is needed today. In mandating environmental reporting, Portland helps to shift the conversation from my sustainability to our sustainability. It extends its reputation as a world class city. And it establishes itself as a leader, taking practical action on the thorniest and most important issue of our time.
— John Rooks and Justin Jaffe, November 8, 2016
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