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Atlanta makes Georgia a national leader in green building, but why is growth so slow?

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Most current LEED residential housing is limited to multifamily developments rather than single-family homes

Courtyard with swimming pool surrounded by multi-story, colorful apartment buildings.
LEED-stamped living in Atlanta at AMLI Piedmont Heights.
AMLI Residential

For years, Atlantans have called for more environmentally friendly transportation solutions—more rail transit, increased pedestrian corridors, a shift toward increased teleworking—but that eco-friendly focus has yet to gain a stronghold in the residential building industry.

That’s not to say green residential building is nonexistent here, in this City in a Forest.

According to Rhiannon Jacobsen, U.S. Green Building Council vice president of strategic relationships, Georgia has been a leader in the adoption of LEED across the residential sector, making it an outlier in the Southeast. (That’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

“The state ranks No. 10 in the country in terms of the number of LEED-certified residential units with nearly 6,000, and more than 1,700 of those qualify as affordable housing,” she says. “Atlanta is responsible for most of that LEED activity.”

However, the primary source of that LEED activity is in multifamily developments rather than single-family homes. For instance, both AMLI Buckhead and AMLI Piedmont Heights are LEED Platinum-certified.

“Over half of AMLI’s Atlanta portfolio is already LEED-certified, and we’re continuing that commitment with two more certifications on track for completion in 2020,” says Erin Hatcher, AMLI Residential vice president of sustainability.

Map of United States with top 10 states highlighted, including Georgia.
While Georgia squeaks its way into the Top 10 states for LEED-certified residential units, the total volume is hardly impressive.
U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019

Other multifamily developments with LEED-certified units in the Atlanta area include ENSO Apartments, Azure on the Park, FLATS at Ponce City Market, and Trace Midtown.

Of course, multifamily developers can more easily cover higher costs associated with sustainable building, given that their buildings have many shared features.

Paying those costs upfront can be a challenge for individual homebuilders or residential housing developers building single units.

This is especially true, given the lack of incentives, from rebates to tax credits, by local, state, and federal governments.

Bar chart showing the increase of LEED-certified residential units between 2001 and 2018.
While national growth of LEED-certified residential units has been strong, Atlanta’s contributions are much smaller.
U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019

Even something as (relatively) simple as installing solar panels in Atlanta has been hampered by installation costs, power rates, and lack of incentives, which deter many homeowners from embracing this technology.

According to Jacobsen, the biggest challenge is that the general public doesn’t immediately recognize how green buildings contribute to their personal quality of life. The USGBC, she says, needs to do a better job of communicating those benefits.

However, it also could be said residential housing developers may not recognize the benefits of green buildings.

Graphic stating the benefits of green residential housing.
The benefits of green residential housing are numerous.
U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019

Otherwise, it could be argued, there would be a bigger push for more green housing developments of single-family homes, in addition to multifamily projects.

So what’s the future hold for green residential building in Metro Atlanta?

Per Jacobsen, residents should expect to see increased green building activity among multi- and single-family homes through 2022.

“When it comes to the use of LEED, we expect Atlanta to continue to be a strong market and help show others how green housing can be a smart economic, social, and environmental investment,” Jacobsen says.

“Our hope is that sustainable homes become the norm in the residential sector, and that one day we no longer have to ask whether a home is green,” she says. “Until then, we’re providing the tools and resources to help the industry make the transition.”

For starters, the USGBC lists its top five web resources of 2019 for green building here.