The two-year-old City Energy Project recently doubled the number of participants in its power and water conservation program to 20 municipalities. CEP provides aid and technical assistance to cities for developing voluntary programs and binding policies to reduce building energy consumption. The group hopes to meet its 2030 goal of reducing annual utility bills of building owners in CEP member cities by more than $1.5 billion and cutting annual building carbon emissions by more than 9.6 metric tons.

If U.S. buildings were considered a nation, they would rank third in global energy consumption, after the U.S. and China, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. In 2015, U.S. residential and commercial buildings used about 40% of the total U.S. energy consumed, or about 39 quadrillion British thermal units, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

CEP is trying to reduce those numbers one city at a time while working to develop best practices for conservation programs and policies that, when tailored locally, can serve as models for non-member cities. “We are focused with our cities on creating locally customized approaches” to saving power and water, says Christina Angelides, CEP’s director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. CEP is a partnership of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). The group is focusing first on building operations and then on capital improvements.

“The beauty of this project is that it works at the local level and is not reliant on federal policy or funding.”

Julie Hughes, IMT’s City Energy Project Director

The Bloomberg Philanthropies, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Kresge Foundation have provided $20 million in funding for the project, which provides technical support and grants to member cities. “The beauty of this project is that it works at the local level and is not reliant on federal policy or funding,” says Julie Hughes, IMT’s CEP director.

New members are Miami-Dade County; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; Providence, R.I.; Reno, Nev.; San Jose, Calif.; and St. Paul, Minn. They join Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Kansas City, Mo.

Providence joined CEP in part because, earlier this year, Mayor Jorge Elorza (D) signed an executive order to make the city carbon-neutral, in terms of emissions, by 2050. “We are currently working on the city’s first greenhouse-gas inventory,” says Leah Bamberger, the city’s director of sustainability.

To reach its goal, CEP is collaborating with many sustainability interests, including the U.S. Green Building Council and ASHRAE. The group also is collaborating with local chapters of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “It is [also] important we work with the building owners themselves,” says Hughes.