Sustainability’s next generation flexes young wings of new ideas in Atlanta

By David Pendered

A nascent movement in the sustainability arena flexed its young wings in Atlanta last week.

The renovation of an old Sears warehouse into the mixed use Ponce City Market represents the cradle-to-cradle concept associated with the convergence of sustainability issues. Credit: Gail Des Jardins via Flickr

The renovation of an old Sears warehouse into the mixed use Ponce City Market represents the cradle-to-cradle concept of reuse that’s associated with the convergence of sustainability issues. Credit: Gail Des Jardins via Flickr

The movement involves the merging of issues including renewable energy, green buildings, and consumer products free of toxic chemicals. Apple CEO Tim Cook epitomizes the new concept for one advocate who spoke at a panel discussion sponsored by Southeast Green.

Cook drew headlines for this Feb. 28 remark to shareholders who criticized Apple’s green investment strategy: “If you want me to do things only for ROI [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Panelist Judith Webb said Cook’s comment on his commitment to Apple’s triple bottom line – to include social and environmental concerns in addition to profit or loss – conveys a lot about the evolving state of sustainability. Webb is an Atlanta-area resident who serves as a senior vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council, which developed the LEED rating system.

“This is the new normal – everything is connected,” Webb said, elaborating with an example that shows how fast the concept of sustainability is spreading among young people.

To promote the next generation of sustainability, the message some CEOs are sending to shareholders is: “Get out of this stock,” Apple CEO Tim Cook (left); and, “Get out of our way,” Virgin CEO Richard Branson (right). Credit: David Pendered

To promote the next generation of sustainability, the message some CEOs are sending to shareholders is: “Get out of this stock,” Apple CEO Tim Cook (left); and, “Get out of our way,” Virgin CEO Richard Branson (right). Credit: David Pendered

“When we get somebody to invest in a STEM program [science, technology, engineering, math] with a group of kids, the students already are thinking as sustainability natives,” Webb said. “That’s just how they are.”

Southface Executive Director Dennis Creech said a similar convergence of sustainability premises emerged last week during the Greenprints conference, which brings together researchers and practioners in the field of green buildings and communities.

“People don’t’ realize there’s a transformation going on across the country,” Creech said. “There still are more silos than you would want … the research community tends to be siloed, design professionals are just starting to come on board with green in efficiency for energy and water and recycled materials.

“Now we’re trying to get them to work more closely with the health professionals to bring together the research, health, design and materials sides,” Creech said. “We want it all. And there’s no reason we can’t have it.”

Transparency is one of the threads that connects the blending issues of sustainability. Often, it’s the lack of transparency that’s shared.

Construction workers install a sealant that's free of phthalate on the Bullitt Center in Seattle. Phthalate has been been associated with early onset of puberty. Credit: huffingtonpost.com

Construction workers install a sealant that’s free of phthalate on the Bullitt Center in Seattle. Phthalate, a common ingredient in plastics since the 1930s, has been been associated with early onset of puberty. Credit: huffingtonpost.com

Heather White, another panelist at the Southeast Green event, said corporations and their advocates – particularly the American Chemistry Council – fight hard to prevent consumers from knowing the building blocks of materials they use every day. White serves as director of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based, non-profit, environmental advocacy organization.

“On every level, they have tried to keep consumers from knowing what is in the products they use,” White said.

“BPA is a perfect example,” White said. “It’s being replaced with BPS, which may be as potent as BPA when it comes to interfering with the hormone system. Because this information is secret, we, or university researchers, don’t have the capacity to be back-stoppers for the public.”

Incidentally, among a number of web sites, mayoclinic.org lists a number of possible health risks associated with BPA, and worldhealth.net outlines concerns associated with BPS.

Concerning renewal energy, Carrie Cullen Hitt said at the Southeast Green event the deck is stacked in favor of the existing utilities largely because the status quo has existed for so long. Both the utlilities and their regulators are not equipped to discuss energy sources arriving from new sources – again, representing a situation of silos – according to Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs for Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade organization for the solar industry.

IKEA installed rooftop solar panels on its warehouse in Savannah that are capable of producing 2 million killowatts of power a year. Credit: ikea.com

IKEA installed rooftop solar panels on its warehouse in Savannah that are capable of producing 2 million killowatts of power a year. Credit: ikea.com

“The utilities as we think of them today, their business model was built 100 years ago,” Cullen Hitt said. “New technologies, new customer demands … threaten that model and the regulatory framework that’s structured around it. It will change. It will take a long time, but it is changing.”

Creech, at Southface, said transparency is a concept that consumers will demand as part of the marketplace. Transparency will be part of the “cradle to cradle” movement, which traces its roots to a 2002 premise that all manufactured goods will eventually be recycled.

“We believe the marketplace is a great force for change,” Creech said. “As every lover of capitalism knows, the way for the market to work is to have a free flow of information. The question is how to create a free flow of information.”

Which brings the issue back to the comment from Cook to Apple shareholders. Among other CEOs who jumped on the bandwagon of the triple bottom line was Virgin CEO Richard Branson, who has supported alternative sources of energy.

“More businesses should be following Apple’s stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability,” Branson said. “While Tim told sustainability sceptics to ‘get out of our stock’, I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way.”

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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10 comments
Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

atlman Kasim Reed became Mayor on January 4, 2010, before the 2010 Census was taken on April 1. Check your facts. How many shares of Apple do you own? You are a one person PR firm. Keep on drinking the koolade.

atlman
atlman

Burroughston Broch   Oh for crying out loud man. Wal-Mart has been putting solar panels on their buildings and using it to A) cut their massive power bills significantly and B) sell excess energy to the grid for years. Wal-Mart is now one of the larger energy producers in the country. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-24/wal-mart-now-has-more-solar-than-38-u-s-states-drink-.html Apple is only doing what LOTS of companies, both liberal and east coast firms and conservative middle America companies are doing right now, which is to use alternative energy to monetize their real estate. Building a solar or windmill infrastructure BY ITSELF is not viable because it won't turn a profit on its own, it doesn't produce enough energy to pay for the infrastructure. But if the infrastructure ALREADY EXISTS, is ALREADY MAKING MONEY, then putting solar panels in will increase the value. To make it simple: Wal-Mart, Apple and the many other companies doing this are not constructing buildings for the sole purposes of putting solar panels on them, with the solar panels being the only source of revenue for the building. Instead, they are putting solar panels on buildings that already generate revenue (i.e. stores or factories) so that those buildings can produce ADDITIONAL REVENUE. A regular roof on a store or factory will produce nothing beyond the simple value of a roof. But adding solar panels to that roof is relatively cheap, can be subsidized by the profits that the facility generates in the short term, will pay for itself in a few years (5 to 7) and will cut electricity costs and be used to sell energy to the grid for 10-15 years after it has paid for itself. It isn't free money, but it is the closest thing that there is to it. There is absolutely no risk and no downside. The only reason to oppose it is due to the irrational hatred that some people have to alternative energy.  Also, if Apple falls from their perch, it will have nothing to do with their green activities. (Quite the contrary, what if Apple comes up with the next big energy technology discovery, such as all the progress that Tesla has made with batteries, whose designs they are going to lease to a bunch of other companies, which will probably make them as much or more money than they will selling cars?) As long as people keep buying smart phones, computers and tablets - and they will for at least the next 5 years because there is no technology to replace those things on the horizon, and all of Apple's competitors (Samsung, Google and especially Microsoft) are being left in the dust, Apple computer sales are actually INCREASING while other computer sales are dropping like a stone - they will be fine. Seriously, fellow, you need to stop letting your ideology and your many axes to grind cloud your thinking. Just chalk this one up to your frequent pronouncements of how Atlanta is going to fall into ruin and despair any day now, or your claim that Kasim Reed stated that the city had 500,000 people in it when he wasn't even mayor yet (Shirley Franklin was, and she was way too timid to make any bold claims or do much of anything besides beg Sonny Perdue for a few bonds to fix the sewers).

atlman
atlman

Burroughston Broch   Oh for crying out loud man. Wal-Mart has been putting solar panels on their buildings and using it to A) cut their massive power bills significantly and B) sell excess energy to the grid for years. Wal-Mart is now one of the larger energy producers in the

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Once Apple falls from its pedestal and becomes just another company, we shall see how long Mr. Cook's Triple Bottom Line lasts. Seeing declining growth and increased competition for Apple, we know that fall is in progress.

It's easy to be green when you're sitting on $160 billion in idle cash, but investors are clamoring for Apple to do something financially lucrative with it rather than leaving it parked overseas. Putting solar panels on buildings in Georgia and other similar activities will not produce the returns investors expect.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Once Apple falls from its pedestal and becomes just another company, we shall see how long Mr. Cook's Triple Bottom Line lasts. Seeing declining growth and increased competition for Apple, we know that fall is in progress. It's easy to be green when you're sitting on $160 billion in idle cash, but investors are clamoring for Apple to do something financially lucrative with it rather than leaving it parked overseas. Putting solar panels on buildings in Georgia and other similar activities will not produce the returns investors expect.

Terri Kruzan
Terri Kruzan

Great article highlighting the growing 21st century culture shift happening toward beliefs in the Triple Bottom Line and Transparency as keys to organizational success! 

Terri Kruzan
Terri Kruzan

Great article highlighting the growing 21st century culture shift happening toward beliefs in the Triple Bottom Line and Transparency as keys to organizational success!

atlman
atlman

@Burroughston Broch  

Oh for crying out loud man. Wal-Mart has been putting solar panels on their buildings and using it to A) cut their massive power bills significantly and B) sell excess energy to the grid for years. Wal-Mart is now one of the larger energy producers in the country.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-24/wal-mart-now-has-more-solar-than-38-u-s-states-drink-.html

Apple is only doing what LOTS of companies, both liberal and east coast firms and conservative middle America companies are doing right now, which is to use alternative energy to monetize their real estate. Building a solar or windmill infrastructure BY ITSELF is not viable because it won't turn a profit on its own, it doesn't produce enough energy to pay for the infrastructure. But if the infrastructure ALREADY EXISTS, is ALREADY MAKING MONEY, then putting solar panels in will increase the value. To make it simple: Wal-Mart, Apple and the many other companies doing this are not constructing buildings for the sole purposes of putting solar panels on them, with the solar panels being the only source of revenue for the building. Instead, they are putting solar panels on buildings that already generate revenue (i.e. stores or factories) so that those buildings can produce ADDITIONAL REVENUE. A regular roof on a store or factory will produce nothing beyond the simple value of a roof. But adding solar panels to that roof is relatively cheap, can be subsidized by the profits that the facility generates in the short term, will pay for itself in a few years (5 to 7) and will cut electricity costs and be used to sell energy to the grid for 10-15 years after it has paid for itself. It isn't free money, but it is the closest thing that there is to it. There is absolutely no risk and no downside. The only reason to oppose it is due to the irrational hatred that some people have to alternative energy. 

Also, if Apple falls from their perch, it will have nothing to do with their green activities. (Quite the contrary, what if Apple comes up with the next big energy technology discovery, such as all the progress that Tesla has made with batteries, whose designs they are going to lease to a bunch of other companies, which will probably make them as much or more money than they will selling cars?) As long as people keep buying smart phones, computers and tablets - and they will for at least the next 5 years because there is no technology to replace those things on the horizon, and all of Apple's competitors (Samsung, Google and especially Microsoft) are being left in the dust, Apple computer sales are actually INCREASING while other computer sales are dropping like a stone - they will be fine.

Seriously, fellow, you need to stop letting your ideology and your many axes to grind cloud your thinking. Just chalk this one up to your frequent pronouncements of how Atlanta is going to fall into ruin and despair any day now, or your claim that Kasim Reed stated that the city had 500,000 people in it when he wasn't even mayor yet (Shirley Franklin was, and she was way too timid to make any bold claims or do much of anything besides beg Sonny Perdue for a few bonds to fix the sewers).

Also, when the technology breakthroughs required to make alternative energy viable happens - and it will happen - everyone who spent years bashing alternative energy as if sticking up for fossil fuels represented patriotic conservatism or something will have egg on their faces. The worst part is that the technology breakthrough likely even won't be due to American innovation because of attitudes like yours. The Israelis (who have a huge IT/research sector and have invested a ton in alternative energy) or the Chinese (who need alternative energy because of their own lack of oil reserves) will probably beat us to it, and own the technology and we will have to buy it from THEM. What will the likes of you say then?

atlman
atlman

@Burroughston Broch  

Oh for crying out loud man. Wal-Mart has been putting solar panels on their buildings and using it to A) cut their massive power bills significantly and B) sell excess energy to the grid for years. Wal-Mart is now one of the larger energy producers in the 

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@atlman Kasim Reed became Mayor on January 4, 2010, before the 2010 Census was taken on April 1. Check your facts.

How many shares of Apple do you own? You are a one person PR firm. Keep on drinking the koolade.