When global and local issues overlap

Howard Lalli, HL Strategy

Howard Lalli, HL Strategy

Just as the definition of sustainability often depends on who you are, the specifics of sustainability are highly variable depending upon where you are. From energy and air to water to land use and transportation – and beyond – economic, environmental and social sustainability are as much local issues as they are global.

Take water – arguably our most precious natural resource – for example. Water wars are common across the country, but the science, law and politics of the battles are different in every region. While there are best practices to be shared, there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to how best to steward and allocate our limited water supply.

Approaches to energy are similarly inconsistent across the country, shaped by history, geography, available resources and policy. And as much as our national transportation infrastructure is woven together by highways, airports and rail, the nature of mobility varies not only state-by-state but within states.

Fortunately in Georgia we benefit from at least two programs that convene business, civic, political, advocacy, regulatory, community and other leaders to focus on our most pressing environmental sustainability issues.

The Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) annually engages a diverse class of environmental leaders to gain a deeper understanding of our state’s challenges and opportunities. About 30 people spend multiple days together in sessions in various locations around Georgia in which they can safely explore concepts and offer differing views. The end of the class year is just the beginning of joining an ever-growing network of leaders who share a common experience – a place to begin dialogue even if from opposite points of view on difficult issues. I count myself as fortunate to have been a member of IGEL’s fifth class.

I also feel fortunate to serve on the steering committee for the Georgia Environmental Conference, now in its eighth year.

From Wednesday afternoon, August 21 through Friday morning, August 23 – this year on Jekyll Island – an estimated 500 government, industry, academic, legal, engineering, architectural, agricultural, energy, water, public health, waste and recycling, and many other leaders will participate in 50 educational sessions entirely focused on Georgia. There is simply no other gathering like it in our state.

I will have the opportunity at the conference to convene a discussion of media coverage of our most pressing environmental issues. The session panel will include the editors-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Savannah Morning News – and a national sustainability blogger. If you have ideas for questions for these journalists, please write to me at howard@hlstrategy.com. I hope to see you at the conference.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government and business leaders agree: Do what people like

Trustee Howard J. Lallie October 21, 2011

Howard Lalli of HL Strategy

Most discussions of sustainability begin with people offering their definitions of sustainability. Unlike other topics – think democracy in the political realm or safety in a corporate environment – framing sustainability isn’t just a matter of degrees of difference in views. It can be a real clash of values.

In such a dynamic marketplace of ideas, it can be challenging for an enterprise to ground itself strategically. Do you start with a set of values and principles? Do you begin with standards set by third parties? What about the voice of your customers or constituents? Other stakeholders? Best practices among your peer group?

The questions are particularly relevant coming out of the Great Recession, with companies, organizations and governments having rationalized resources now adjusting to new market realities. So it was with great interest that I had the opportunity recently to participate in a gathering of thought leaders in New York to consider sustainable cities – with a particular focus on energy.

Across a number of discussions, it was striking to me how often government and business leaders alike echoed a common refrain when considering how to make sustainability work: People have to like it. Whether you’re an elected official who ultimately needs the approval of voters or a company leader who needs the endorsement of customers, the market must embrace something for it to be not only environmentally and socially sustainable – but economically sustainable, too.

Enrique Penalosa, mayor of Bogota, Colombia from 1998 to 2001, for example, described leading the development of a citywide bus rapid transit system and an extensive network of bikeways. More than a decade later, millions of transit riders and thousands of cyclists traverse that city in new ways.

The greatest recent public example of such a public embrace in Atlanta is the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. The combination of trail and linear greenspace stretches from Piedmont Park to Inman Park past the new Historic Fourth Ward Park. On any given day – peaking on weekends – it is filled with walkers, joggers, runners, bikers and more. The market is responding in other ways, too: developers are redeveloping along the corridor, business and tenants are committing to the location, and people are buying goods and services, too.

While everyone’s definition of sustainability is a little different, few will take issue with the economic, environmental and social benefits of the environmental remediation of a historic rail corridor that gives people new (less auto-dependent) ways to traverse the city – on bike and foot today and on transit tomorrow – and creates opportunity in Atlanta’s neighborhoods.

Most importantly – and most gratifying to the many, many of us who have each done our small part to contribute to its success – is the Eastside Trail’s popularity. It is a very tangible answer to at least part of the equation in making sustainability happen: Do things that people like.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The National Brownfields Conference comes to Atlanta

Trustee Howard J. Lallie October 21, 2011

Howard J. Lalli

By Howard Lalli

From May 15-17, Atlanta will highlight an aspect of its national sustainability leadership when it hosts the largest event in the country that focuses on environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment: The National Brownfields Conference.

From Atlantic Station  to Aerotropolis Atlanta and the Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta has an impressive track record of large-scale, re-use and redevelopment of properties that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines as brownfields because of the presence of pollutants or contaminants. EPA  and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division both have brownfields programs making it practical to safely clean up and sustainably reuse these properties. The Georgia Brownfield Association works to ensure our state can build on its record of redevelopment.

Redeveloping a brownfield promises significant economic, environmental and social return on investment for public and private partners alike. The life expectancy of industrial and commercial properties is limited. Their location and infrastructure – typically served by transportation, water, power and other resources – make them ideal for new uses. This recycling of land and mitigation of environmental impacts has the added benefit of saving greenspace from being developed elsewhere for commercial or industrial use. And the return of these often stigmatized, underutilized or abandoned properties to productive use can mean new jobs and revenue for public services.

Brownfield redevelopment is typically complex, usually requiring significant legal and technical expertise. Property owners, real estate redevelopers, financiers, regulators and the community all require patience, persistence and tolerance for risk in pursuing brownfield redevelopment. But choosing not to reclaim these properties represents even greater economic, environmental and social risk. And state and federal brownfield programs as well as legal and technical know-how have evolved significantly over the past decade. So brownfield redevelopment today offers significant opportunity for all of those stakeholders.

With thousands of government leaders, real estate developers and investors, economic and community development officials, attorneys and academics, and construction and engineering professionals descending on Atlanta for the National Brownfields Conference, the Southeast has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to share what we’ve accomplished and to learn from others.

Howard Lalli leads HL Strategy, a communications consultancy focused on economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment