As sustainability becomes a jobs issue, Ga., NY follow different paths

By David Pendered

As Georgia vies for top talent and industry, a new program in New York that finances clean energy industries bears watching.

Solar panels on the roof the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Credit: David Pendered

The New York Green Bank intends to finance the clean energy industry, which includes the construction and installation of solar panels such as these atop the Atlanta Food Bank. File/Credit: David Pendered

The New York Green Bank intends to help finance industries that hasten the transition to clean energy. The program is generally supported by the Sierra Club and headed by a banking veteran from Citigroup.

In comparison, Georgia environmentalists oppose a proposed water policy endorsed Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal: A plan to address low river flow in southwest Georgia by storing water underground and releasing as needed. The company that once pushed the plan withdrew following conflict-of-interest criticism from environmentalists.

The issues of sustainability and economic development once were distinct. But times change.

Recent research shows the issues are converging, at least in the minds of individuals who can choose where they live and work, according to reports in publications including Forbes and Harvard Business Review. (More on this below).

New York’s program creates a public-private method to finance companies that seek to develop, or provide, clean energy. It opened for business earlier this month.

According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “The NY Green Bank will be the catalyst for significantly accelerating the flow of private capital to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and will send a message to the financial markets that expanding our clean energy economy is a priority for New York State.”

A bill pending in the Georgia General Assembly would affect the amount of water passing the waterfront of Apalachicola, Fla., which still serves more watermen than tourists. File/Credit: David Pendered

A bill pending in the Georgia General Assembly would affect the amount of water passing the waterfront of Apalachicola, Fla., which still serves more watermen than tourists. File/Credit: David Pendered

Cuomo’s goal is for the NY Green Bank to have $1 billion in capitalization. In December, he announced the state has provided $210 million – $165 million redirected from other clean-energy programs overseen by the state utilities commission, and $45 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Here’s how the process will work, according to a statement released by NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which was created in 1975:

  • “Projects to be supported by the NY Green Bank can included a broad range of commercially proven technologies, including solar, wind and other renewable energy generation technologies; residential and commercial/industrial energy efficiency measures; electricity load reduction; on-site clean generation, and similar projects that can support the state’s clean energy objectives.
  • “Examples of the types of investment partnerships the NY Green Bank may engage in include credit enhancements, co-investing with the private sector in a loan fund for clean energy, loan warehousing/short-term project aggregations or other similar arrangements.”

Incidentally, Georgia has climbed to 16th in the nation in terms of jobs in the solar industry, according to a recent report by The Solar Foundation. The state has added about 1,800 solar jobs since 2012, bringing the total number of jobs in Georgia’s solar industry to about 2,600.

In Georgia, Deal has come out squarely in favor of a proposal that is part of a broader initiative to increase the water flow through the Flint River.

Deal supported Senate Bill 213 in his water policy speech Wednesday at Georgia’s inaugural water summit. The Senate passed the measure in 2013. The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee approved a substitute on Feb. 5. The House likely will vote on it toward the end of the session, and if it’s approved the two chambers will have to work out their differences or the proposal will fail.

Low flows through the Flint jeopardize the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay and, as such, are cited by Florida in its arguments in the tri-state water war.

Groups including the Riverkeeper organizations say the proposed method of managing water levels in the Flint will result in metro Atlanta being less sustainable in terms of managing withdrawals from the Chattahoochee River.

Metro Atlanta will have less need to reduce its water consumption because less water from the Chattahoochee River will be needed to maintain the flow through the Flint, the Riverkeepers contend.

Going back to the role of sustainability in attracting top talent, here are excerpts from two publications.

From Harvard Business Review:

  • “With top talent in short supply throughout many industries, employee attitudes about sustainable business practices are compelling more companies to take this issue seriously, yielding better business results for those that take action. Articulating a ‘nobler mission’ for a company is a big motivator for employees and a powerful weapon in the war for talent.”

From Forbes:

  • “Up-and-coming leaders today are looking for more than a good salary – they’re searching for meaning in their day-to-day work and they tie their personal values more closely to their career than previous generations. … Either [businesses] increase the opportunities for very highly skilled employees to engage with societal issues or they don’t, and are likely to find many of their best people leave the organization to find one that meets their expectations.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 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.

1 reply
  1. David Kyler says:

    Reconsidering “Economic Development”

    The benefits of using reasonable sustainability criteria to guide economic development seems self-evident, but such metrics are too seldom used in government-sponsored business policies as well as chamber-of-commerce dogma. 
    We frequently hear the hackneyed rationalization that a given project or investment will help “create jobs,” as if all jobs are created equal and all businesses and employers generate equivalent benefits to society. Without strategic distinctions between alternatives such as labor-intensive clean energy versus polluting and capital-intensive fossil fuels, public policy aimed at creating jobs is dangerously misled, and perhaps intentionally so — as well-entrenched centers of political clout benefit from such willful ignorance.

    Similarly, proposed subsidies in the form of tax credits for emerging clean industries are attacked by sanctimonious defenders of “free markets,” while the vast, systemic subsidies already in place for conventional “dirty business” (which violate such market freedoms) remain conspicuously unmentioned.  More bad development decisions are justified on the basis of unexamined, woefully rudimentary, and counterproductive claims of job creation and free markets than for any other reason.

    If progressive, truly beneficial economic development advancements are to be achieved at the scale needed, we must insist on fact-based assessment of current policies and the consequences of defending the status quo compared with supporting the best forms of innovation. Surely a pivotal element of any such assessment is full disclosure of the long-term burdens of conventional practices — including exploitation of public resources and jeopardizing human health.

    Superficial, generic rationalizations related to factors such as expanding the tax-base and improving trade imbalances cannot be blindly used as justification for virtually any profit-making endeavors that assert them. In an era when the globally incurred penalties for such practices have never been more threatening, it is time to adopt policies that prevent a “race-to-the-bottom” in terms of quality of life and societal dysfunction. 
    To avert poor incremental decisions that lead to cumulative disaster, sustainable remedies for making such choices must be adopted, using accountable, objective analysis of the systemic consequences of economic development. Applying uncompromised rationality in the pursuit of human progress – now, that’s a concept worth exploring.

    David Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast
    Saint Simons Island, Georgia 


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