Atlanta’s Beltline embodies healthy lifestyle envisioned by new sustainability group

By David Pendered

A new organization in Atlanta met Thursday for the first annual EcoFest Sustainable Development Opportunities Forum.

The event kicked off with a morning-long driving tour of the Beltline, the sweeping urban renewal project in Atlanta that embodies many ideals of the new organization. An afternoon slate of speakers talked about green business opportunities, green efforts at Atlanta’s airport and energy efficiency.

Verdant Elements, Inc. is a non-profit that intends to foster healthy lifestyles through sustainable development and environmental strategies, said VEI’s board chairman, Gregory Wilson.

Wilson is a vice president /area manager with CH2MHill.

Gregory Wilson, chairman of Verdant Elements, Inc.

Gregory Wilson, chairman of Verdant Elements, Inc.

“We want to have some level of impact on healthy lifestyles and help as many people as possible,” Wilson said.

Wilson expressed a clear idea of the niche the group intends to fill.

“An example would be that Georgia Power did an energy audit of [V-103 radio personality] Frank Ski’s home,” Wilson said. “They found a gas leak. There are others in the community who are underserved and need that sort of help.

“There are environmental considerations associated with some homes, and asthma is a prime example of a poor health outcome associated with an unhealthy environment,” Wilson said.

Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner brought up, in her presentation, an example of another way to foster healthy lifestyles: helping people establish good dietary habits.

The food desert in some Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods is a place where fresh fruits and vegetables are not readily available.

Now, produce is being delivered to the community by Fulton Fresh, a mobile farmers market that visits Southwest Atlanta twice a month, Garner said. Free local produce is provided to county residents who sign up for cooking classes to learn how to prepare the fruits and vegetables, she said.

Atlanta’s airport is seeking ways to enhance its sustainable practices, said Michael Cheyne, director of asset management and sustainability at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The airport is one of 10 airports across the nation participating in a study sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Potential examples of how to create a more sustainable airport operation include composting waste from concessions; using less electricity by installing low-energy bulbs, including guidance lights on runways; and creating electricity through installations of solar panels, he said.

“This is a multi-faceted initiative the airport is serious about,” he said. “It’s not a flavor of the month. These are things we’ve been doing for 10 years, but people didn’t know what we were doing.

“The reason we want to talk about it now is we do want to be seen as a leader in the region,” he said. “It is important to blow your own horn occasionally.”

Wilson said VEI is new, and that he has served as chairman for six months. He is still in the process of recruiting members to the board.

But already, several big local names are involved with the group.

The three-member advisory board includes:

  • State Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta);
  • Thomas Dortch, Jr., chairman of the board that oversees Grady Health System;
  • Dr. Kevin Mason, a pediatrician who serves on the adjunct faculty at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Four of  the board’s 11 members attended the event:

  • Tedra Cheatham, CEO and VP for economic development at the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce;
  • Doug Edwards, an account executive with Siemens Industry, Inc.;
  • Steve Olson, director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business;
  • Nedra White, a mortgage loan officer with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

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.

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