Column: World must choose ‘fast green’ or ‘slow brown’

By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 21, 2009

The economy is experiencing a “global reset,” according to Peter Evans, director of Global Strategy and Planning for Atlanta-based GE Energy.

During this global reset, American businesses have a choice to lead a “fast green growth” world or follow a “slow brown” strategy.

Evans shared that message at a New Sustainable Economy Forum organized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber on Aug. 18 at the Georgia-Pacific auditorium.

The forum is part of the chamber’s initiative to help metro Atlanta companies become more strategic in the “new economy.”

Evans was the keynote speaker partly because of GE Energy’s investment in alternative energy resources — the development of wind turbines and solar energy systems. GE Energy also is involved inthe nuclear energy business and water resources, as well as oil and gas.

“For the first time, Congress has passed a climate bill in the House,” Evans said. “It is still up in the air in the Senate as to what kind of world are we going to evolve to.”

In a fast green world, Evans said, unemployment rates decline and commodity prices rebound. It also is a world that controls carbon emissions.

The slow brown world is one where high unemployment persists and where commodity prices remain depressed. It also is a world that resists the reduction of carbon emissions.

The House energy bill that passed in June would reduce the carbon emissions in 2020 to 83 percent of the levels that existed in 2005.

That level would be reduced to 17 percent of the 2005 level by 2050. That bill also includes clean-energy incentives and innovation in new energy technologies.

Evans said that once the U.S. Senate approves its version the two bills would be reconciled and a vote on a final bill likely would take place next spring.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is losing itsinnovative edge on the development of new energy technologies, Evans said.

When it comes to the development of wind energy, Europe and China are ahead of the United States.

Some Atlanta-based companies, however, are trying to be on the leading edge.

At a recent Rotary Club of Atlanta meeting, John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, said the bottling company is adopting environmental measures to reduce its carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2020, despite expectations for “a lot of growth.” The company already has a fleet of more than 300 hybrid electric trucks. And it has reduced its plastics packaging by 35 percent.

“We are committed by 2020 of not using more than one liter of water for every liter that we sell,” Brock said.

During the Metro Atlanta Chamber forum on the New Sustainable Economy, it was clear that not all local companies are embracing the possibility of carbon emission controls.

Karl Moor, vice president and associate general counsel of Southern Company Services, called the Southeast “a renewable poor region” with the potential development of wind and solar energy.

That sentiment, however, was challenged when Dennis Creech, executive director of the Southface Energy Institute, asked how it is that Germany, which has much less sun that Georgia, has become a leader in the use of solar energy.

Leeding to D.C.

Longtime Atlanta attorney Stephen Leeds has been named senior counselor of the U.S. General Services Administration.

Before his appointment, Leeds was with the Rogers & Hardin law firm

Leeds also was active in the Democratic Party, serving as a principal adviser to former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland and as a member of the National Finance Committee during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In other civic roles, Leeds also served on the boards of the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Research Alliance.

Leeds said that after Obama’s election, he began talking to Obama’s team about his willingness to join the administration. They approached him about serving as senior counselor to the GSA administrator, a new position that is not a legal role but more strategic.

GSA is “kind of the nation’s landlord,” Leeds said of the administration’s 8,600 facilities totalling 350 million square feet. In addition to its real estate role, GSA also provides goods and services to government agencies. GSA has 11 regional offices, including one in Atlanta.

“I will be working with the regional administrators. I’ll be involved with the green agenda and on efforts to get to a zero footprint,” Leeds said. “We are making the buildings that we have more energy-efficient.”

He has no plans to sell his house, and he currently is commuting nearly every week between Atlanta and Washington.

“By taking this position, I’m out of the business of partisan politics. I’m hanging up my fundraising boots and headed to D.C.,” said Leeds, who joked that people may now be more willing to take his calls. “Now they know I can’t ask them for a dime.”

John Williams still smiling.

Developer John Williams, who describes this recession as the most severe he has ever experienced, said the problem remains that “there’s very little liquidity in the real estate market.”

But Williams still maintains his sense of humor.

While having lunch on Aug. 18 at Blue Ridge Grill, a restaurant where he is a part owner, Williams placed his fingers onto the edge of the table.

“Every one in the real estate business is letting their nails grow so they can hang on to the edge,” he said.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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