KNOWLEDGE GAPS, NEW MARKETS, AND POLITICAL WILL
Presenters and participants discussed typical approaches to more sustainable development, such as increasing residential density near existing transit corridors. Several speakers pointed out that the challenges in Atlanta were not necessarily about knowing what principles to follow but in overcoming the barriers to adoption and diffusion of these innovations. These barriers take many forms, and some are institutional in nature. Participants discussed a number of perceived knowledge gaps which could influence behavior, and some of the challenges associated with a still-developing market for sustainable products and services in the region. Several workshop participants noted that engaging the community is critical in fostering behavioral change and in providing an impetus for elected leaders to address sustainability issues. There was rich discussion of the role of political will to foster some of these changes and the time frames and priorities of elected leadership. Discussions also centered around the role that residents’ values play as a driver in transitioning to sustainability and the opportunities for community-led groups to help educate and engage the citizenry.
THE REGION’S NATURAL CAPITAL
Though it is not always apparent amid the skyscrapers and paved roadways that characterize Atlanta’s built environment, there is a vast amount of natural capital in the region in the form of trees and forested land, biodiverse waterways, and open space. Many participants emphasized that these natural assets are undervalued and that public understanding of their role in the urban environment is low. The ecosystem services that they currently provide (including microclimate
regulation, stormwater retention, and recreational space) are accepted as free, but their loss is not routinely factored into development decisions.
Dr. Carol Couch, Senior Public Service Associate, College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia, stated that the eutrophication of northern Georgia waterways is an environmental concern for the Atlanta region, but it is difficult to remedy because roughly 80 percent of water pollutants are released from unregulated sources, particularly nonpoint sources. Fertilizer runoff has deposited heavy levels of phosphorus in Lake Allatoona, near Atlanta. She noted that the declining water quality in Georgia’s waterways threatens biodiversity, which in turn reduces the value and quality of recreation in those areas. If citizens had a fuller understanding of these linkages, she suggested, efforts to promote conservation through behavior change might be more effective. As Karen Guz, Director of Conservation at the San Antonio Water System, pointed out, changing behavior often entails an up-front cost, and so the challenge is to be able to communicate tangible benefits (see Box 3–1).
Mr. Charles Whatley, Director of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, Atlanta Development Authority (ADA), discussed the balance between sustainability and economic growth from ADA’s perspective. He stated that ADA focuses on business attraction and retention, meaning that ADA must pay attention to trends and evolving interests within the private sector. In the past several years, sustainability and resilience have become the new buzzwords. This relates to the types of businesses Atlanta hopes to encourage, the type of environment that businesses are seeking when choosing a location for their firm, and a recognition that future economic development should not undermine the region’s long-term efforts to become more sustainable. Mr. Whatley pointed out that this does not preclude maintaining Atlanta’s industrial base; in fact, he noted that ADA would like to be able to preserve this base, although it has been in decline for many years.
One fundamental challenge ADA is facing is the lack of a market for more sustainable products and services. As Mr. Whatley noted, markets still think in an unsustainable way. Conventional thinking for development agencies like ADA had been to attract businesses into a
Water Conservation Challenges and Successes: Lessons from San Antonio
San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States, has much in common with Atlanta in terms of water management issues—a sprawling population, highly variable rainfall, and a climate that is prone to drought. In 1996, the Edwards aquifer, which serves the San Antonio area, was found to be low enough that it threatened the status of five federally protected endangered species, causing the federal government to impose pumping limits. The city was tasked with developing a conservation plan immediately.
After this concerted effort, San Antonio has become a water conservation success story. Since 1984, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) experienced a 67 percent increase in customers, but it has observed no increase in the percentage of water usage (see Figure 3-1). Through the San Antonio experience, SAWS staff have learned that it is possible to grow and thrive economically while meeting water management challenges, and that drastic lifestyle changes are not required to make dramatic changes in gallons per capita.
SAWS developed a three-pronged approach to conservation. The first is creating financial incentives for customers, such as rebates for new equipment in homes and businesses, as well as rate structures that discourage high discretionary usage. The second is education and outreach: SAWS hosts public events, produces an e-newsletter, and provides home consultations, particularly for the top 1 percent of residential water users. News outlets report aquifer levels every day, making the entire community aware of their water-use limits. Education of the community is considered an important and ongoing effort. The third approach is the development of reasonable regulations or far-reaching ordinances that cover a wide range of activities involving water.
market that was already mature, whereas the challenge now is to help develop and define the markets for sustainability.
He cited the example of clean energy technologies, and the multiple levels of effort required within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to help bring these to market. DOE supports research to develop technologies and partners with the private sector to refine them and make them commercial. DOE is also getting involved in standards setting, marketing, creating incentives, engaging states and municipalities, and integrating the technologies (through its work on modernizing the U.S. electrical grid).
Mr. Whatley described two local initiatives where the market is just beginning to develop. He is part of a taskforce that is exploring the Mondragon cooperative model, pioneered in Spain and more recently replicated in Cleveland, Ohio. These worker-owned cooperatives have performed well in Spain, and communities in the United States are exploring the model, particularly to support smaller-scale sustainability-oriented businesses. Mr. Whatley also mentioned plans to launch an urban agriculture program in Atlanta, with the goal of fostering a profitable business beginning with a 3- to 4-acre site.
The goal for ADA, he stated, will be to support entrepreneurs willing to take some risks to produce goods or provide services (e.g., weatherize homes) locally, at a scale allowing them to remain profitable. In other words, they will not promote “green jobs” for the sake of being green. A number of philanthropic foundations in the area are currently supporting these and similar efforts to build new markets for sustainability, and Mr. Whatley suggested that this support can be most useful as loan guarantees (as opposed to grants) in order to encourage more entrepreneurial risk.
James Marlow, CEO of Radiance Solar, offered the perspective of someone who has taken an entrepreneurial risk to deploy solar energy technologies in Georgia. Mr. Marlow underscored that solar energy is not a new business concept, but it has been slow to take hold in Georgia due to a lack of incentives, particularly a renewable portfolio standard at the state or national level. He described a number of benefits of solar energy in metropolitan Atlanta, including reduced lifecycle energy costs, CO2, SOx, NOx, and mercury emissions compared to the coal-fired power stations that provide most of the regional power supply.
From a larger systems perspective, Mr. Marlow noted that solar energy has the potential to significantly reduce water withdrawals for power generation, another major concern for the region. Mr. Marlow stated that thermoelectric power generation accounts for roughly 50 percent of the water withdrawals in the state. He added that there are numerous opportunities for integrating solar energy into metropolitan Atlanta’s current infrastructure, ranging from commercial roof installations like the downtown aquatic center (currently the largest installation in the region) to solar shade ports over surface parking lots, providing some shade to vehicles while also producing power.
Greg Chafee, chair of the Green Business Practice, Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, stated that, in addition to the business community, regional universities have supported the development of several emerging technologies. He added that it would be useful if regional actors became more heavily involved in research and development efforts to meet the needs of the regional market.
Mandy Mahoney, Director of Sustainability, city of Atlanta, stated that Mayor Reed hopes to make Atlanta one of the ten most sustainable cities in America; however, it will be challenging to deal with diffuse development of the metropolitan area and inefficient land use within the city limits. Ms. Mahoney remarked that progress to date has been incremental, continuing with plans started when Mayor Franklin signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The city is now on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2012. Ms. Mahoney emphasized that it is important for the city’s credibility that these data are independently verified. To address this issue, a team of researchers at Georgia Tech are currently involved in assessing the city’s progress in reducing its carbon footprint.
Ms. Mahoney also explained that Atlanta has become a national leader in green buildings by instituting agreements to encourage or require Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)-rated structures. These types of incremental changes are indicative of the pragmatic approach the city is currently taking to pursue sustainability objectives. Tom Weyandt, former Director of Comprehensive Planning with the Atlanta Regional Commission, explained that, when engaging state legislature, the first thing to do is get their attention. In other words,
“sustainability” may be too imprecise a term. Marilyn Brown, professor, School of Public Policy, Georgia Tech, pointed out that there frequently has to be a balance between state imperatives and local will, citing the fact that state energy codes can be revised to promote deeper energy savings, but enforcement is a local prerogative.
ENGAGING THE PUBLIC
Ms. Mahoney remarked that the city government has established neighborhood planning units to allow citizens to participate in comprehensive planning. She echoed the comments of other participants that public health goals are increasingly being connected to sustainability goals, citing the example of obesity rates and access to local, healthy foods. John Crittenden, director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems with the Georgia Institute of Technology, added that, as the urban infrastructure is being further developed, the input of residents will play a critical role. What residents consider most important—proximity to work, school, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, public transit, and walkability—will shape the development of the community.
Lisa Gordon, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., described a major regional initiative (Box 3–2) that is designed to connect the public through its planning process and also in its end result. Vicki Coleman, business relations manager in the Fulton County government, stated that public and political consensus is needed to achieve sustainable development goals. Communicating with the public and tailoring the message to the appropriate audience is crucial. She noted that policy makers have been more likely to follow the ground support of citizen willingness.
The Atlanta BeltLine Project
The Atlanta Beltline is an integrated park, trail, and transit system, along a proposed project corridor located 2 to 3 miles from downtown Atlanta. The BeltLine connects 45 neighborhoods, all of Atlanta’s major submarkets, and four MARTA rail stations. The project is composed of corridors ranging from 68 to 198 feet in width, so there is little need to displace current buildings, homes, or activities. Additionally, most of the infrastructure, such as water and electricity, is already in place. Moreover, 22 percent of the Atlanta population lives in close proximity to the planning area, making it likely that large numbers of residents will benefit from the project. However, one early lesson from the planning phase was that the project needed to include a lot of “spurs” to include neighborhoods and parts of the city that residents felt were not connected.
The project will include a 6,500-acre redevelopment area, with plans to develop 22 miles of transit and 33 miles of trails. Five thousand units of affordable housing will be built and there is a possibility that the project could create up to 30,000 jobs. Environmental cleanup is also a significant consideration; ABI is working closely with the Georgia Environmental Protection Department and EPA to carry out remediation efforts. The cost of the project is about $3 billion, with $1.7 billion coming from its designation as a tax allocation district. Atlanta Beltline, Inc. (ABI) is the implementing body, but ABI is coordinating with numerous agencies at both federal and state levels.
ABI has also developed a comprehensive community engagement framework. Some communication efforts include quarterly public briefings, monthly study group meetings, weekly guided tours, and regular community celebrations. Mayor Shirley Franklin established the Beltline Partnership in 2005 to raise additional funds for education and outreach initiatives. Atlanta residents contributed to decisions of where to locate many of the trails and connectors, and they are consulted about each facet of development.
Source: Gordon (2010).
Wayne Zipperer, research scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, reminded participants that there is a moral and ethical dimension to sustainability. This was an important motivating factor in the early environmental movements of the 1970s. He acknowledged that is difficult to quantify, and that it sometimes gets lost
amid discussions of the so called “triple bottom line”.3 Nonetheless, he suggested that the ethical dimension of sustainability should not be overlooked when engaging the public on the issue.