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Buy Local, Grow A Sustainable Economy

Bill Roth | Thursday February 11th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Can you name the college whose President was the first to sign the Presidents Climate Change commitment? The commitment includes this language: “We recognize the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely being caused by humans. We further recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80% by mid-century…” At the time, this “John Hancock” signatory action was an act of leadership courage.

How about the location of the utility with one of the most aggressive feed-in solar power tariffs in the world that buys electricity from their residential and commercial customers’ roof top solar power systems?

Before providing the answers let be me explain why I am asking such questions. Many in my national business network, outside of my Left Coast friends, often view “going green” as a “Berkeley-thing,” meaning not “mainstream.” (Berkeley is home to the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , and Energy Secretary Chu.) Wrong. Evidence is growing that “going green” is a community-centric economic mega trend that is creating revenue growth for businesses and meaningful local economic development.

So far this week I have reviewed the market research supporting the concept of the Awareness Customer with a $10 trillion annual powering power. Then my last two articles profiled actual small entrepreneurs connecting with these Awareness Customers to achieve year over year annual revenue growth even in this “soft recovery” economy. This article is the first of a two-part series profiling two “mainstream” communities that are restoring jobs, their economy and the environment through their embrace of sustainability.

The answer to my introductory question of what college president first signed the Presidents Climate Change commitment is University of Florida President J. Bernard (Bernie) Machen. And the answer to which U.S. utility was the first to authorize the buying of electricity produced from their customer’s roof top solar power systems through a feed-in tariff is Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) serving the City of Gainesville and Alachua County. Go Gators!

Anna Prizza is Director of the University of Florida’s Office of Sustainability. Her office is coordinating/enabling the school’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and zero waste by 2015. “The University of Florida’s commitment to achieve our goals comes from a grass roots effort by faculty and students. Collaboratively we have developed a vision, from this vision we crafted a plan of action and now across campus we are acting on this plan to save energy, reduce waste, develop new clean technologies and create a model on how to implement sustainability supportive of people, our economy and the environment.” Anna’s comment on how sustainability’s adoption is growing from the grass roots is the key point of this article. More and more communities are not waiting for Washington or Copenhagen. They are becoming increasingly aware of how sustainability can enhance their health and wealth. They are taking action.

Dan Clark is Key Accounts Representative for GRU and the reason I am writing this article. He reached out to this fellow Gator with an idea for explaining how Gainesville was going green. A few years ago GRU, like many electric utilities, was on track toward building a coal-fired power plant based upon traditional utility least-cost analysis. Again, as a result of grass roots efforts including from inside GRU, an alternative path surfaced focused upon using renewable energy and energy efficiency to meet Gainesville’s electrical needs. In February 2009 their Board of Directors unanimously approved the nation’s first solar feed-in tariff. By year’s end over ½ MW of solar power had been installed with projections of 4 MW being added per year for the next 20 years. The estimated cost for this program is about a 1% rate increase to all GRU customers. The benefit, beside clean electricity. is jobs growth created by an emerging local industry of solar panel installers using local work associates.

Jobs are also being created through GRU’s energy efficiency programs. One of their “best sellers” is an offering to pay half of an approved energy efficiency investment by a commercial business (capped at $100,000 total investment). Their overall energy efficiency goal is to reduce electricity consumption by 8 MWs per year. The benefits of such programs include not only job creation tied to installing energy-efficient equipment, windows, insulation, etc but also helping their local businesses save money which also enables their competitiveness.

One example of how local business can blossom from a Buy Local focus is Trish Riley’s Go Green Nation. Newspapers are increasingly being sourced by customers via the web. Trish started a local, web-based (zero paper waste stream!) newspaper covering all the “green” things going on in Gainesville. Her topics include Business & Finance, Food & Health, Home & Garden and Green Drinks which Trish started in Gainesville. Insightfully, the site’s byline is “Growing Green Communities.” As Trish explains, “One of my features is on green success stories. The great news is that this feature is growing as Gainesville’s business people and citizens start new green businesses, transform existing businesses to be more sustainable and embrace the advantages for our community created by buying local. One of my favorite examples is George and Carol Goodwin of Goodwin Heart Pine Company .”

Goodwin Heart Pine Company sells reclaimed wood flooring. Their pioneering innovation is to harvest old timbers out of their local river rather than cutting down perfectly good trees that are recycling CO2 into oxygen. Their company and antique pine/cypress-sourced products have been featured on The History Channel, PBS and HGTV. Their clients are located from coast to coast, north to south. They epitomize the potential for growing green revenues, green local jobs and an enhanced local environment.

Gainesville is one of more than 1,000 cities in the United States through the U.S. Conference of Mayors now committed to taking action to protect the climate. The combined effect is a “Buy Local” economic mega-trend that is stimulating local job growth through adopting community sustainability and wellness practices. Like the example of Gainesville, this trend is creating an explosion in the number of farmers markets, with restaurants sourcing organic foods from local farms, new business ventures focused upon clean technologies and major institutions like colleges and utilities aligning to support their community’s economy and environment.

Tomorrow I conclude this week’s series profiling a town that is investing $45 million through an innovative property tax financing path that is creating local jobs, lowering electricity bills, enhancing their local environment and achieving local economic development. Tomorrow I will also be asking readers to help advance national awareness on the benefits of Buying Local by flooding us with your community’s examples.

Bill Roth is the founder of EARTH 2017 and author of The Secret Green Sauce.


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