A growing trend in the world of work is the rise of  sustainability – which means that businesses and governments are taking responsibility for their actions and resource use by incorporating renewable energy, waste management, and resourceful practices into their business models. 

The implementation of sustainability can look like Starbucks banning plastic straws and creating a compostable coffee cup, or it can look like Disney’s 2020 goal to reduce total emissions by 50 percent.

According to a McKinsey and Company report, most executives say that their companies are taking action in the areas of reducing energy usage and reducing waste in operations.

In the Athens-Clarke County (ACC), this rings true. In the last year,  both private business and the county government installed solar panels and made resource-saving, waste-reducing decisions. This common goal of sustainability ties the local public and private sectors together.

According to a 2016 United Nations Development Program report, this collaboration between governments and businesses to work together towards sustainable development goals is a global trend, with governments becoming  increasingly interested in private sector contributions to such goals. 

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Businesses in Athens are making changes for the good of the planet, and it is changing the way the employees work and live, while also pushing our local community into the future of a sustainable workforce, with goals such as 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.  

 

County Government Goals

At the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility, one of ACC’s three water reclamation plants,  solar panels were installed on Feb. 18, 2019. According to Radiance Solar – the company contracted by the county to design and install the array – the solar panels at the facility will provide 1.2 million kWh of energy annually – enough to power 100 homes for a year. 

 

According to Marilyn Hall, the ACC Senior Water Resources Planner, the solar array is currently producing enough energy to power the water reclamation facility and enough excess energy to be put back into the grid by selling it to Georgia Power. 

“We are still working out some operational and mechanical issues with the solar panels, but we are already receiving checks from $5,000 to $8,000 a month, and we expect the solar array to pay for itself within 15 years and last much longer than that,” Hall said. 

Hall explained that the three facilities were previously the top consumers of energy, as well as the top consumers of water, in the county government. 

With the installation of the solar array and some renovations of the facilities in 2012, the energy and water consumption have decreased drastically. The water reclamation systems now recycle water for conservation purposes. 

According to James Geeter, a water operator at Cedar Creek, he and the other employees love the sustainability aspect of their work. 

“I think it has been a great idea for the water reclamation facility. As long as it keeps business running as usual, there are really no downsides to it. Better for the planet and better for us,” Geeter said. 

Being better for the planet is one of the main goals behind the solar installation and solar power in general, which ties directly into the 100 percent clean energy plan that was passed by the ACC Commission on May 21, 2019. 

The plan is to get Athens on 100% renewable energy by 2035, while current renewable usage is around 15%. With huge energy users like the water reclamation facilities converting to solar, the goal is becoming more achievable each day. 

Conservation and Craft Beer

Aside from the county government, businesses in Athens are also working towards sustainability. Several of the local breweries, from Creature Comforts hosting the annual Sustainability Fair, to Terrapin Beer Co.’s solar plans, are growing sustainable workplaces in Athens.  

Besides the standard rooftop solar array, Terrapin Beer Co. also incorporated renewable energy into their parking lot with solar paneled sunshades, making it one of the few businesses in the city with solar power capabilities. 

Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, Georgia will become the first brewery in the state to utilize solar panels in the brewing process, on September 30, 2019. (Photo/Quentin VanHoozer)

Leah Keggi, who works at Terrapin, explained that sustainability is not just an afterthought, but a pillar of the business. 

“The solar panels really help show our mission to be good to the environment, which they do by providing renewable energy and lowering our use of fossil fuels,” Keggi said. 

Keggi went on to say that Terrapin strives for sustainability, not only in their energy consumption, but in every aspect of their business.  She explained that Terrapin has a wastewater pretreatment system that helps to clean the waste water before it arrives at a reclamation facility like Cedar Creek. 

The wastewater treatment creates compostable waste byproducts that are then returned to the brewery to be used for facility “beautification, planet health, and erosion management,” according to their website. 

Terrapin also partners with several other organizations to further their sustainable actions, from the solar partnership with Cherry Street Energy, to supporting forests with the Dogwood Alliance. 

These sustainable practices and attitudes not only impact employees in the workplace, but  also in their lives outside of work, Keggi explained. 

I was really bad about running by Starbucks or Jittery Joe’s and getting a coffee in a single use cup. I now have a reusable cup and a metal straw sitting on my desk that I use everyday. It’s really hard to not practice what you preach, so I think that sustainability in the workplace definitely impacts employee attitudes and actions, even if it is just in the small things,” Keggi said. 

(Source: Information from interviews and ACCGov.com; Graphic/Madeline Shepard)

Sustainable Athens

According to the Sierra Club, Athens is one of the 90 cities, 10 counties, and 2 states with 100% renewable pledges.

While solar panels, water conservation, and resource management are being implemented in a few local workplaces, more widespread action is needed for real environmental effects. 

According to a 2018 Time report, to make a real dent in the causes of climate change on a global scale, 85 percent of global power must be converted to renewable sources. Looking at 85 percent of the energy in our community, a few workplaces dipping into solar is not nearly enough. 

However, Cedar Creek and Terrapin hope that their actions will be an example for others in the community to invest in solar and other sustainable practices, pushing the Athens community towards its goal of 100 percent renewable energy in the next 15 years. 

Madeline Shepard is a fourth-year majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in environmental health science.

 

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