Sustainability forum in Tampa emphasizes ecology and economy

11/09/11 Sarah Curran
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The word Sustainability didn’t take on its current meaning in the English Language until the 1980’s. Until recently it didn’t encompass humans ability to endure on Earth. Now the term is taught in schools, behind business models and changing how our planet is run. Today, the organization Urban Land Institute held a Sustainability Forum in Tampa. They defined the evolving term and described how it is being implemented around the world, especially in the Tampa Bay area.

“Consider the caterpillar. When this little critter enters the chrysalis it has no earthly idea what’s fixin' to happen to it. Ever broken one of these things apart? There is no worm in there; there is no fly in there, its just goo. If our world feels a little bit gooey to you perhaps it’s because we are in the midst of this incredible transformation.”

Hunter Lovin was Time Magazine’s 2009 Hero of the Planet and the forum’s keynote speaker. She is a sociologist, lawyer, and professor. She says sustainability and getting the economy back on track go hand in hand.

“You can’t be a business person without being an environmentalist because you’re throwing away money, and companies here in Florida are already starting to do this by improving lighting in the showroom. Not only did they save money but the motivated there work force.”

Hunter adds these companies in Florida and around the world are already saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by doing something as simple as turning off computers when they are not in use. She spoke specifically about a man named Westbury Saw. He was the general manager of the Osage Iowa Municipal utility.

“He did an interesting thing, as a utility person. He stepped across the meter to his costumer side to say I am gonna help you use less of my product. Why? Because he realized you don’t want electrons, you don’t want barrels of oil, lumps of cold, what you want the service energy delivers to you, cold beer, hot shower, industrial shaft power. And if he can deliver those to you cheaper through efficiency then through new supply, then that’s the business to be in. He wound up saving a million dollars every year in this small rural town, cut energy bills to half that of the state average, unemployment to half that of the national average. Because with the lower bills more factories came to town that raised demand so he went back and did more efficiency. He said efficiency is low hanging fruit that grows back.”

The term Sustainability is defined as supporting long-term ecological balance. The forum also included six panelists with expertise in transportation, economic development, energy, agriculture, water supply and education. They spoke about sustainable advances in the Tampa Bay Area. Stuart Rogen is the President and CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership. He says the area is a leader in green economic development.

“In term of total number of jobs in this industry right now Brookings tells us there is about 20,000 jobs in the Tampa Bay region in the green technologies space. That ranks us 26 out of 100 metro areas, that’s pretty good. But some of the challenges maybe opportunities come along here. In terms of the percentage of jobs 1.2% of total jobs in the Tampa bay region are in this industry, that ranks us 84th out of 100.”

Panelist Chip Hinton is a consultant for the Association of Food Banks. He says he has worked in Pinellas County for 40 years. Since that time agriculture has gone from a $50 million industry to an $850 million a year industry, making it the largest in the county. Hinton says proper regulation has kept the industry sustainable while giving it a chance to grow and flourish.

“Population does in fact increase the amount of regulations associated to protect people from themselves. My career has been essentially to sit down, to look at regulations that are needed, find ways that we can accomplish the intent of that regulation, and still minimize the impact on the natural resources. We’ve been very successful as far as sustainability within my own commodity of strawberries. Since the time we started the industry we have in fact reduced water usage by nearly 50 percent, we’ve decreased fertilizer use by 50 percent, we’ve increased production by nearly 30 percent and increase the value of our commodity by over 9 fold.”

Even aspects of Tampa Bay’s water system are innovative. Gerald Seeber is the General Manager for Tampa Bay water. He says the area’s water management practices are guiding the way for the rest of the country.

“Almost 50 percent of our supply is going to be coming from surface water in the future and that has allowed us to reduced groundwater pumping by 100 million gallons a day since 1998, and that has allowed the wetland areas to recover and be environmentally sustainable. We now have wetland and water levels there we haven’t seen in years in our well filled areas. We have, right now, one of the most reliable and diverse water supply systems in the South Eastern United States because we blend groundwater, surface water and desalinated water every day.”

Even though changes are being made it isn’t enough yet. Hunter Lovin says the real changes begin with properly educating the next generation. She says right now we are neither the caterpillar nor the butterfly. So what does she see for the future?

“If we’re careful something fragile and wonderful will appear. We know how, we have all the technologies we need to build communities that are resilient to whatever crisis comes, to improve quality of life and drive prosperity. You want to do it? Is this a worthy goal? Let’s fly!”

The Urban Land Institute will hold its first working group on sustainability in January at the Tampa Museum of Art.

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