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Bleeding Green in a State of Red

Much of the time, my colleagues and I at work feel a bit like a poster child for BSD: Business Schizophrenia Disorder.

We’re often the odd-man out at real estate gatherings promoting a deliberate go-slow approach to business. We’re the token business trotted out to articulate strong conservationist positions, making us seem like environmentalists to the business community and odd business folks to the environmental community.. We think with the head of a financier, act with the heart of a non-profit, and show a balance sheet that seems to swing between the two. We are deep-green in a very red state (Georgia).

That’s all old hat. But with a new progressive administration in Washington and a regressive old-boy network plying its business-as-usual trade stateside, things have suddenly gotten a whole lot stranger.

On the one hand, wow, talk about winds of fresh change blowing onto our shores:

  • A legislative push for drilling off the coast of my hometown for gas and oil, which has been in political overdrive for the last year, is now being slowed down for further study thanks to a new directive this week from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

  • The head of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute just announced publicly what all of us locals really knew: Tech’s joint-venture study with Southern Company on the potential for wind energy off the Georgia coast is showing promising results results that up until now have been stymied by Southern Company and the prior administration in Washington.

  • Meanwhile, deepening of the harbor channel of the Savannah River, another pet project of big business in my area, is all of a sudden being studied anew by economists of the Corps of Engineers. That’s good news for conservationists, concerned with the environmental degradation that deepening and dredging are likely to wreak.

On the other hand, it feels as though it’s one step forward, two steps backward. I thought it was bad enough last year during the drought when our state made national news: 1) when our governor held a prayer for rain on the capitol steps and 2) when we began to clamor for redrawing the 190-year old boundary with Tennessee in order to tap into the Tennessee River. Last year was comedy. This year looks more like tragedy-in-the-making:

  • An energy bill heavily lobbied by Georgia Power is motoring its way through the state legislature, calling for all Georgians to pre-pay for additional nuclear facilities that won’t come on line for another 10 years and probably won’t even break even for another 16 years beyond that.

  • Another regressive piece of legislation working its way through the state capitol proposes to weaken significantly the requirement of a 25-foot buffer along our surface waters.

  • Our state Senate this week passed a resolution calling on the Federal government to build reservoirs on Chattahoochee National Forest land.

I used to think it sad that our state government is mandated to meet a maximum of 40 days a year. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a blessing.

So what’s a business suffering from BSD to do with all of this? There are a few prominent business people in my state, well-known and respected in the environmental community, who have decided to focus on facilitating change at the national level. With the political clout of Southern Company and a Republican administration, might as well write off our state, seems to be the sentiment of these business leaders. I can understand that.

And there are other, equally respected progressive business folks who have simply decided to hunker down and try to survive in this down economy. We’d like to be more engaged in environmental issues, but right now we’ve got more basic things to focus on, is the tenor of these business leaders. I can understand that as well.

At the end of the day, though, I don’t think our business (or any business for that matter) can sustain itself for the long term without being thoroughly grounded in its context: the place it conducts business, the people with whom it engages. I’ve got things topsy-turvy by calling our business schizophrenic. It’s precisely by wearing a variety of hats and playing a variety of roles and being engaged in one’s own community that a business is fully integrated into the fabric of society.

Fortunately, I have a local role model right in front of me.

This past week, the Chatham Environmental Forum celebrated its 20th anniversary. The Forum is a rather unique coalition of business people, government officials, and environmental groups coming together to broach professional and ideological differences in order to enhance the quality of life for the region. It is currently putting the finishing touches on a year-long set of proposals to make our county the greenest county in the state. Hard to say who’s green or red or blue, democrat or republican, capitalist or environmentalist amidst this collaborative ensemble. And that’s a good thing.

Ray Anderson: Oh Captain, Our Captain

Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, Inc., author of two books on sustainability and a tireless champion for re-inventing business to service the environment, passed away last Monday at the age of 77. Ray was vice-chairman of my company for eight years, a mentor, a guide, and a dear friend. I write this in […] Read More..

In Praise of Late Bloomers

It’s already spring in my hometown of Savannah, GA. Partiers have already blown in and out of town to celebrate a raucous St. Patrick’s day. The tourists are in full swing, enjoying a three-week music festival and the annual tour of homes. And, of course, there’s the early bursting onto the scene of azaleas, the […] Read More..

A Tale of Two Banks

Several hundred billions of dollars in commercial real estate loans are up for expiration in the coming year, with a multiple of that ($1.7 trillion) coming in the ensuing 12 months.. Reports of vulture capital in the $500 billion + range are reportedly poised to pounce on anticipated flea-market pricing. And the question on the […] Read More..

Leveraging Business For Change: It Ain’t About the “Where”

George S. invited me to have coffee with him the other day. George is a young real estate developer in town (Savannah, GA), passionate about strategies to reduce our carbon footprint. He and his wife and two young daughters have been in town about five years. Foremost in his mind, the reason he wanted to […] Read More..

Doing the Scapegoat Thing – Not So Profitably

During the past nine months, virtually every board I serve on has gone through crazy tumult. A few execs have lost their jobs in the process. You could say that each situation is unique, and that these terminations were called for. Perhaps that’s true. But I think there are systemic forces at work that call […] Read More..