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Local businesses, government say long-term foresight, not bottom line, key to sustainability


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With a strong push from numerous directions to become more climate-friendly, it might appear that going green would be the simple choice for anyone. But people within the framework of government and private enterprise have a lot to consider, especially when “green” can imply reference to both the environment and the pocketbook.

At a Daily Transcript executive roundtable earlier this month, municipal, government and private business leaders from around San Diego discussed how their efforts to go green have worked with each other and improved the visibility of sustainability, and where some efforts have fallen short of ideal.

As close neighbors, the city of San Diego, the Unified Port of San Diego and the U.S. Navy have all found themselves in similar positions on the bayfront. Collectively, they have made progress on sustainability, but have found their paths in getting there to be quite different.

The Navy’s position: national security.

“I think the additional catalyst that I see, from a Department of Navy, Department of Defense standpoint, is that we really have an untenable position on the reliance of fossil fuels … It’s clear we can’t sustain our current position,” said Capt. Keith Hamilton, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest.

For the city, it’s about being a leader in sustainability and building a vibrant economy. And for the port, it’s about providing a home for the other two.

What they have in common though, is that while pressure from higher ranks has played the largest role in directing the push, the directives from above seem to be taken in stride by an increasingly aware society.

Among the Navy’s goals is to create and demonstrate a “green” strike group of ships by next year, and deploy it by 2016. The port recently launched a challenge to its tenants, encouraging them to go green. And the city has been pushing its “Think Blue” campaign for some time now. Each of the ideas, they all said, has been welcomed with success.

In some cases though, resistance can be found when things require investment, said Linda Giannelli Pratt, program manager for San Diego’s Environmental Services Department. Engaging discussion, she said, is the only way to break those barriers.

“I think there’s two big categories that we need to distinguish,” Pratt said. “The first category is those things that are fun for us to talk about -- those things that show very clearly that economic benefits and environmental benefits are not conflicting …”

The other thing, she said, is a bit harder -- the planning.

“Sustainability inherently is a future-looking perspective,” Pratt said, and the absence in such cases of short-term, bottom-line benefits makes necessary a resolve to stand firm on principle, expecting that the benefit will come in time.

She and Michelle White, the port’s environmental policy manager, suggested that ideas based on what’s not easily seen or forecast are particularly tough to sell. The Port of San Diego and bayfront cities have been working on a sea-level-rise mitigation plan in response to some climate change predictions. Continuing the education effort, Pratt suggested, could mean the difference between a viable bayfront city and an inundated alternative.

“This is how we hope to inform decision makers on where to invest in infrastructure in the future,” Pratt said.

It’s a commitment that has the port bringing forward plans that look as many as 100 years ahead.

“That is unheard of for jurisdictions or businesses to plan that far out in advance,” White said. “I agree there are all these initiatives that we can do in the here and now that make a difference and have cost savings, but now we’re approaching this new era.”

Decisions made primarily on the bottom line, Pratt said, simply can’t be sustained.

The city of Carlsbad is similarly looking at long-term inundation maps in preparing future plans for infrastructure. Joe Garuba, the city’s municipal property manager, said that with the region being subject to potential fire, flood and drought, long-term plans --like Carlsbad’s ongoing development of a desalination plant -- absolutely need to be a central focus.

He noted, however that being green simply for its own sake isn’t sustainable either. Social, economic and environmental drivers need to be considered, he said. Without at least a couple such drivers working in concert, unwanted consequences could occur, he added.

“If all you’re doing is making choices solely on economics, you’re probably going to have social and environmental impacts. If you’re making something just on the environmental side, you’re going to be deficient in some of those other areas.”

One way the city of San Diego is bringing those sometimes competing aspects together is by using reclaimed water for dust control at the Miramar Landfill. The idea made perfect sense, Pratt said, since the reclaimed water facility was already in close proximity to the landfill. By simply connecting up a pipe between the two sites, the city reduced its dependence on potable water and saw $30,000-$40,000 in annual savings. For all city departments utilizing reclaimed water, the savings was $4.1 million in fiscal year 2009.

In its efforts, Navy Region Southwest has seen tremendous progress since implementing long-term plans for its water use, having reduced it by around 36 percent compared to a 2007 baseline level. The difficulty in doing so, Hamilton said, was keeping the arid landscapes vegetated, for various safety reasons, without incurring additional costs. But largely through the use of native plants and other landscaping changes, Hamilton said Navy Region Southwest now uses about 1 billion gallons less water per year.

Water conservation and sustainability efforts are also gaining widespread acceptance in area Native American tribal government. The Rincon Band, for example, is adopting a sustainability plan that will address concerns up to seven generations into the future.

“This is what we have,” said Tiffany Wolfe, manager of the Rincon environmental department, regarding the tribe’s natural resources, which are limited by reservation boundaries.

Relying heavily on the San Luis Rey watershed, water protection is among the main concerns for the Rincon Band, but Wolfe said another focus is figuring out ways to tie in existing solar infrastructure at the tribe’s casino to residential areas, or even incorporate new solar infrastructure on less-inhabitable land.

Slower, similar growth has been seen in private industry, one participant noted. It’s all part of a larger “culture change,” said Jeff Wood, emissions technology specialist with roundtable sponsor Hawthorne CAT.

In his early days within the industry as a mechanic, Wood recalled keeping an eye out for plumes of smoke to find jobsites he’d been called to, remembering that machine power output used to be based on whether the machine was pouring out enough smoke.

“Today, with our Tier 3 and Tier 4 technology now hitting the market this year, contractors are beginning to accept the fact that not seeing smoke doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not getting any power.”

Kathy Garcia, planning and community development director for the city of Del Mar, has also noticed the shift, but thinks it’s inaccurate to call it a boom just yet.

“In terms of planning, we’ve been looking at planning since, really, the ‘60s,” Garcia said, “when there was a whole beginning recognition that our environment needed to be protected.”

Also a teacher of sustainable planning at UCSD, Garcia thinks the burgeoning interest is still in its infancy in terms of implementation, but an overall willingness is taking hold.

“Many of us in the trenches are implementing these (policies),” Garcia said, with the difference today being that more policymakers are putting them into the equation when making decisions. “I think that’s going to move us forward.”

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Roundtable participants

Kathy Garcia, Director of Planning & Community Development, City of Del Mar

Joe Garuba, Municipal Property Manager, City of Carlsbad

Capt. Keith Hamilton, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest

Matt Harris, Senior Director of Executive Office, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Tom Johnson, Farrow System Representative, Hawthorne CAT (Sponsor)

Linda Giannelli Pratt, Chief Program Manager, City of San Diego Energy, Sustainability & Environmental Protection Division

Christopher Smith, VP of Marketing & Sales, Pure Power Distribution

Michelle White, Environmental Policy Manager, Port of San Diego

Tiffany Wolfe, Manager of Environmental Services, Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians

Jeff Wood, Emissions Specialist/Consultant, Hawthorne CAT (Sponsor)

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