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Sustainable Georgia: Healthy Buildings, Healthy Lives

From large companies to families and individuals, sustainability has become a way of life. In fact, people of my generation – and younger – have grown up with environmental efforts like recycling as something as commonplace as keeping the refrigerator door closed. And while governments have created initiatives to make it easier for businesses and individuals to commit to an eco-friendly life, it’s taken more than a warm fuzzy feeling to sustain sustainability.

In Atlanta, one program that can make businesses feel good while saving money is the Better Buildings Challenge (BBC), a national effort to save businesses across America $40 billion a year – and in the process make commercial buildings 20 percent more efficient by 2020.

Folks in participating business, government and university buildings in Atlanta – one of three BBC cities, along with Los Angeles and Seattle – are breathing cleaner air and have seen savings of more than $46 million from 2011 through 2014. In addition, the city has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 metric tons and saved 163 million gallons of water and nearly 2 trillion BTUs of energy, or about 22,000 cars’ emissions, in a year.

Cox Enterprises, the media and auto company and owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is involved in the BBC, which is just one part of its commitment to sustainability. In 2007, the company launched Cox Conserves, committing to zero waste to landfill by 2024 and carbon/water neutrality by 2044. To meet these goals, Cox has pursued many sustainability initiatives and was recently rewarded with certification of its second LEED Gold building.

TOTO USA is a company in Morrow that makes high-end toilets and plumbing fixtures on the cutting edge of sustainable technology. In addition to committing to the BBC, company leaders also looked at their supply chain and partnered with United Parcel Service to calculate the carbon emissions associated with shipping their product. UPS then purchased carbon offsets on behalf of TOTO. The money from the purchase of offsets or credits is invested in conservation projects to offset emissions produced during shipping.

The purchase of offsets is a conservation tool anyone can use. The Nature Conservancy has an online carbon footprint calculator and will purchase offsets on behalf of individuals who make contributions to the organization.

What about people who want to do something a little closer to home? Look around. You’re probably already doing some important things without even thinking about them.

Taking out the trash, for example, used to be a simple trip to the garbage can. Now, many people separate trash and recyclables and reuse a number of things they used to toss out. At home, my family reuses bags, boxes, bottles and cups so many times my great-grandmother Nannie would be proud.

We wash cloth bags and try to keep plastic products from going to the landfill or the ocean, where a giant deadly plastic mass has formed.

We recycle batteries – or use rechargeable ones – so they don’t leak poisons into the Earth, use longer-lasting light bulbs and avoid Styrofoam containers, which are hard to recycle.

Now that I’ve started using growlers for beer and wine, I keep those rinsed and stored for future use. I return coat hangers to dry cleaners and recycle the plastic bags. I still find new things to do, but everyone’s system is different and can change even from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Like TOTO, I also try to avoid any product or service that has a supply-chain or direct connection to stories of pollution, animal harm, illicit trade or discrimination. I don’t even think twice about it.

And, like businesses, these aren’t just moral impulses on my part. I also expect to save money and feel better physically. By using transit, biking or walking, which also happens to be better for the environment, I am ultimately saving money on medical premiums, because those are all healthier activities than hopping in my car.

As you ponder your own footprint, remember that there is an economy as well as an environment at stake. So make a habit of acting sustainably. Before you know it, you won’t even think about it.

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