Monday, July 14, 2008

Water Seminar to Focus on Business’ Role

While a number of smaller lakes and reservoirs have recovered from last year’s searing draught, Lake Lanier, a main water supply for much of metro Atlanta, remains low and state environmental leaders say conservation will be as important as ever as we head through what promises to be a long, dry summer.

To highlight what business can do, should be doing, and is doing, to conserve water , Georgia State University’s Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility will host a day-long seminar featuring top environmental experts, executives from some of the area’s most environmentally-conscious companies and local government leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Water: A Natural Resource in Peril will be presented from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 17 at the Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker Street.

Linda DiSantis, an executive-in-residence at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business’ ethics center and the seminar’s lead organizer, says more and more companies are thinking about their environmental impact and use of natural resources.

Beyond companies that use water in production, like beverage bottlers who depend on a continuous supply of clean water, she said companies are thinking about how their use of resources is viewed, and how to make their operations sustainable.

“Companies need to behave responsibly because water is a limited resource and if they are viewed as not being responsible, they could suffer the consequence of a backlash,” she said. “It’s not something you do just because it’s a nice thing to do. It’s an important strategy issue.”

Presenters at the seminar will include keynote speaker David Orr, the Paul Sears distinguished professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College, and Jason Morrison, director of the Pacific Institute’s Globalization Program and a project coordinator for the U.N. Global Compact CEO Water Mandate.

Their discussions will give attendees a “big picture” view of the world’s water resources, said Steven Olson, the director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility.

“A lot of people in the room – it’ll be a real eye-opener for them,” Olson said.

Greg Koch, the Coca-Cola Co.’s director of Global Water Stewardship; Jeff Carrier, the sustainability manager for the Carpet and Rug Institute; and Gary Black, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council will address best practices and water usage by the private sector during a panel discussion.

Olson says the carpet industry tackled its water use years ago, and can be viewed as an example of how companies can work together within an industry to solve environmental challenges.

“They’ve had to really get their hands around this,” Olson said. “Many of these sustainability issues can’t be addressed at the firm level. They have to be addressed at the industry level.”

Atlanta’s Mayor Franklin, who has dubbed herself the “sewer mayor,” is expected to discuss where business stands as the city grapples with water supply and infrastructure issues. The city is in the midst of a massive $1 billion sewer rebuilding project and the sewer plan is just one part of the $3.8 billion Clean Water Atlanta initiative to improve drinking water and reduce pollution.

Gail Cowie, a senior planning and policy advisor from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, will also give an overview of the statewide water plan, adopted by lawmakers and signed into law in February, and explain what will be expected of business under the plan.

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