HCC conference encourages a look "Beyond Sustainability"

  • Stephen M. Koontz

At the 2014 edition of the Beyond Sustainability conference, experts from around the country discussed not only what is causing climate change or how to rectify it, but also how to solve the issues in a way that would be appealing from an economic perspective. Through ideas discussed at the conference a vision of a new energy economy was intended to take focus, with sustainability measures being seen as a lucrative business option.

An example of these goals was found during a conference on Friday titled “21st Century Green Investments and Portfolios: Case Studies”. The session brought together Susan Glickman, the Florida Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Janet Harrison of the Sustany Foundation, Stephen M. Koontz of Tampa Bay Trane, and Abraham Rahmanizaheh of Barclays, to discuss the future of business and politics, and how a more environmentally aware generation will handle the its issues as they replace the old guard.

Glickman opened the conversation with a scathing attack on the status quo in Tallahassee, decrying the influence of utility companies that have allowed politicians to ignore the issue, despite obvious evolutions in environmentally sustainable technology.

“I spent a lot of time in the Florida legislature. In fact, this will be my 27th legislature and the last 14 have been dealing with energy issues. We don't have a real healthy environment there because what happens there happens because of the influence from big investment utilities that cover 75 percent of the state through a lot of political contributions to lawmakers through lots of different channels, through campaigns and lots of other ways. We have a changing industry with both the transportation and the electric sector and the confluence of transportation and the electric side which has come together. One of the things I've seen is that we used to talk about those as two separate things, but now the city of Tallahassee has electric buses, they run their buses on sunshine. That's the confluence. This changing of dynamic just like our telephones change. But up in Tallahassee and in Washington for that matter we have an established group that makes a lot of money on the old business model and they're squelching things, and they're killing jobs and have burdensome taxes on solar and other such things.”

Harrison felt that these issues will be resolved when the outcry for environmental accountability becomes to great to be ignored and change will come through the millennial generation, that has the potential to be environmentally conscious yet also business savvy.

“I think Dan Cathy, who was a founder of Chik Fil A, said something that really stuck in my brain and that is when the rate of external pressure to change is greater than the rate of internal change, disaster is imminent. So what I see is a generation that makes values based decisions. They are learning in college how to run companies effectively and strategically, but they also have that value base. We have an existing system that is running on outmoded ways of thought where they do not take into account the social and environmental consequences of what they are making. As they flow out, the new generation will be driving this change forward, so people that want to see change, beginning with corporations that have had their head stuck in the sand and it takes people like us to gently have them remove it by speaking their language. Letting them know its not a scary thing.”

One example of making this transition to environmental sustainability was in the HCC Ybor campus itself. By building an environmentally sustainable student services building, the college has managed to decrease its energy use by 26 percent in the past two years while saving more than $750,000 over that period. Koontz, whose company Tampa Bay Trane played a role in the development of the center, felt that by emphasizing these cost saving measures, the viability of energy sustainability will gain much more traction.

“What can HCC do with $750,00 more in their budget? Can they hold off tuition increases and make education more affordable for their students? Can they attract more professors or do better research? What ever it is for their business model, because clearly they are not in the business of funding a utility company's bottom line, right? So what can they do with that money.”

The session ended by echoing the sentiments found throughout the conference: that a sustainable future is attainable, but the younger generation must realize the power that they have if it is going to be accomplished. Rahmanizaheh, himself a recent graduate of the University of Tampa, implored the audience to look beyond the traditional models and use their experiences to become change agents themselves.

“For me as a student I know sometimes you think that you can't have an impact, you can't really make a difference within an organization when you're so young. You'd be surprised that if you really believe in something, talk about it at work, tell people what you're passionate about. You never know who you might meet. There are so many people that got out of corporate America, nowadays hardly anybody stays at a job for more than three or four years. You could find people you can share a path with, build a star-up that impacts sustainability, that helps make a change towards what your passionate about. I would definitely say don't downplay the impact you can have in any organization.”

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