By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
The recent West Virginia Sustainability Summit and Expo explored ways to create an economy that is sustainable in today’s world.
The Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation Inc. sponsored the all-day event, which took place Friday at the Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown. A number of keynote speakers and panel discussions concentrated on how businesses and the state can adjust to and take advantage of new eco-realities and become more successful and sustainable.
The foundation focuses on “economic development and diversifying the economy of West Virginia,” said Mark Dempsey, vice president of the foundation and vice president of external affairs for Appalachian Power Co.
He commented that sustainability “is a new direction in business,” and companies in the state are already participating in sustainable practices.
West Virginia University president Dr. James Clements spoke of the university’s long-term commitment to helping the state and country become more sustainable. He said WVU has been proactive in adopting sustainability practices on campus, and can be seen as a role model with its energy-related research, recycling programs, green building initiatives, and student involvement.
“With these and other efforts, we are making a difference,” Clements said. “As you can tell, we take sustainability very seriously at WVU.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller started the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation, headquartered in Charleston, in 1993 in order to help industries in the state become more competitive. He serves as the honorary chairman of this private, nonprofit organization.
Rockefeller said the purpose of the West Virginia Sustainability Summit and Expo was to reignite a dialogue on sustainability and look at its role for West Virginia businesses and the future. Sustainability is all about doing things and using products that are more environmentally friendly.
While local restaurants and other businesses practice sustainability, so do energy companies like Dow Chemical Co. and American Electric Power that use clean-coal technology, he said. New technologies are in place that have allowed the country to use more coal and reduce emissions for the benefit of the environment and the health of families.
Rockefeller said he is a firm believer in carbon capture and storage, which can build upon existing industries and is a vital piece in West Virginia’s future in sustainability.
Sustainability can increase the bottom line of a business and help create jobs, but also requires partnerships at the local level and between private and public entities, he said.
“All ideas about sustainability are important and all efforts to make it work are paving the way for a stronger future,” Rockefeller said.
He stressed the importance of preserving existing industries and jobs, protecting the environment, and growing the state’s economy while creating new employment and new skill sets of training.
Next, Dr. Neil Hawkins, vice president of sustainability and environment, health and safety for Dow Chemical, gave a presentation titled “Science for a Sustainable World” and talked about how chemistry and chemical engineering are the key to solving problems.
He told the audience at the summit that they each have a unique opportunity to make a difference in West Virginia, and focusing on sustainability is one of the best ways to move forward. Hawkins provided an overview of Dow’s history of using sustainability as not just a value but also as a business driver.
In 2005, as a result of its goals, the company saved more than $5 billion with a $1 billion investment, reduced solid waste by 1.6 billion pounds, reduced water use by 183 billion pounds, and saved 900 trillion BTUs of energy, he said. Dow is always committed to reducing its energy footprint.
Hawkins described how Dow Chemical places emphasis on smart solutions, innovations for tomorrow, responsible operations, and partners for change. The company’s annual research and development budget is $1.6 billion.
Dow is trying to grow its operations and new businesses through sustainability, and the notion of collaboration is vital so that ideas can be developed, he said.
During the summit, a panel discussion called “Smart Business — The Case for Sustainability” featured five individuals who have placed an emphasis on sustainability in different ways. Charlotte Weber, director and CEO of the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, served as the moderator.
The first panelist was Mark Berardi, manager of manufacturing support for Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia (TMMWV). He said it’s a big responsibility to make sure that TMMWV is doing everything possible to meet its obligations to the community, but the production center’s culture and environmental practices make it strong.
TMMWV continually strives to eliminate waste and protect the environment and focuses on new, greener technology. It has partnerships with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and also collaborates with various organizations in the local community, Berardi said.
SustainU, headquartered in Morgantown with an office in Huntersville, N.C., makes clothing entirely in the United States and out of 100 percent recycled materials. The company sells collegiate embellished items and has licenses with more than 50 schools.
Trey Dunham, marketing director for SustainU, explained that CEO and founder Chris Yura created the company after being involved in the modeling and fashion industry. Yura didn’t like the fact that college and university apparel often represented the mistreatment of many workers around the world in sweatshops and the waste of materials, and felt that the student bodies instead should be wearing clothing that stood for the traditions and integrity of their schools.
SustainU focuses on the value of caring about people and future generations, as well as creating jobs, Dunham said. On Feb. 21, 2011, the company will hold a national collegiate clothing drive called “One Shirt” with Goodwill International to showcase how sustainability works.
The Sunnyside Up-Campus Neighborhood Revitalization Corp. is a collaboration between WVU and the City of Morgantown. Executive director Jim Hunt said this organization was formed to concentrate on the survival of Morgantown’s Sunnyside neighborhood, known for its dilapidated properties and crime.
Fires were often started in Dumpsters in that neighborhood, and to get rid of those eyesores, Sunnyside Up brought in parents, students and volunteers to paint all of the Dumpsters. This project was completed in a year, Hunt said.
He said the organization also started the Zipcar program, making short-term rental cars available to students in Sunnyside; brought in solar-powered trash cans; and installed LED lights. All of these factors have changed the neighborhood, and Sunnyside Up’s new slogan is “Building America’s Best College Neighborhood.”
Eric Landen, president and CEO of Landen Consulting, which deals with environmental business strategy, said today’s sustainability focuses on energy efficiency, waste reduction, LEED buildings, carbon and water, but companies really need to continue pushing forward.
“It’s really up to business to help save the planet,” he said.
The new version of sustainability looks at how businesses depend on the environment to continue functioning, Landen said. Companies used to make business decisions assuming that nature has no value, but nature is priceless in terms of its economic value. Businesses need to be proactive when it comes to sustainability.
“Nature has value to business, so the more you protect it the more you benefit,” he said.
Sandra Nessing, managing director of sustainability and environment, safety and health strategy and design for American Electric Power, said people who don’t see the link between sustainability and business success are missing out on potential growth.
AEP, which operates in 11 states and has 5.2 million customers, listens to its stakeholders, and this has helped transform the company’s decision-making process, she said. The company has the responsibility to manage and mitigate the impacts of its operations, and also to serve as a leader.
“We are still investing heavily in the future of West Virginia,” Nessing said.
She said coal capture and storage is done at AEP’s Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, and the company really believes that technology is essential to coal usage. In the past few years, AEP has had many accomplishments in terms of energy efficiency and conservation programs and reducing its own energy consumption.
E-mail Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org.