The Georgia Environmental Conference (GEC) is an annual, three day event focused on “Sustaining the Future for the People of Georgia and the Southeast Region.” It is attended by more than 700 diverse environmental practitioners including government officials, lawyers, architects, consultants, energy and recycling expert, solid waste managers, and more. With a comprehensive curriculum, planned by a 50-member steering committee and offering over 50 courses, the GEC provides an outstanding continuing education experience for environmental professionals. I had the privilege of attending this year’s conference, which was held from August 23 to August 25 (Fig 1). Although I focused mainly on the sustainability-related sessions, I also ventured into talks covering underground storage tanks and brownfields redevelopment, all while seeking ways to practice sustainability in the event setting.
Fig 1. The GEC agenda book helped ensure I stayed on track for my sessions.
In line with the event’s stated focus, significant exposure was given to sustainability topics during the session presentations; and topic categories included waste management, energy reduction, alternative transportation, and solar power. The specific sustainability-related sessions that I attended were the following: Environmental Management Systems; Best Practices for Waste Reduction; VW Settlement Funding Opportunities for Alternative Fuel Vehicles; Trends in Managing and Communicating Sustainability Data; Sustainable Communities; Media, Cars, Planes and Beer – Corporate Sustainability at its Best!; Implementing Energy Savings Programs; and Solar Power in Agriculture. During the sessions, I was inspired by the number of people who are working each day to incorporate best practices for sustainability into their workplaces, here in Georgia and beyond, as well as by their enthusiasm and dedication to the practice area. I am proud that Georgia College’s sustainability efforts are in line with those being implemented elsewhere. It was also very evident that the challenges we face on campus are not unique, especially in relation to improving our recycling rates, managing our waste, and finding better ways to reduce our energy consumption. I attended two additional sessions – Federal Agencies Assistance for Rural and Brownfields Redevelopment and Regulatory Updates in GA UST and Federal Waste Programs – which provided good reminders that we face many environmental challenges in the Southeast. These challenges are being met daily, however, by dedicated professionals, like those in attendance at the GEC.
Every year, the GEC is held at the LEED Certified Jekyll Island Convention Center. This 128,000 square foot venue is the east coast’s only oceanfront convention center. The planners, however, did not ignore the delicate coastline. Instead, locally sourced materials such as shells, sea glass and reclaimed pine were included in its design and construction. Additionally, the long list of sustainability design features, including bike racks, electric car charging stations, rainwater collection, low water plumbing features, and water efficient landscaping, incorporated into the construction helped secure the convention center’s LEED Silver status. While at the convention center, I scoped out the trash and recycling bins so that I could dispose of my waste properly (Fig 2). I also carried my reusable water bottle around Jekyll Island and declined daily towel service at my hotel. Overall, I was inspired by the location and agenda to enhance my studies and practice of sustainability in my career and daily life. You don’t want to miss out on this conference next year! Keep a check on the registration section of their website for dates and information.
Fig 2. The recycling bins at the Jekyll Island Convention Center were easy to find.