When Drawdown Georgia launched in 2020, it was a full circle moment in many ways. It took us back to the original epiphany that inspired Ray Anderson’s mission to transform his company, Interface, into a 21st century enterprise where he and his team would, in his words: “. . . spend the rest of our days harvesting yester-year’s carpets and other petrochemically derived products and recycling them into new materials; and converting sunlight into energy; with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. And we’ll be doing well … very well … by doing good. That’s the vision.”
As students of Ray Anderson’s journey, we at the Foundation pay attention to the work of Ray’s “Eco Dream Team,” the group of experts that Ray collected to give form and substance to his vision. In the mid-1990s, that vision was a fairly outlandish notion – making a petroleum intensive business like carpet manufacturing sustainable.
If you know the story, you know that Ray’s original epiphany came at the behest of a customer request – a complaint, really– that “Interface didn’t understand sustainability.” Through a series of serendipitous moves, Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce, landed on Ray’s desk. The timing was perfect – Ray was just preparing to give an internal talk on the company’s environmental vision, and he was the first to admit that he didn’t have a vision.
Led by equal parts curiosity and desperation, he picked up Hawken’s book. Over the next several nights, his imagination was sparked by the book’s thesis – that earth and all of its living systems are in decline, and that business and industry are the only institutions wealthy enough and pervasive enough to reverse it.
Ray went on to call that moment a ‘spear in the chest’ – the realization that his company, his ‘third child’ after his two natural daughters, was as he put it, ‘a plunderer of the earth.’
The book galvanized not only Ray’s vision for Interface, but a fast and devoted friendship between Ray and Paul Hawken, who went on to become an advisor to both the company and the Foundation that bears Ray’s name.
So in 2017, when Project Drawdown, founded by Paul, published Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, we couldn’t help but look for an opportunity to move Paul’s roadmap for reversing climate change from idea into action.
The thesis of Hawken’s Drawdown builds on his previous works with an optimistic message that there are at least 100 solutions to climate change that already exist in various forms around the world, and all we need to do to begin to reduce emissions is to scale those solutions.
Genius in its simplicity, Drawdown was lauded by scientists and thought leaders alike:
“It will give you the best kind of hope, the kind that balances realism with radical vision. . . . Stabilizing the climate system will require a heroic global effort, but the point here is only to show that . . . such an effort can do more than merely succeed; that it can succeed well, and open into futures that we can actually bear to contemplate.”
—Tom Athanasiou, The Nation
“Be kindly unto the scientists, for they may just save our skin—and make us happier and wealthier in the bargain. . . . An optimistic program for getting out of our current mess, well deserving of the broadest possible readership.”
“A rigorous and profoundly important resource.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist
“… it can seem that there’s no hope. . . . But a new book might change that—and serve as a blueprint for what comes next if the U.S. government (and the global community) begins to aggressively focus on altering the climate future. Drawdown is likely the most comprehensive model of climate solutions ever made.”
“Drawdown is likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.”
—Joel Makower, GreenBiz
John Lanier recognized the publication of Drawdown in 2017 as one of the good things that happened in a Climate Year End Review. One year later, Dr. Katharine Wilkinson penned a guest blog for the Foundation to commemorate the anniversary of the book’s publication, commenting, “Many see in Drawdown a catalogue of technologies and practices that, deployed together, can reach ‘drawdown’—that point in time when the quantity of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere peaks and then declines year over year. Drawdown certainly is that: 100 means to avoid the release of emissions and to bring carbon back home. But by collecting those solutions in a single mosaic, it is also much more. The book begins to envision the world we might create in the process of reversing global warming. The solutions to reach drawdown are also means of building a more vibrant, equitable, and beautiful world—a world of greater health, wellbeing, and happiness.”
She went on to say, “The most important solution to reverse global warming, I believe, is one that isn’t explicitly catalogued in Drawdown. It is our human capacity to have and continually renew a vision of possibility.”
Project Drawdown, the Movement
Project Drawdown, founded in 2014 by Paul Hawken and climate advocate Amanda Ravenhill, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that exists to vet and validate climate solutions, and to create opportunities for people, companies, communities, academics and the like to learn from and further the ability to scale those solutions.
Led by Executive Director Jonathan Foley, Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward Drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.
To that end, Project Drawdown supports climate solutions through:
- Drawdown Research: Drawdown research fellows analyze solutions and review literature and data describing the potential to scale, the impact in emissions reduction, and cost. By integrating the models within and across multiple sectors, they determine if and when we can reach Drawdown under given scenarios. Beyond the Drawdown book, Project Drawdown updates its research methodology, scenarios, and results in The Drawdown Review.
- Drawdown Learn: A wide-ranging initiative to teach about climate solutions based on Project Drawdown’s research, Drawdown Learn has partnered to create Drawdown EcoChallenge and the Solutions Journalism Network.
- Drawdown Labs: A consortium of private sector Drawdown partners who are working to go beyond ‘net zero’ to scale climate solutions in the world, both within and outside their own operations, to test how far the private sector can go beyond zero to help achieve Drawdown. Workshops and other opportunities for corporate engagement are held in partnership with consulting partner IDEO.
What if everybody did it?
Ray Anderson was a prolific thinker, writer and speaker in his later years, using his voice and his vision for Interface to paint a picture of possibility. He often referenced Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative for us to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” – or as Ray put it, think about it this way: “what if everybody did it?”
Ray’s interpretation of the maxim was the ultimate tale of possibility, imploring his audience to imagine sustainability as a global movement, one that was as much a moral imperative as it was a sensible one.
Led both by Ray’s logic and the compelling science of Drawdown, the Foundation launched in 2019 an exploration into what an effort to localize Drawdown might look like. Could we trim the 100+ solutions identified by Drawdown down to a shorter list of relevant and achievable solutions that could be both measured and tracked, perhaps by a state?
Bringing Georgia’s Climate Solutions Home
Over 18 months, a team of the state’s best researchers and scientists took a deep dive into the data to determine what is possible to achieve within the Drawdown framework, leveraging Georgia’s abundant economic, social and natural resources. The team set a fast-approaching deadline of 2030 to ensure that we’d be well on the road to net zero by 2040. If we get this right, we said, we can cut Georgia’s carbon impact significantly, putting us on the road to a low carbon economy.
The expert team of Georgia-based academics, climate scientists, and researchers was led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, in partnership with Emory University, Georgia State University and the University of Georgia.
After several rounds of vetting, the team determined that Drawdown Georgia’s mission would be built on the state’s capacity for progress against emissions reductions in five high impact areas, measured in megatons of carbon. A megaton of carbon is defined as 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Drawdown Georgia estimates that the state's current carbon footprint is 125 megatons, with the potential to cut Georgia's carbon impact by about 35% in ten years, to 79 megatons, in these sectors:
- Electricity: Georgia’s electricity is powered by a mix of sources, and electricity is responsible for a little more than one third of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2018, about 65% of our electricity was produced by fossil fuels: natural gas, coal, and a little oil. A small, but growing, portion of the state’s electricity comes from renewables, like solar. Drawdown Georgia estimates we can reduce carbon emissions by 17 megatons by 2030 with solutions like cogeneration, demand response, rooftop solar, large scale solar and landfill methane capture.
- Buildings & Materials: In 2017, Georgia’s commercial and residential buildings were responsible for about 30% of the state’s emissions. We know that increasing energy efficiency in existing buildings can reduce electricity and energy demand. This category also considers the emissions associated with materials, such as recyclables and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. All in, Drawdown Georgia estimates we can reduce carbon emissions by 6 megatons by 2030.
- Food & Agriculture: The way we grow our food, what we eat, and what happens to excess and waste are all essential parts of our carbon footprint. To cut carbon substantially, we need to grow food in ways that benefit the land, sequester carbon, foster plant-forward diets, reduce food waste, and increase composting. In Georgia, the food waste in 2017 was approximately 2.05 million tons, and it is estimated that, on average, each ton of food waste reduced would decrease carbon emissions by 1.35 tons. If we reduce our food waste by 20% by 2030, we can decrease emissions by 5 megatons.
- Land Sinks: Georgia’s natural land sinks -- including 22 million acres of working forests and rich coastal wetlands -- sequester up to 46 megatons of carbon each year, offsetting about 27% of total emissions in the state. It’s critical to increase the capacity to sequester carbon as the state reduces emissions elsewhere, and we can do it with innovative practices like afforestation and silvopasture, temperate forest stewardship, and by protecting our coastal wetlands. We estimate we can grow our land sinks enough to sequester an additional 5 megatons by 2030.
- Transportation: Georgia has nearly 90,000 miles of public roads. In 2017, vehicles accounted for 43% of the state’s carbon emissions -- our single largest source. Switching out gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles for electric vehicles, increasing mass transit, and adopting more alternative mobility options will help us dramatically reduce these emissions – with the potential to eliminate 9 megatons of emissions by 2030.
In addition to these 20 specific and scalable solutions, Drawdown Georgia is also addressing the social, economic, environmental and health impacts of scaling these solutions by accounting for the impacts Beyond Carbon. Specifically, Drawdown Georgia has identified both positive and potential negative impacts beyond reversing climate change, including:
- Economic: Drawdown solutions can drive local economic and employment growth, bring high-skill jobs to our state, and drive infrastructure investments that make Georgia an attractive place to work and live. Most solutions will create local jobs, especially in the solar and energy efficiency fields. However, it’s also possible that some solutions may displace workers as we shift from coal-powered electricity to renewable forms of energy, for example. Other solutions can increase property values and tax revenues, but on the flip side, may result in gentrification. Bringing together communities of leadership will help ensure a net economic benefit and a smooth transition to a thriving green economy.
- Equity: Successful climate solutions lift people up, ensure that all communities are at the table, and deliver benefits to those who are under-resourced. Focusing on equity ensures that community concerns are addressed and advantages widely shared. At the same time, making sure that solutions like rooftop solar and retrofitting are affordable and accessible means more people will have better access to clean energy. Retrofitting can also create jobs and business opportunities.
- Public Health: Solutions like electric vehicles, mass transportation, alternative mobility, healthy buildings, and renewable energy improve air quality and reduce the chances that our kids will have allergies and/or asthma. Shifting to a plant-forward diet and a kinder, gentler agricultural system nourishes our bodies and our ecosystem. We expect to see many positive impacts on public health with substantial air quality improvement when electricity and transportation solutions are scaled, and quality of life and education benefits from food and forestry solutions.
- Environment: Regenerative agriculture practices and temperate forest stewardship extend the benefits of our natural carbon sinks like trees, soil and other vegetation. In turn, a healthier natural world hedges against extreme weather impacts. Lowering emissions almost always means better air quality. Some communities may have concerns about land that is used for large scale solar (or solar farms), so it is an area to watch. We want to be sure that these potential concerns and impacts are visible to everyone involved in the process of making the big decisions that will help scale these solutions.
The Time is Right to Reverse Climate Change
For Drawdown Georgia to be successful, the initial working group recognized that not only would the science need to support scalable climate solutions that already exist in the state, but would also harness the social and political will needed to fund and support the solutions. In other words, we’d need to bridge a few potential hurdles – the urban/rural divide, and the progressive/conservative divide.
At the same time that the university partners were vetting Georgia’s potential climate solutions, a local news reporter at Atlanta’s ABC affiliate, 11Alive, spent several months reporting on both the impacts of climate change in Georgia and spotlighting the people pioneering solutions. Plan G first aired on July 22, 2019, profiling four stories of climate solutions in Georgia. It is, as John Lanier noted, a great example of climate communication. And more than that, it validated for the working group and others like the Georgia Climate Project (also funded by the Foundation) that there is an appetite in Georgia to step into a role of climate leadership.
Georgians on Climate and Equity
While the research team vetted solutions, we took the opportunity to poll Georgians about their perspectives on climate change and the proposed solutions, as well as the potential for climate solutions to create jobs and social equity. Because Drawdown Georgia launched while we were still in the midst of the pandemic, we also polled residents on how COVID might influence outlooks about the future.
Among the biggest takeaways from this study are that more than half (54%) of Georgians say that the issue of global warming is extremely or very important to them. And we want leadership that values the environment: Georgians are more likely to vote for Georgia politicians who actively support key issues including community solar, forest protection, and coastal wetlands protection.
Other key findings from the research include:
- Two-thirds of us are more likely to buy products from Georgia companies that actively support environmental issues including community solar, forest protection and reducing food waste.
- Fifty-six percent of Georgians believe climate change and social justice issues are either strongly related or somewhat related, especially college students, urban residents, 18-34-year-olds and African Americans.
- Since COVID-19 began, 43% of Georgians report they are more aware of climate change, and over half are participating in new, healthy, and climate-friendly activities such as eating & cooking with more seasonal foods, putting more focus on creating less waste, and growing vegetables at home.
- Over half of Georgians have become more appreciative of the outdoor activities the state has to offer including college students (81%), 18-34-year-olds (76%), urban residents (62%) and African Americans (56%).
The results were encouraging when it comes to the possibility of bridging divides and positioning climate solutions as nonpartisan and attainable.
Introducing Drawdown Georgia
A year after Plan G aired, and a few months after that research was surfaced, John Lanier announced, on behalf of the Foundation, the launch of Drawdown Georgia, saying “Our foundational question is simple – what climate solutions have the greatest potential to reverse global warming right here in our state?”
John went on to say about climate change: “The connective tissue between the global and the local is of critical importance to this particular challenge. We see it in the problem itself – excessive greenhouse gases are being emitted in individual places all around the globe, and the result is a distortion in the climate that we all share. Flipping that coin over, the solution lies at the same intersection between the micro and macro. Climate solutions only scale where they are, but if they scale far enough, fast enough, and widely enough, our planet’s climate will stabilize.”
Conversations that Matter
Launching a statewide climate effort in the midst of a pandemic called for creativity when it came to engaging people from many different parts of the state, who were working on different climate solutions. With that in mind, we partnered with Civic Dinners to create a forum where people could gather (online, for the time being) to learn from experts and from one another about the potential to accelerate solutions in Georgia.
Committed to the idea that meaningful conversation can spark real and lasting change, Civic Dinners strives to bring people together to have conversations that matter. Serving as a tool for organizing and acting, Civic Dinners provides both a platform and a framework that make hosting these important conversations easy for anyone to do.
A Civic Dinner follows a simple structure, with 6-10 people gathering--ideally over drinks or a meal, even virtually--to discuss a specific topic. The host is provided with an easy-to-follow conversation guide with three big questions, and ensures that everyone is given equal time to share with one voice at a time.
Hosting a Civic Dinner is easy because their platform simplifies the process for hosts. Dinner creation steps are streamlined, and they will provide host support, automated emails, and even a virtual meeting room if you need one. After the dinner, a follow-up email will capture ideas, feedback, stories, and next steps. After a successful Launch Week where Drawdown Georgia hosted an Opening Night Gala and five nights of Civic Dinners, the platform remains available to interested parties who want to keep talking about bringing climate solutions home.
Crowdsolving for Climate
Drawdown Georgia is taking a novel approach, building capacity and coalitions to crowdsolve for climate. Crowdsolving brings the collective genius of the community - or lots of communities - together to solve big problems and bring big ideas to life. Using an innovative new platform called Groopit, community and business leaders, policy makers, advocates, innovators, entrepreneurs and municipal offices are invited to add their names, projects and progress to build a movement of engaged and networked problem solvers. We believe that when we bring everyone working in climate in Georgia together, our solutions will begin to accelerate.
Drawdown Georgia is Bringing Climate Solutions Home
As John Lanier noted at the Drawdown Georgia launch, “If we get this right, we believe we can take carbon emissions in Georgia from about 125 megatons to 79 megatons by 2030 - a reduction by at least one-third in just ten years. And importantly, Beyond Carbon, there are economic and social benefits as well as public health and environmental gains. We’ve done the work to visualize it all, and now we invite everyone working on climate solutions in Georgia to join us in bringing these climate solutions home.”