Business and society have begun to think about--and, importantly, take action on--climate change, recognizing it as the defining issue of our time. It’s true here at the Foundation, too, where we have begun to examine everything we do - including our investments (which are divested from fossil fuels) and our grants - in terms of how we are helping to move the needle on climate change.
In particular, we’re thinking and talking about (and investing in) solutions like Drawdown Georgia that will actually return carbon to the Earth.
Understanding the Climate Crisis
How we talk about climate change has a lot to do with how well we understand it, and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re more inclined to learn visually -- many of us are -- it’s worth taking a look at powerful graphics that help us understand where we are when it comes to our carbon budget. For example, this animation visualizes climate change as a filling bucket - and it’s a powerful visual image from the Global Carbon Project and Future Earth animation for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The Ultimate Goal: Carbon Negativity
Achieving net zero, or carbon neutrality, is an important goal, but we see it as just the starting point. Trillions of tons of carbon have been emitted into the atmosphere, and it is our job to start working toward returning them to the earth by pursuing carbon-negative technologies and solutions. It’s a strategy that keeps us true to our mission and vision, and one that builds on Ray Anderson’s legacy as a captain of industry who pioneered the world of green business.
Georgia’s Role in Reversing Climate Change
How do we achieve our ambitious climate goals? At the Foundation, we believe in the importance of taking action on climate from a place of hope, not fear. That’s why we focus on funding initiatives such as:
- The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at Georgia Tech, with a goal to empower a new generation of young adults who deeply understand the interconnectedness between business and our environment.
- A groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting project called The Ray, which is a proving ground for what a zero-death, zero-carbon highway infrastructure might look like. From its home base in Ray’s hometown of West Point, Ga., The Ray brings high and low-tech ideas and technologies to create a regenerative highway ecosystem on The Ray’s 18-mile stretch of I-85, with several pilot projects and innovative partnerships underway. From solar-powered vehicle charging and a tire safety check station to pollinator gardens and the installation of bioswales, The Ray is asking the biggest questions that start with two of Ray’s favorite words, “What if …”.
- Our multi-year partnership with the Biomimicry Institute's Launchpad accelerator is increasingly focused on commercializing market-ready solutions to climate change, and through this partnership and the Ray of Hope Prize®, we have been able to accelerate innovations like Nucleario, a low-tech reforestation solution that is designed to be used in remote and hard-to-reach areas of the Atlantic rain forest. It is a dome-shaped guard with a hole in the middle, and it helps seedlings grow without requiring human maintenance. Made of biodegradable materials, it ensures that seedlings survive by providing a barrier from ants, collecting water, offering shade, and protecting against invasive species.
Localizing Global Solutions
One of the newest frontiers for the Foundation is the underwriting of key efforts in our home state of Georgia in the name of reversing climate change. This began in 2018 when we funded the creation of the Georgia Climate Project, a state-wide consortium co-founded by Emory University, the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and joined by Agnes Scott College, Georgia Southern University, Spelman College, and the University of North Georgia.
One of the most exciting outcomes of the Georgia Climate Project is Drawdown Georgia. Inspired by the work of Project Drawdown, we sought to identify the most achievable path for our state to reach drawdown, the point at which Georgia will store more greenhouse gas emissions than it produces.
Why focus on Georgia? Achieving drawdown at a global level is necessary for stabilizing the climate system, but progress toward mitigating climate change requires local to regional-scale effort. As Ray Anderson said, “Brighten the corner where you are” - for us, that means helping to lead the state of Georgia on a path to carbon neutrality via strategies that strengthen the state’s economy and improve the quality of life for all Georgians.
Identifying Climate Solutions for Georgia
With this in mind, we launched an exploration into what an effort to localize Drawdown might look like. Could we trim down the 100+ scalable climate solutions identified by Drawdown to a shorter list of relevant and achievable solutions that could be both measured and tracked, perhaps by a state?
To answer this question, we convened an expert team of Georgia-based academics, climate scientists, and researchers led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, in partnership with Emory University, Georgia State University, and the University of Georgia.
Over 18 months, the research team took a deep dive into the data to determine what was 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.
A Framework of Climate Solutions Takes Shape
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--that’s 1 million metric tons--of carbon.
Against a 2005 baseline of 156 megatons of net emissions, Drawdown Georgia estimates that Georgia’s carbon footprint can be cut to about 67 megatons by 2030, or a 57% reduction. The improvements come primarily from these sectors:
Electricity is Georgia’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the Drawdown Georgia GHG Emissions Tracker, electricity sector emissions have decreased in recent years as coal plants were replaced with cleaner sources. In 2021, the electricity sector was responsible for about 53 megatons of GHG emissions. Drawdown Georgia estimates we can reduce carbon emissions by 9 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 all, Drawdown Georgia estimates we can reduce carbon emissions by 4 megatons in this sector 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. In Georgia, the food waste in 2017 was approximately 2 million tons, and if we could reduce that by just 12%, it would save one megaton of carbon annually.. To cut carbon substantially, we need to grow food in ways that benefit the land, sequester carbon, foster plant-based diets, reduce food waste, and increase composting. Together, these food and agriculture-related climate solutions can help us decrease emissions by 3 megatons by 2030.
Georgia’s natural land sinks -- including 22 million acres of working forests and rich coastal wetlands -- sequester about 41 megatons of GHG emissions each year, offsetting about 26% 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 4 megatons by 2030.
Georgia has nearly 90,000 miles of public roads. In 2021, vehicles accounted for 41% of the state’s GHG 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 7 megatons of transportation emissions by 2030.
Benefits that Go Beyond Carbon
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.
The Rest of the Story
Ray Anderson's vision, encapsulated in his book Mid-Course Correction, continues to inspire the Foundation's endeavors. By synthesizing science, solutions, and societal needs, we not only preserve Ray's legacy but also chart a sustainable path for future generations.
When the opportunity arose to re-release Mid-Course Correction with additional chapters, along with it came the opportunity not only to bring the story of his company, Interface, current, but also to reflect on the many influences that impacted Ray’s journey.
Ray relied heavily on the thinkers and doers that came before him, and their stories of science, humanity, impact, and hope. When we published Mid-Course Correction Revisited in 2019, we also launched a reading list of the books that impacted Ray and his family.
So much of our approach to climate change comes from synthesizing both the science and the solutions, bringing the best ideas to the forefront and giving them support, whether through grants like our Foundation’s NextGen grants or through the work of The Ray to pioneer a low-carbon transportation system.
We’re continuing to write the story of Ray’s legacy, and we invite you to join us as we imagine what the future looks like for Tomorrow’s Child.