How “green” is Memphis?

In today’s world of energy issues, from spills to national security, the question of a community’s level of greenness has never been more important.  To many people, the concept of green is defined by a few issues that have been highly marketed by various interest groups.  Things like wind turbines, solar panels, alternative fuels and vehicles, and keeping air and water clean come to mind.  To others, green is defined by farmers markets and bike lanes.

Over the last few months, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation has been involved with or done research into a number of green initiatives.  What we have found might be a surprise to some people.  Memphis is a leader in many aspects of Green – led mostly by some of our largest and most established organizations.

If you think of green in terms of the earth, the sun and the water – as an upcoming issue of Bioworks Magazine will be doing – the categorization of Memphis’ leadership position becomes quite clear.  Note that we have left wind out of this equation because at the present efficiency and costs, this part of the country doesn’t have the consistent atmospheric criteria to be competitive for wind power.

Solar leadership begins with the Sharp Manufacturing plant in Memphis. It is the only solar cell manufacturing facility in the nation producing photovoltaic modules.  The factory has produced more than two million panels since it got into the solar business in 2003.

That’s production.  What about utilization?  If all goes according to plan, Memphis Bioworks Foundation will be using initiatives such as New Market Tax Credits, Federal Solar Investment Tax Credits, and TVA credits under the Generation Partners Program, managed through Memphis Light, Gas and Water to create the largest urban solar implementation in the region beginning with installations on the roofs of our existing structures such as its Dudley Street building and the adjacent parking garage.  The top of a parking garage in Memphis is an underused asset, often too hot to park the car and not accessible for other applications.  We’re going to cover ours with solar panels to make it usable — recovering 110 parking spaces — and, at the same time, we will generate energy to mitigate 30 to 40 percent of our existing energy costs.

For earth, our AgBioworks initiatives in biomass stretch across five states, with Memphis at the heart of the burgeoning bioeconomy utilizing plant-based materials in a wide variety of biobased materials including chemicals, plastics and biofuels.  And in water, many people may not be aware that Memphis-based Buckman is an international leader in water treatment and conservation.  I would invite all Memphians to visit their website to learn all they are doing.

Sun, earth and water is just the tip of Memphis leadership as many other local companies from FedEx to Medtronic, from Accredo to Buckeye to Le Bonheur are making their mark in some aspect of Green.  And of course, creating a green economy requires the right talent, and there are initiatives underway that make sure that happens (see my post in January of this year).

As we all battle the hot days of August in Memphis, it might be a refreshing to think about all we are doing to across the community to ensure our city – our region – claims its leadership role in many different aspects or our ever-greening world.