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2009 Green Team 

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How’s this for a daunting task: help decide how the city of Atlanta — whose government is responsible for emitting 540,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year — can grow in a sustainable way, mirroring such cities as Chicago and Seattle.

Oh, and while you’re at it, you need to reduce those greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent in the next three years.

Now, try planning a green wedding at the same time.

Mandy Schmitt, the city’s director of sustainability, is doing all three.

Working in conjunction with Sustainable Atlanta, Schmitt is helping draft the city’s Climate Action Plan. Among its goals: reducing energy use in municipal buildings by 10 percent, water use by 5 percent and the municipal fleet’s fossil fuel use by 3 percent.

“It’s quite a challenge,” Schmitt admits. But she’s optimistic about the city’s efforts to ease the wear and tear that urban living has cost the environment.

Schmitt says Georgia’s showing signs of promise — approving tax incentives for energy-efficiency, for instance. But she says it can do more to give back to Mother Earth, especially when it comes to taking advantage of the state’s natural strengths.

Compared to such eco-minded states as North Carolina and New Jersey, Schmitt says, Georgia is viewed by environmental experts as “virgin territory.”

“In one way, that's horrible, because we're behind the curve.” But she adds that there’s an upside: The state can learn from those success stories as clean energy technologies and sustainability practices decrease in cost. And federal incentives, such as President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, will help in that effort.  

She also says a state policy on renewable energy must be created before real change can come. “We have to go further,” she says. “We cannot settle.”

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