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Groups partner to focus on green efforts for the environment
An inmate sweeps up plastic bottles Friday inside the Hall County Recycling Center in Gainesville. The county is joining with other local agencies to form an environmental management system with the goal of improving efficiency and promoting green ideas. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Hall County is paving new territory by beginning a countywide environmental management system that will coordinate the green efforts of nearly a dozen local agencies.

The system will bring partners from local governments, industries, schools and nonprofits together to improve efficiency, save costs and promote sustainability.

Many of the partners already have their own green efforts, but the collaboration will create more potential for grant funding.

Natural Resources Coordinator Rick Foote said he knows of only three other similar programs nationwide, including one in Bartow County.

"We can get involved, be proactive or get left behind in the green movement," Foote said.

Foote said the program, which is voluntary and nonregulatory, will save costs and help the environment.

"Some might think it's government intervention, some might think its a tree-hugger movement when it's actually neither. It's capitalizing on the natural resources we have," Foote said.

There are 11 organizations that have pledged their support including the city of Flowery Branch, ZF Industries, SKF, Gainesville Public Utilities Department, Elachee Nature Center and Lanier Career Academy.

"I would expect us to add to that considerably once we get under way," Foote said.

He said the variety of partners will make the environmental management system beneficial for the whole community.

"It's exciting," Foote said.

Funding for the environmental management system will be provided by existing grant money.

Elachee Nature Center has already committed to provide matching funds for an energy planning and implementation of community-based energy projects grant.

"I welcome the opportunity to collaborate," said Andrea Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee Nature Center.

Sam Rundell of SKF said the partnership will be good for industry.

"It's not an obstacle, it's more of a valuable tool," Rundell said. "We've actually been able to lower our operating expenses by organizing better our recycling efforts and energy reduction. It's a good system to get everybody working in the same direction."

Commissioner Ashley Bell said the development of the system is a significant achievement.

"This will for once make Hall County a place to go for job creation over our neighbors," Bell said. "This puts us ahead of getting green jobs over Gwinnett, Forsyth and everybody around us. We'll be the first to have a real, green county."