December 14, 2012

Werner Braun: Valuing our natural resources

— It was just six weeks ago that the foliage of our surrounding forests was in full brilliance, trees ablaze in shades of orange, yellow and red.  

At about the same time, regional sponsors teamed up for the 18th annual Conasauga Watershed Cleanup, a day for area volunteers to show their appreciation for the Conasauga River by clearing its banks and shallow waters of debris.

The Conasauga River Watershed is a critical resource for us in northwest Georgia, as it’s the primary source of water for the carpet industry.  

In my role as CEO of the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), the importance of natural resources and sustainability is always on my mind. So I’m always happy to see that day roll around when the United Way of Northwest Georgia’s Make a Difference Day and Georgia’s Annual Waterway Cleanup, Rivers Alive team up each year to host the event.

The carpet industry has always been very supportive of preserving and protecting the Conasauga Watershed, and many of our CRI members, including Shaw Industries, J&J Industries and Mohawk Industries, are also sponsors of the Conasauga Watershed Cleanup, as are Dalton Utilities, the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Management Authority, the Nature Conservancy and the Conasauga River Alliance. All of our manufacturing members are represented on the river by their employees who dedicate a Saturday morning to help make our community a better place.

But as we all know, maintaining a healthy watershed is not a one-day project, and there are a number of interesting educational efforts being made to teach the young, and maybe “not so young,” about the value of our local natural resources.

In addition to his work with the Conasauga River Cleanup, CRI’s Director of Regulatory Issues Jeff Carrier has had the chance to spend several days on the river as an adult chaperone accompanying Mrs. Underwood’s and Mrs. Ryerson’s seventh-grade classes from North Whitfield Middle School. For the past three years, Jeff had the chance to become a student again, taking field trips on a yellow school bus to learn more about this amazing natural resource close to home and pass on a little bit of his knowledge to the kids.

The Conasauga River is unique in many ways. One of the six most biologically diverse rivers in the country, it is home to 24 endangered species and about a dozen or more imperiled species. The river is home to the Conasauga log perch, a fish found nowhere else in the world. More than 90 species of fish and 25 fresh water mussels live in the Conasauga, making it more diverse than even much larger rivers, including the Colorado.

Because of his experience in industry, Jeff was asked to help run water quality tests measuring pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, phosphorous and turbidity. And, because he was “game,” Jeff was also called upon to lead a group of 16 middle schoolers on a snorkeling expedition in the fast current, searching for those unique fish and mussels. It’s an opportunity that Jeff looks forward to each year and he is currently helping to plan for this year’s crop of seventh-graders.

Oh his blog, Jeff muses about how impressive it is that today’s students are being introduced to the ideas of sustainability of resources in ways in which his generation — and mine — were not.

“One thing that makes me certain that the widespread interest in sustainability is a long-term sign of things to come is that it’s being taught in schools,” he reflects. “It’s amazing to me the extent to which sustainability is integrated into the science curriculum of this middle school and many others like it.

“Seventh-graders are now learning about life cycle analysis and closed-loop manufacturing. My generation was not presented with that information in science education until much later, if at all.”

I encourage everyone to contact a teacher at a local school — any grade or discipline — and offer your support. You’ll be amazed how much benefit you will receive in return!


Werner Braun is chief executive officer of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.