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Champions of Sustainability in Florida

By: Danielle B. Foster - Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Source: Council for Sustainable Florida

Throughout the state of Florida, there are many individuals, businesses and organizations leaving their “sustainable footprints.” Their practices are as diverse as the state itself. The list of activities is long and includes such actions as: coastal restoration and cleanup, development and implementation of environmental MBA programs, habitat protection and restoration, embracing of best water management practices, and educational programs for all ages.

Today’s world-wide sustainability movement demonstrates how organizations of all sizes, have found a business case that demonstrates how the efficient use of natural resources is good for the bottom line, good for business competitiveness and good for the environment. Florida is no different. Businesses in the Sunshine State see it very clearly: becoming more sustainable means finding news ways of operating – ways to achieve the same outcome with fewer natural resources and less impact on environment and community.

The Council for Sustainable Florida has a proud and proven track record of recognizing those who champion sustainability. Founded in 1990, the Council is one of Florida’s leading organizations that promote best sustainability practices for business, government and non-profits. The organization’s diverse and highly respected members represent every region of the state and are united by a shared commitment to sustainability practices via three pillars: economy, environment, and equity.

The Council for Sustainable Florida is leading the charge.
In 1998, the Council initiated the Sustainable Florida Best Practices Awards to recognize those who exemplify leadership and best practices for sustainability. Each year, the organization formally recognizes businesses, organizations and individuals whose work demonstrates that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are mutually supportive. This statewide forum celebrates those who understand that sustainability delivers dividends not just for the environment and community, but business too.
Recognizing these leaders is only one part of the equation. Promoting winner practices statewide is equally important so that others may benefit from their accomplishments and ultimately implement such important practices. Since the awards program inception, more than 100 businesses, organizations, government agencies and nonprofits have been honored for their innovative work and leadership.

Our 2005 award winners are equally as impressive as their predecessors and equally exemplify sustainability in action. As always, applications were received from a diversity of sectors, including industry, communities, education, finance, investment, government, built environment and public interest groups. Brief summaries of those bestowed the prestigious awards include:

2005 Sustainable Florida Small Business Award
EkkWill Waterlife Resources, Gibsonton

When Tim Hennessey, and his wife Sherry and his brother bought EkkWill in 1981, the business was an aging tropical fish farm that had fallen on hard times. The Hennessey family, however, saw considerable potential. The business was small, but it had a decent earnings record, plus real estate with value. Six months after the purchase, the business was profitable, and today it is one of the world’s largest producers and shippers of freshwater tropical aquarium fish, globally distributing approximately 100 tons of livestock cargo monthly. It is perhaps the largest aquaculture business in Florida. With facilities in Hillsborough and DeSoto Counties, EkkWill Waterlife Resources has developed extensive water management systems and practices that conserve large quantities of water, both within its indoor operations and in pond production systems. EkkWill facilities and methods have been studied by state agencies, and its technology has been shared and embraced by regulatory agencies and used in rule development for Best Management Practices.

• 2005 Sustainable Florida Large Business Award
Universal City Property Management II, LLC, Orlando
Nearly six years ago, Universal Property Management III (UCPM) began one of the largest privately funded remediation projects in the United States. The objective: to clean an extensive amount of groundwater contamination and restore disturbed dehydrated wetlands and a nearly dead natural landscape. These conditions were the result of nearly 40 years of missile testing and development at the Lockhead Martin Missile site in south Orlando. Today the 2,200 acre property has been converted from an environmental liability to an environmental showcase. Through this multi-phase project, 400,000 tons of debris was removed, millions of gallons of contaminated groundwater were removed, treated and recycled back into the aquifer, and wetlands were restored to their former natural habitat. UCPM invested more than $50 million in hazardous material remediation, environmental restoration and infrastructure development. Through this process, the land is being restored to its condition of nearly a half century ago. The project has also positively impacted the local economy with over 10,000 hotel rooms and 6,000 resort rentals added to the area. The total investment value is in excess of $2.5 billion.

2005 Sustainable Florida Government Award
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville & Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Pensacola Northwest Florida is home to some of the most desirable environmental gems and natural resources in the Sunshine State. In the face of increasing pressure for development and build-out of this area, federal and state entities teamed up to address the challenges at hand. The Army Corps of Engineers took the lead on the federal side and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection took the lead role for the state.

The team decided to hold quarterly meetings to discuss issues related to the growth of Northwest Florida and to continually monitor its cumulative impact on the area’s natural resources. The Corps and DEP concluded that a watershed-level permitting regime, which focused on identifying and protecting the region’s environmental treasures, provided predictability and consistency for both the regulators and the regulated. Such a regime also would define a long-term environmental framework within which to evaluate individual development proposals.

During the next four years, the team addressed a large number of issues with the regulatory goal of issuing a regional permit. While the end product is articulated in a permit, the outcome is a long-term conservation strategy ensuring the sustainability of the region’s natural systems has been defined. The Army Corps of Engineers-Jacksonville and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection-Pensacola are recognized for their visionary work in creating a streamlined permitting model, which is now being considered for implementation in other parts of Florida.

• 2005 Sustainable Florida Non-Profit Award
The Community Classroom Consortium, North Florida Region
Sustainability is a continual process of making communities more environmentally sound, culturally sensitive and economically vibrant. Education provides a vehicle for this continuous improvement. However, education is not limited to the classroom--in every community there is a unique assortment of resources that adds a distinct flavor to education through non-formal learning. The Consortium is a coalition of 30 cultural, scientific, natural history and civic organizations that serves to build the capacity for student learning and bring educational resources to areas with the greatest need. Member organizations take part in one or more of the Consortium’s three signature programs
• Through Beyond the Blackboard workshop : Members share their expertise with K-12 teachers
• The After-school Support Project: Allows members to provide enrichment activities for students in after-school programs in the Frenchtown Community of Tallahassee.
• A Teacher Education Grant: Helps three teachers in the north Florida region implement innovative educational programs in their classrooms.
These efforts continue to strengthen the capacity of educators to inspire young learners and promote greater appreciation of the educational, cultural and scientific resources in the community.

2005 Sustainable Florida Business Partnership Award
Hillsborough County Agriculture Industry Development Program, Hillsborough Agriculture Economic Development Council and Hillsborough County Farm Bureau, Tampa
In 1974, Hillsborough County’s long-range plan for the next quarter of a century projected that the county’s population at the turn of the 21st century would be 1.13 million (up from 400,000) and that agriculture would become a relic of the past. During the next 20 years, the alarm over the potential loss of agriculture in Hillsborough County slowly evolved into an assurance that agriculture will not only hold its own, but would prosper in the years to come.

In 1995 the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau took part in the Hillsborough County Agriculture Task Force, a county-appointed advisory board charged with determining the current state of agriculture in Hillsborough County and making recommendations to improve the industry’s economic sustainability. Among the suggestions of the Task Force was a recommendation that the county form an Agriculture Economic Development Council, comprised of agribusiness, local chambers of commerce, government, industry and business leaders.

This Council and the Agriculture Industry Development Program began in 1998 and the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau president was given a permanent position on the Council, along with other Farm Bureau board of director members with appointed seats. To demonstrate the current state of the industry, the Task Force commissioned an economic impact study which revealed that agriculture had an economic impact of $1.5 billion per year on the county and provided a tax surplus to the county.

The study also confirmed that the opportunity cost of agriculture could compete very well with development. This partnership between the Hillsborough County Agriculture Industry Development Program, the Hillsborough County Agriculture Economic Development Council, and the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau is a model for encouraging the long-term continuation of agriculture.

• 2005 Sustainable Florida Leadership Award
Stan Carter of McArthur Farms—Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach
There are more species of aquatic plants and fish in the waters of the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary than in any other place in the world, making this east central Florida area a most attractive and popular tourist and recreation spot. To ensure the protection of these valued water resources, the Indian River Citrus League, a 900-member grower trade association, joined forces with the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture to assemble a set of best management practices. The goal was to improve the quality, quantity and timing of water draining into the St. Lucie Estuary. The Citrus League’s Production Committee, chaired by Stan Carter of McArthur Farms, took command of addressing these important water quality issues. Joining in this master undertaking were more than 16 regulatory agencies, and a number of environmental associations and growers groups all involved in the difficult task of crafting a universal set of practices. Today the Best Management Practices Manual serves as a living document that is ever-changing as research continues to evolve. The Indian River Citrus Best Management Practices have been so highly regarded that they are now being form fitted into the Peace River citrus growing region and the Gulf growing region. In addition, they are now being adapted to other agricultural commodities as well as being incorporated into the state’s agriculture water policy.

• Hurricane Heroic Award for a Sustainable Florida
Florida Power & Light Company, Juno Beach
With little time to react between the onslaught of storms that hit Florida in 2004, Florida Power & Light Company employees worked around the clock to restore essential services to Floridians and reduce the economic impact to the affected communities. Three of the four storms roared through the Florida Power & Light Company’s service area, buffeting power plants, downing power poles and electric wires, and resulting in nearly 5.5 million power outages. During this difficult period, more than 2.6 million phone calls were handled by FPL’s customer care centers. In the field, more than 13,000 power poles, 11,000 transformers and 1,700 miles of conductor were replaced to restore the electric system and on average, nearly 8,000 trucks and other vehicles were put on the road to make repairs after each storm. In the aftermath of the storms, more than 30 truckloads of materials were delivered by FPL suppliers every day. Working around the clock in this unprecedented restoration effort, FPL and its employees joined with customers in a spirit of social responsibility by raising nearly $1.4 million for the American Red Cross and the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

• 2005 WCI Green Building Award
Diane Marshall, Key Largo
As a resident of Key Largo, Diane Marshall knows that resource conservation and reducing human impact on the environment are crucial. On a mission to create a home that imparts a small environmental “footprint” while retaining all of the creature comforts, Diane and her husband, John Hammerstrom, began researching green building practices.
Their research culminated with Diane and John designing and building a self-sustaining green home. Diane and John’s green home has low-flow plumbing, a drip watering system, xeriscaping and a 7,500 gallon rainwater cistern.

There is also a solar hot water heater, a heat-reflecting white metal roof, long roof overhangs, colonial shutters that protect from windstorms and solar heating, and organic compound paints and finishes.

Believing that others on the Keys would want to know how this concept works, Diane single-handedly rallied the interest of businesses and organizations around the state including the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, Florida Energy Extension Service, the Florida Solar Energy Center and the Florida Green Building Coalition.

She organized speakers and workshops and assembled the first Green Living Expo in the Florida Keys, drawing an attendance of 1300. WCI Communities, Inc., a leading builder of green homes in Florida, initiated this award in 2005 to recognize individuals who are leaders for sustainability and green building. As the first winner of the WCI Green Building Award, Diane Marshall serves as the catalyst for future green building in perhaps one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive areas.

• 2005 Sustainable Florida Educator Award
Dr. Katherine Dew and Dr. Kris Thoemke, Naples
Before meeting as faculty members at International College in Naples, Florida, Katherine Dew and Kris Thoemke had amassed extensive experience in community education on environmental issues. Dr. Dew focused on influencing decisions to support sustainable tourism and define the implications of carrying capacity in the Florida Keys.

In the 1990s, Dr. Thoemke was the host of a popular PBS television series, Exploring Florida, which provided viewers with a basic understanding of Florida’s environment and its connection to people. The two scholar/practitioners were dismayed at the education gap that markedly hindered decision makers who were increasingly dealing with sustainability issues that affected the environment, the quality of life and the economy. It was this shared recognition that practitioners needed new models for leadership that brought the two together to introduce sustainability into the business curriculum at International College.

Through the Educational Alliance for a Sustainable Florida, a joint project of the Council for Sustainable Florida and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Dr. Dew and Dr. Thoemke authored a series of case studies. These real-world models and new techniques are helping adult learners and traditional students understand how to combine environmental protection with the needs of economic growth.

As evidenced by the award winners, Florida is making great progress in its quest for a sustainable state. Over the last fifteen years, the council has grown into a unique organization with an impact far beyond its size. We will continue to serve as a catalyst for positive change, a convener and an educator. We will continue making the business of Florida sustainable.

Contact us at www.sustainableflorida.orgto learn more.

Danielle B. Foster
Council for Sustainable Florida
Collins Center for Public Policy, Inc.
1415 E. Piedmont Drive, Suite One
Tallahassee, FL 32308
V: 850.219.0082, ext. 104
F: 850.219.0491

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