On this day last year, we marked the 50th observation of Earth Day—a milestone marred by a strange threat that held us in our homes. While shutdowns brought clearer skylines and cleaner beaches for a time, our glimpse of nature as it once existed was shortsighted. Our climate is still in danger.
Over the last five years, cross-sector collaboration between Sarasota City and County governments, nonprofits, private businesses, and major philanthropies has forged an
alliance that is committed to promoting sustainability and healthier, greener practices within our region. We have much to celebrate.
One effort, dubbed Partners for Green Places, has taken a holistic look at how our nonprofit sector can utilize energy and water efficiency improvements. A piloted grant program has allowed 16 organizations to receive sustainability overhauls to their facilities, not only reducing strain on the climate but also saving tens of thousands of dollars in operating costs—money that is reinvested into their missions.
This work was done in tandem with Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation’s vision to install the largest private solar array on the roof of Girls Inc. in 2019, a development that now saves the organization more than $20,000 a year. Since then, donors from Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and our friends at Selby Foundation have joined in to make solar energy a viable option for local nonprofits. These efforts also helped to draw the attention of Southface Institute to Sarasota, a major national organization working to promote sustainable communities.
We are also impressed by our local governments’ sustainability teams, in partnership with the University of Florida’s IFAS extension, who have shared incredible accomplishments through their work. Through a partnership with FPL’s SolarTogether program, the City of Sarasota recently went from operating on 3% renewable energy to more than 70%. The County is following on a similar path—currently 16 County facilities are certified green buildings, with three more in progress. We are also eagerly waiting to witness the impact of Sarasota’s new superintendent, Dr. Brennan Asplen, who has made a commitment to a greener school district.
While we need to protect our planet now, our efforts need to be carried into the future by our children. It was important to Chuck and Margie that Barancik Foundation invest in educational opportunities in nature. Through investing in a partnership called Project Nature Bridge, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Selby Gardens, Mote Laboratory, and local youth-serving organizations are working to help kids explore outdoor learning and create the next generation of conservationists. So far more than 1375 students have benefitted from nature’s classroom.
What all these endeavors have shown is that the small actions of many in our community can have a big impact. Like Margie said, “we can’t change the world, but we can change pieces of it and hope for a ripple effect.”
In the same year that Earth Day went global, a little-known scientific accomplishment occurred. On February 14, 1990, a lone satellite passed the 4-billion-mile mark away from earth, just clearing the outer edges of our solar system. Voyager 1 looked back and took a grainy picture of scattered rays of light. Amidst them, Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a pale blue dot.
To mark the occasion, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote somewhat of a love poem to our planet:
That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives …
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
Teri A Hansen is President|CEO of Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation