Green group refines its focus

Green Living & Energy Education kicked off its Sustainable Solutions series with a discussion of the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative’s biodiesel-powered fleet.

In the coming months, the series will explore a different aspect of sustainability, featuring workshops and expert speakers to help Keys residents, businesses and government officials learn more about resource conservation, alternative fuels, healthy living, green buildings and more.

The monthly series — planned for venues throughout the Keys — is a first for the 5-year-old organization, which started 2011 with a tweak to its organizational structure and a narrower focus.

New Chairman Steve Grasley said a combination of things — including a tough economy and the unique challenges of living in a 120-mile island chain — had the group spread too thin.

“Instead of doing a million things, the focus is going to be on two,” says Grasley, who leads the board of directors; GLEE will work with Keys businesses and government to adopt more sustainable practices.

That means a focus on the group’s Green Business program, which helps teach business how to cut consumption of electricity and water and reduce waste, and the Keyswide Sustainability Project, now known as Green Government, which will gather policymakers twice a year to talk about Keys-specific sustainability issues.

For 2011, at least, there won’t be a return of the annual GLEE Expo. While the one-day winter/spring event was a success in many ways, Grasley says, it wasn’t meeting its goal as the nonprofit’s main fundraiser. He’s hoping it will be back in 2012.

In the meantime, the group’s newly formed committees will work on expanding GLEE’s membership rolls, getting more people involved in its day-to-day activities and spreading the word about what it does.

As the nonprofit’s newly titled executive director, founder and former president Alison Higgins is taking on a more manageable role honing GLEE’s special projects, a task she relishes.

The decision to back off of its constantly expanding role came out of the board’s annual strategy session, Grasley says. “It’s sacrificing quantity for quality.”

That’s an approach that makes sense to member Jody Smith Williams, who stepped down from her longtime leadership post because she wanted to focus on her family’s chiropractic and nutrition business.

“I think GLEE has been very effective in raising awareness, advocating for legislative action on green issues, and offering action-oriented assistance for residents, businesses and policymakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more green,” Williams says.

But its successes also taxed its resources.

“Many people don’t realize that GLEE’s work is carried out with limited resources of one full-time staff person, the board and volunteers. Everyone associated with GLEE is very passionate about the mission, so it can be difficult to keep the passions from continually adding to the agenda.”

Williams continues to be involved in GLEE’s community garden in Key West, as well as topics like healthy living and waste reduction.

It’s hoped that GLEE’s monthly Green Drinks gatherings — one in each region of the Keys — will help build its membership, and its in-depth website — — will see more traffic from residents interested in a range of topics that hit close to home, such as water conservation. (South Florida is experiencing another record drought.)

As the group grows a stronger and broader foundation, it’s likely its mission will expand again.

“There’s just this giant snowball,” Grasley says of green issues, “but it’s got to start somewhere.”

How to help

Green Living & Energy Education wants to add to its cadre of volunteers.

Interested in helping out? Here’s what they’re looking for: a green business program ambassador; assistants to help plan the biannual green government program and monthly Sustainable Solutions series; and green drinks host and/or hostesses in the Middle and Lower Keys.

Each requires a monthly commitment of 10 to 15 hours.

Send an email to for more information about any of the volunteer posts.