Group aiming for a greener Monroe

Environmental champions have fanned out across the Keys with a renewed sense of energy and direction following last month’s inaugural Keyswide Sustain-Ability Project meeting.

The gathering, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Green Living & Energy Education, was held May 24 at the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative building in Marathon. The event drew 57 attendees, including representatives of Keys municipalities, three utilities, the Monroe County school board, a wastewater treatment district and several businesses, as well as interested residents.

GLEE’s president, Alison Higgins, said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.

“We had only received 43 RSVP’s, so we were scrambling for chairs for everyone. And what impressed me most,” Higgins said, “was the level of people who took time out of their day to come. It set me very much at ease knowing that so many people are on the same page right now.”

Mayors and staff from Islamorada, Marathon, Key Colony Beach and Layton were in attendance. Monroe County sent a contingent of 10, led by Mayor Mario Di Gennaro. School Superintendent Randy Acevedo and school board member Debra Walker also joined the meeting.

Florida Keys Community College, the city of Key West and Waste Management were invited to attend but did not send representatives.

“I know the city (Key West) was really busy that week, and the college just hired a new president,” Higgins said. “I’m not sure what the reason was for Waste Management not attending, but I’m hopeful they’ll join us next time.”

Greg Sullivan, district manager for Waste Management, said no one from his organization was able to attend because he was short-staffed that week.

“It was actually just an unfortunate timing thing,” Sullivan said. “It is a good, good project and we want to participate.”

KSAP organizers asked those in attendance to pledge to undertake three action steps. They were:

u Passage of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in their communities. The agreement charges communities with meeting or beating the 2005 Kyoto protocol targets, as well as urging their state and federal governments to do the same. Signers also vow to lobby the U.S. Congress to pass bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation. Higgins applauded the mayors of Marathon and Key West for having already signed this agreement, and said any group — not just governments — can adopt the language contained in the agreement.

u Join ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability, USA Inc.) by June 30. Higgins said ICLEI is a nonprofit organization that provides tools, resources and technical assistance to local governments seeking to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

u Establish two KSAP Steering Committee liaisons and agree to attend KSAP meetings on a quarterly or as-needed basis. The liaisons will work with KSAP’s steering committee to set the agenda for quarterly meetings and will give progress reports on how their municipality, agency or organization is faring. The liaisons will also work with GLEE to establish “Green Teams” in their regions. Higgins envisions each community’s Green Team as being a mix of citizens, business people and policymakers who she said would “translate KSAP’s broad message into action on the local level.”

Higgins said attendees unanimously agreed to take all three steps.

“I asked, ‘Who’s with me?’ and the entire room had their hands up,” Higgins said. “It was amazing.”

She said those in attendance added a fourth action step for good measure — to return to their communities and switch to energy-saving lighting in at least one building.

Expo going annual

Now that the first KSAP meeting has adjourned on a high note, GLEE members have turned an optimistic eye to the future. Higgins said the group has already set aside the first weekend in May 2008 for the next GLEE Expo, which will bring exhibitors, workshops, and vendors to the Keys to showcase the latest in green living.

Higgins gave credit to Monroe County commissioners, who on May 16 approved an annual contribution of $5,000 toward each year’s Expo.

“The board of county commissioner’s unanimous approval of $5,000 annual baseline funding for the Expo will enable GLEE to raise the bar on providing professional exhibitors, speakers and resources to the citizens, businesses and policy-makers throughout the Keys,” Higgins said. “GLEE applauds Commissioner (George) Neugent’s challenge to the rest of the municipalities, agencies and organizations to match the county’s allocation.”

Neugent said he suggested the funding and issued the challenge because he is convinced an annual Expo would not only lead to a better quality of life in the Keys, but also result in increased tourism dollars.

“Based upon the turnout at the (2007) Expo, which I attended, I saw there was a clear interest among residents and visitors,” Neugent said. “It had success written all over it. I have no doubt the other municipalities will answer the challenge.”

This weekend, Higgins said GLEE members are going on a retreat to visit Pinellas County’s Green Expo to generate ideas for the Keys’ event in May. She said the group will stay in certified green lodging accommodations and will eat in “green recommended” restaurants while on their trip.

“We want to look at places like that because we are hoping to translate those ideas to the Keys,” Higgins said. “We’d very much like to see that happen here.”

Higgins said GLEE members are excited about what the future holds.

“Our potential has exponentially increased within the last three months,” Higgins continued. “We need to take a look at where we’re going.”