Photos: Sustainable Communities

Sustainability in Sarasota: What's Happening Here?

Posted on November 24, 2021 by Michael Zimmerman, TPF Fellow 2021/23
I'm a newcomer to the sustainability arena in Sarasota, and I've been curious to learn more about what our community is doing. I've heard it's helpful to eat less meat, drive less, and advocate when it comes to sustainability. While I can't say my lifestyle currently matches these guidelines, I've been curious to learn why these are priority actions. On the heels of my exploration, I attended the 16th Annual Sustainable Communities Workshop hosted by Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability on November 10th.

Climate Change
The Sustainable Communities Workshop gave our community an extraordinary opportunity to connect, learn, share, evolve, and strengthen under one unique virtual roof. During the workshop, we heard from various experts spanning the spectrum of sustainability initiatives. One of those focus areas was climate change. Experts shared that our sea levels are rising. Although we can't do much about that at this point, we can control our carbon emissions to lower the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which will help mitigate the drastic effects and lower the intensity of natural disasters. Did you know wildfires, hurricanes, and many other natural disasters result from excess greenhouse gases in our atmosphere? Reducing carbon emissions happens by consuming less gasoline and can also be curbed by eating less meat as cows release methane into the atmosphere.

Another focus was Social Equity and Inclusion, which included a panel of experts who shared more about how climate change affects the most vulnerable people and populations. Members of the community need access to affordable housing and affordable cooling as cooling costs to combat Earth's higher temperatures will become increasingly expensive in the future.

The program also embraced Youth Voice. Next-Gen leaders shared their concerns regarding climate change, including the mishandling of our planet by past generations. The multigenerational audience was blown away by the emerging leaders in climate change advocacy and education.

Water Quality
Have you stopped to think about where your water comes from and where it goes when you are finished? Most cities in our region (Sarasota, Englewood, and Venice) heavily rely on groundwater. Bigger municipalities (Manatee County, Sarasota County, and the City of North Port) rely primarily on surface water. Water moves from 5,000 miles of pipe to 24 storage tanks to 7 water treatment plants to 27 pump stations to 14 distribution interconnects to 12 authority delivery points and serves 780,000 customers. Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority is the main water supplier serving our entire area. Did you know for the average Florida home, half of the water is used for outdoor irrigation? Source: Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority

In 2007, Sarasota County took a crucial step toward improving water quality by adopting the Fertilizer and Landscape Management Ordinance. This ordinance aims to help address the widespread and challenging environmental issue of nutrient pollution throughout our local waterways. Although nutrients are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, excessive amounts create an imbalance that may lead to fish kills and algae blooms.

The ordinance restricts fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous between June 1st and September 30th. Additionally, it strictly prohibits grass clippings and vegetative material from being intentionally or accidentally discharged into water bodies, roadways, storm water drains, ditches, and conveyances throughout the year. This ordinance applies to everyone, from homeowners to landscape contractors. Source: Sarasota County Government

Coyote Stories Changing the World
Known as "The Storyteller" in the Indigenous language of the Nez Perce Tribe, Tai Simpson, a social change advocate, explored how indigenous communities assert sovereignty as a way to build a balanced relationship with nature by rejuvenating old ways of knowing.

The Storyteller fiercely advocated for locals to include indigenous people in power positions and conversations concerning the land. She shared that the U.S. is only a few hundred years old to most Americans, but it's thousands of years old to the First Nations.

How do we evolve and strengthen to live with sustainability in mind?

Now I understood the why behind “eat less meat, drive less, and advocate,” but I walked away from the workshop with more questions:
  • What is this community's shared aspiration for living sustainably?
  • What conversations are currently happening?
  • Where and when will we continue these conversations?

This was a thought-starter for Suncoast Remake Learning Days to offer an endeavor for multi-site [sustainability] events across Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties. Suncoast Remake Learning Days is a 10-day festival of FREE, experiential learning events for children and families organized by learning themes, including the arts, maker spaces, outdoor learning, science, technology, and youth voice. In addition, there will be professional development opportunities for school, out-of-school, child care, and non-traditional educators. (Think of it as the world’s largest multi-venue open house for hands-on learning from April 29th to May 8th, 2022.)

This endeavor can give our communities more opportunities to come together and engage in various events that further conversations around sustainability and our shared aspirations. Learn more about Suncoast Remake Learning Days and how you can participate.

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