Small Towns Making a Big Difference: World Environment Day

By Christina Viscelli, Green Connections  

Longboat Key Club
Longboat Beach Club golf course and marina

Longboat Beach Club golf course and marina The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is initiating a facilities improvement project that will save them upwards of $100,000 a year in electricity and water expenses.  When Longboat Key Club decided to stop using plastic and styrofoam cups, they eliminated more than 1 million non-biodegradable items from the waste stream in Sarasota, Florida. These are part of their respective collaborations with Sarasota’s Green Business Partnership, a joint effort among businesses, business organizations, and the county government, which has certified 195 Sarasota businesses based on strict energy, water, and waste reduction standards since 2006.  

To be certified by the SGBP, businesses must identify and implement a specific number of applicable standards on the list and pass an on-site assessment. They must comply with potential conservation efforts, such as doing two-sided printing and using brooms rather than hoses to clean sidewalks. And, as evidenced by the Ringling Museum, In addition to environmental conservation, this certification translates to cost savings too.

The SGB partnership demonstrates what happens when an environmentally mindful community rises up in action – and why Sarasota was chosen to host this year’s North American World Environment Day (WED), June 5, 2014, organized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

“You don’t have to live in a very urban environment to make environmental improvements,” according to Sarasota’s Sustainability Manager, Lee Hayes Byron. 

Byron said people usually think of major metropolitan areas taking big, environmental and innovative steps, not smaller places like suburban Florida. She added that the UN’s bringing World Environment Day to Sarasota illuminates the important actions that are being taken in smaller areas too. 

Sarasota serves as an opportune host for the festivities. This year’s WED theme is Small Island Developing States – a 2014 theme designated by the UN – and Sarasota, Florida shares some of the same environmental challenges and opportunities as small island nations, because it’s also on the coast. 

WED is UNEP’s driver for awareness and action. It serves to spur positive action on an individual level, and to create a big-picture consideration and focus on the environment.

For Sarasota, its citizens were the leading advocates for environmental improvements. They agreed to make big changes early on in the game – back in 1991 – by voting to mandate curbside recycling, and their momentum has accelerated from there.  In 1999, they voted to increase their taxes by a quarter-cent for every dollar of their property values in order to protect environmentally sensitive lands, and in 2005 extended it until 2029.

This grassroots enthusiasm has extended outward. Now, area businesses, the county government, schools, including the University of Florida, and local organizations all play a part in creating a thoroughly sustainable community. “What we’re proud of is a balanced approach around a multidisciplinary [perspective] to environmental priorities,” Byron said.  Sustainability is addressed on all levels, from education to government policy and initiatives in the private sector.

Through free irrigation audits performed by the University of Florida Extension Sarasota County, residents now save upwards of 1.9 million gallons of water annually. These sorts of savings, plus initiatives like Longboat Key Club’s elimination of styrofoam cups, are especially impactful for coastal communities, where water quality and conservation directly link to community health. 

World Environment Day events in Sarasota will be held from April 27th to June 5th (from Earth Day to World Environment Day), kicking off at their annual Earth Day community fair with live music, a children’s coloring contest, a puppet show, and planting of native aquatic flora.  Sarasota has a wide range of events for all ages planned in the following six weeks, including guided kayak tours, a day of free public transit and park booths where people can learn about alternative modes of transport, environmental art classes, and school field trips.

For more information on the Sarasota County Green Partnership: and on World Environment Day: (