Electric buses, urban farms and energy-conscious buildings were local projects and efforts recognized during the inaugural Sustainable Leadership Awards ceremony.
The awards, presented by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and the Environmental Defense Fund, were held in St. Pete for the first time Tuesday evening, at the Birchwood hotel.
“We have really high hopes for what we want this to accomplish in the long run. St. Petersburg is in a pivotal movement at this time, there’s this explosive growth happening,” St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO Jason Mathis said, describing how it’s important to bring attention to organizations prioritizing environmentally sustainable goals. “We know as we grow, we have an opportunity to become the most resilient city in not just the state of Florida or the U.S., but the world.”
Dawn Shirreffs, EDF director for Florida, added, “all of us in Florida are vulnerable to severe hurricanes, heat, rainfall, droughts and floods.”
She reminded the crowd how St. Petersburg truly dodged a bullet when Hurricane Ian changed course, but our neighbors to the South suffered greatly.
“You can see which buildings were built pre- and post-[Hurricane] Andrew in Fort Myers,” she said regarding how building codes evolved over time, which was evident as older homes were carried away or decimated by the storm.
“You look at places where we used nature-based infrastructure to protect our coastlines and the data is coming out that those places were spared the worst of the storm surge. We have the solutions,” she said.
IMPACT CATALYST: Dawn Shirreffs
Shirreffs provided the example of Babcock Ranch, a community north of Fort Myers that garnered national attention as it weathered the storm’s impacts due to how it embraces innovative solutions, including utilizing a solar panel grid, underground power lines, ponds that protect houses from flooding and streets designed to absorb floodwaters.
Betsy Gardner Eckbert, CEO and President of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, adding to the theme, also spoke at the podium to provide an example of how her chamber is focusing on environmental stewardship.
Through a “golden triangle” approach, which involves the private, public and independent (nonprofit) sectors, it allows environmental groups to not shoulder the burden alone in implementing policies and projects.
The chamber spent several months conducting surveys and having community conversations to determine the metrics that matter in gauging Winter Park’s economic recovery – both the successes and areas that need attention and focus. It recently unveiled its Prosperity Scorecard, which incorporates ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles to measure the area’s social and governance issues as well. By using hard data, this type of information can lead to needed changes, Eckbert said.
Meet the awardees
Institutional award recipient: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) was recognized for making sustainability and climate resilience an integral part of its business practices.
In 2021, PSTA developed a Sustainable Strategic Plan to improve energy efficiency and ensure all agency initiatives are sustainable. These measures include upgrading the HVAC system (in 2018) and transitioning light fixtures to be fully LED, and initiate recycling options for its 30,000 daily transit customers. To date, 90% of light fixtures at the administration and operations buildings as well as off-site transit centers are now LED, according to PSTA.
PSTA was also recognized for its purchase of 60 electric buses, which it will receive over the next five years to reach its goal of having an ell-electric bus fleet.
Additionally, PSTA is adding solar panels to its facilities to charge its electric vehicles.
Retail award recipient: Brick Street Farms
Known for converting shipping containers into urban farms, St. Petersburg-based Brick Street Farms conserves energy and recycles water in all of its farming units.
The shipping containers-turned- hydroponic farms grow leafy greens and herbs in a technology-based, climate-controlled environment. The container units house rows of various crops that are harvested year-round.
Each 40-foot shipping container produces the equivalent amount of produce a traditional farm can generate on two to three acres.
The containers use 15 gallons of water per day, which is less than the amount of water typically used in an average shower.
The group also recently opened a new onsite market.
Developer award recipient: Stoneweg U.S.
In 2021, multifamily builder Stoneweg established a goal of offering 100% recycling options at all of its locations by the end of 2023.
St. Petersburg-based Stoneweg is currently seeking a Green Globe building certification for its Lake Maggiore Apartments project, a 330-unit, mixed-income apartment development underway at 6th Street South.
The certification is used as a rating system for buildings that use sustainable materials, and ultimately saves on costs for both the developer and tenants.
Stoneweg is the same group that’s proposing to redevelop the Coquina Key Shopping Plaza.