HCC's Beyond Sustainability conference looks at new ways to go green

11/04/11 Janelle Irwin
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As outrage over irresponsible environmental practices builds, Hillsborough Community College invited dozens of speakers to an annual conference on cleaner living solutions. The Plant City campus of HCC held their Beyond Sustainability event yesterday and today and tackled the issue from multiple angles.

Cory Brennan is a permaculture designer. That means she comes up with plans on how to make things like agriculture and infrastructure as close to self-sustaining as possible. She said something as simple as collecting leaves instead of tossing them in the trash or hauling them off to the dump could do wonders for the environment.

“Well if you just tap into the organic waste in a city like leaves and grass and wasted food and even human waste that has tremendous potential to be valuable and to be able to produce food in a local area that’s very healthy and very organic.”

Barbara Heineken used to be the City of Tampa’s recycling manager. She said companies are starting to realize that participating in recycling programs isn’t just good for the environment; it’s nice on their wallets as well.

“Over the years recycling for businesses and residential has become very much easier to do, everything can go into one bin now. We were here at HCC and they talked about how it’s become so much easier because they can put everything, all of the recyclables into one container. The hauling industry has put millions of dollars into developing facilities where the recyclables can be resorted so that you don’t have to sort at the curb or your business. It all goes into one bin and gets recycled. Very little gets wasted.”

The Beyond Sustainability conference is in its 36th year, but it took on a new agenda this year. That is to foster more community involvement. They had 72 speakers during the day and a half event. One of them, Michele Young said before individuals can start saving the world, they have to save themselves.

“Well, I figure that everything begins at home, home inside our body, so if we’re happy and joyful and have overflow to give and everybody else took responsibility to do the same thing, world peace. You know? We’d be doing what it is that we’re here to do. We’d be impassioned and passion is pass I on, so if everybody would hook up with what they’re passionate about and go forth and do it, we’d have a happier place – a nicer, what is that called – a nicer sand box to play in.”

It may seem like a stretch to look at sustainability from a personal wellness standpoint, but Young wasn’t the only one who thinks a strong sense of self goes a long way in making a change. Lara Dichraff volunteers for The Bridge Tampa, a life sustainability non-profit. She said people need to realize the mutually beneficial relationship between nature and people.

“We’re struggling with this very much exploitation of the earth and how can we move ourselves away from exploiting the earth and really caring about the earth and really seeing, not only that we need to care for the earth, but also that we’re human and we’re animals. And we’re, like, part of nature and we’re part of the stars. I mean if you look at what scientists know about our bodies, we are actually made up of the same material that is out there in nature and the same DNA that many animals have. And now I think there’s a sort of separation that’s occurred over the last several years where we think we’re above nature.”

Julie Henry from Conservation Enterprises Unlimited appreciates that not everyone is going to be so eager to buy into the whole love the earth routine. She said with some people, you just have to find an angle that makes them want to make environmentally responsible decisions.

“Well, one of the strategies that we talked about was making a conscious decision between, on one hand you want to educate people about climate change and want them to know it’s happening and want them to believe it and on the other hand you just want them to do something about it. So, it’s not important that they understand or believe everything about climate change, but that they also know what to do. So, just knowing your audience well and agreeing to disagree or shelve the conversations about climate change and talk about how can we be prepared as a community for what possibly and will possibly happen in the future.”

Jan Johnson agrees. She presented information about an initiative called Expanding World Views that encourages compromise.

“What it basically is, is trying to get us to move away from this clash that we have and the polarization in either politics or economics or religion and try to hear each other. So it comes from, who am I as a person, and becoming more self aware to understanding the other person’s point of view and then what can we do together to make it a better world.”

And of course there’s the idea that money talks. Stuart Valentine founded a company that invests in companies who demonstrate good sustainability practices.

“There’s a real power in how they vote with their dollars at the checkout stand. In the same way, your investment dollar is creative in the market place. Be very careful about how you chose to vote with your investment dollars because capital is highly created. Money is out there building the world that we are living into everyday. So, it’s an opportunity to step back and say, ‘hey, what do I really care about and I want to direct my investments into companies that are actually producing a world that I feel good about.”

The conference concluded today, but people can still participate in the conversation during their kayak tour of Cockroach Bay tomorrow afternoon.

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