Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sierra Club Holds First Tampa Bay Student Sustainability Summit

It was a packed house for the first ever
Tampa Bay Student Sustainability Summit at Eckerd College
[photo credit: David Hastings]
On Saturday November 23, sixty students representing six Tampa Bay area colleges came together to network, share ideas, and build a framework to address climate change locally. The Tampa Bay Student Sustainability Summit was facilitated and organized by a group of Sierra Club interns and their theme was “Think Globally, Act Locally.”  The three hour event was designed to bring together the best and brightest community and student leaders for a day of sharing, planning, and collaborating.

Climate change is real, is getting worse, and it’s related to human activities.  The students agreed that in order to address climate change and build a resilient community, local leaders must come together to collaborate and ensure that we aren’t operating alone in our respective silos.  Many students are putting significant time and energy into sustainability projects on campus but how can they channel some of their energy into a community and regional focus? On the flip side, community groups are hard at work at the community level but how can they utilize the enthusiasm and creativity that is so readily available among our youth leaders?

The urban agriculture breakout
 group got a tour of
Eckerd College's impressive
garden and compost operation.
[photo credit: Kristie Lafavore]
 The students invited representatives from environmental non-profits, as well as student leaders from every school in the Tampa Bay area, to share their perspectives. The day started with inspiring presentations from local community groups working on everything from clean energy to open space preservation to urban agriculture.   The community groups spoke on their organization’s priorities and the various ways students could get involved.  Student leaders from area colleges then shared their own campus priorities with regard to sustainability. From education, to energy efficiency, to resource conservation, colleges and universities often serve as a beacon of sustainability and provide an important source of creativity and knowledge to their surrounding community. Many students are pioneering innovative solutions to address climate change and it was both inspiring and impressive to see youth taking on such enormous challenges.  After the campus presentations, students and community group leaders broke into four focus groups: urban agriculture, clean energy, green transportation, and restoration/conservation to outline community priorities and build consensus.

Sierra Club interns Katy Seyffer and
Max Carfagno debrief the results of
their breakout group discussion. 
The day ended with a debrief session and the most important lesson that was revealed was the need for less talk and more action.  The students raised the idea of creating their own Tampa Bay Student Sustainability Council that will work together to create an action plan to address the local causes and effects of climate change.  Rather than working in silos and limiting their activism to their respective campuses, the students agreed to expand their focus and think regionally.  It’s not just about sending petitions to the White House and fighting for good environmental policy at the state and federal level.  Although those things are important and necessary, building resilient communities and reducing our carbon footprint can happen in other unexpected ways. Community gardens in low income neighborhoods, farm-to-school programs, energy efficiency, public transportation, and zero emission vehicles are just a few of the projects that the students agreed were most important.