CLEARWATER — The city will hold its first sustainability conference on Oct. 19, and the city’s new sustainability coordinator, Sheridan Boyle, hopes it changes the way residents manage their homes and yards. She wants to hear answers, not worries.
“The whole purpose of the conference is to speak more on the solutions for protecting the environment than on the problem,” Boyle said. “We want attendees to bring optimism — and maybe a pen and piece of paper for taking notes.”
The conference, which is co-sponsored by the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition and the Suncoast Sierra Club, is called “Building Better Neighborhoods Through Sustainability: A Toolkit for Positive Change.”
The neighborhoods coalition, consisting of residents in dozens of communities across the city, and the local Sierra Club, with more than 2,700 members in Pinellas, West Pasco and West Hernando counties, help raise the visibility of the conference.
Speakers include Jana Wiggins, chief executive of Clearwater-based Ocean Allies, the group leading the charge to ban Styrofoam, non-biodegradable plastic straws and other pollutants from the Clearwater beach community; Bryan Beckman, an environmentalist with the Suncoast Sierra Club; and Amanda Street of the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance, who will talk about Florida-friendly landscaping.
Wiggins’ talk, "Waste Not, Want Not," focuses on avoiding single-use plastics in the home and businesses and how locals can support ocean-friendly businesses.
Beckman will speak about energy conservation in the home, and Street, who owns Living Roots Eco Design in Clearwater, will discuss the benefits of permaculture. Permaculture, which uses observation of nature to create regenerative systems, teaches homeowners and businesses the art of using rainfall, pond collection, native plants, and other benevolent methods to create resilient, low-impact, backyard environments.
According to Street, residents can landscape their yards to support native animals and maximize rainfall.
“Some native plants can attract butterflies at different stages of their life cycles,” Street said. “If you plant passionflower in your garden or under your trellis, it will attract caterpillars that eat it. It serves as a larval host plant for three different kinds of butterflies.”
She also recommends planting American Beautyberry, an ornamental native shrub of the Southern United States that produces large clusters of purple berries, which birds and deer eat, thus distributing the seeds.
“Adding compost to the garden soil helps the garden better absorb rainwater, too, reducing the amount of water that’s lost to runoff,” she said.
Sheridan — who works with the city’s water reclamation program — recommends residents find ways to reclaim and reuse water.
“It rains twice as much rain in one season than the rest of the year,” she said. “Residents can create an infrastructure for retaining rainwater, such as creating rain gardens, building swales in the yard and positioning rain barrels at homes.”
The conference, which will be at the Ross Norton Recreation Center at 1426 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Clearwater, is part of the city’s plan to get its residents on board the environmental train.
Boyle, the first sustainability coordinator in the city’s history, guides department heads and staff as they implement the city’s environmental blueprint. The document, “Clearwater Greenprint: A Framework for a Competitive, Vibrant, Green Future,” was adopted by the City Council in 2011. Some of its goals are now reality, such as transitioning of the city’s buses, trucks and other gasoline-powered vehicles to natural gas, replacing old lightbulbs with LED lighting in city buildings, employee recycling goals, and other programs. The city also tries to follow state and federal law in the handling of chemicals, in water protection, soil retention, and other rules.
The City Council, however, wants the public at large to adopt sustainable methods such as recycling, rather than create ordinances that force residents to adopt environmentally friendly behavior, Boyle said.
“The council and mayor are very much in favor of getting community support before having to force anyone into anything. If we can get the community’s support (in recycling, planting native landscaping, and using backyard water-saving measures) it accomplishes our goals much easier.”
Thus, an important piece of Boyle’s job is community outreach, educating more Clearwater residents and businesses to practice sustainability at home and at the office.
She hopes the conference will accomplish just that.
“Education can go a long way,” Boyle told the Beacon. “An aware and educated neighborhood can achieve more than an individual can do on his or her own.”