Florida universities, student fellows team with Audubon on environment initiative

The partnership with 18 cities and counties will help preserve state's natural resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
By: | February 5, 2021
Ira Rappaport/Audubon Photography Awards

Three universities are partnering with Audubon Florida and municipalities on a project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and train a new wave of environmental leaders for a more sustainable future.

The collaboration includes Stetson University, the University of Central Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology, along with 18 cities and counties across East Central Florida whose collective mission will be to improve efficiency and lead shifts toward renewable energy resources.

In a state that faces a continual barrage of climate change issues – from hurricanes to rising sea levels to construction that affects the Everglades – their teamwork is essential to preserving healthy, livable environments, both on campuses and surrounding urban and rural locales.

“Florida municipalities are at the front lines of responding to the impacts of climate change, especially accelerating sea-level rise and more severe storms,” said Jason Evans, interim executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson. “Our local communities also have the opportunity to be international leaders in implementing innovative solutions that transform our energy systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon for the benefit of current and future generations. This collaborative effort is critically important for training our future leaders to identify those opportunities and develop transformative innovations that will at once improve our environment, economy and overall quality of life.”

According to Audubon Florida, the group that includes the ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative (R2C) initially will come up with baselines for usage that will help track how well those campuses and areas are managing energy. The hope is to lower overall greenhouse gas emissions, defray costs for citizens over time and preserve ecosystems.

For the three universities and their student fellows that will be involved in the initiative, this is a huge opportunity to research and help effectuate real change. They will be specifically targeting energy use in municipally-owned buildings and vehicles along with waste services and working with city and county officials, says Audubon Florida.

“The idea of little old me being able to make an impact on climate always seemed so out of reach, so when the opportunity to work with AF and R2C popped up, I didn’t hesitate,” said Jennifer Dang, inaugural student cohort participant, University of Central Florida. “My home country, Vietnam, is one of many to be directly affected by rising sea levels in the next few decades. While I might not be able to prevent that from happening, I look forward to not only learning new things, but being part of a greater collaborative effort to preserve our only home.”

The East Central Florida area has experienced tremendous growth over the past 50 years and now boasts more than four million residents. Many might know the area for its beaches and attractions, including Cocoa Beach, Melbourne (home of the Kennedy Space Center) and Kissimmee, which see 60 million visitors each year. Audubon, , which has been working to preserve the state’s natural environment for 120 years, says this collaboration is much-needed.

“Florida’s local governments are seeing the impacts of our changing climate firsthand and are leading the way with this commitment to accountability and innovation,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audubon Florida. “We are thrilled to partner on this work to accelerate sustainability, save taxpayer dollars, and make Florida communities more resilient … all while providing on-the-job training for the next generation of leaders in this field.”