SARASOTA, Fla. — Great ideas often start with a lightbulb moment, especially in the sustainability world. In 2008, sustainable building nonprofit Southface Institute recognized that reducing nonprofits’ utility bills by increasing the efficiency of their facilities would save critical dollars to reinvest in serving meals, teaching youth, assisting unsheltered families, and more. Years after Southface’s GoodUse program launched, the idea has proven its substantial value — 400+ nonprofits nationwide have saved $3.2 million, 24 million kWh of electricity, 15,466 kGal of water, and 15,552 metric tons of CO2e.
The City of Sarasota, Fla., and Sarasota County expanded on the GoodUse model in 2018 to form Partners for Green Places (PFGP), calling on the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation to fully leverage partnerships for Sarasota’s nonprofits. PFGP has taken off with operational and financial support for Phase 1 of the pilot from The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities; the Urban Sustainability Directors Network; Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability; William G. and Marie Selby Foundation; Community Foundation of Sarasota County; Southface Sarasota; and DreamLarge.
The inaugural nonprofits are already benefitting tremendously. Children First had made progress installing solar hot water heaters and adding insulation when they began working with PFGP. The partnership enabled them to conduct and operationalize a detailed energy audit. Upgrades to their North Port campus alone reduced energy usage by 20-25% and water usage by 40%.
Children First celebrated the installation of new 117.26 kW photovoltaic solar power system at their main Sarasotacampus last September. It’s on track to produce 95% of the site’s electricity in the first year, netting over $6,000 in savings to reinvest in the families and youth they serve. With nearly 90% of those families living below the federal poverty level, the funding increase is a lifesaver. The implementation of LED lighting at all 15 facilities, high-efficiency heat pumps, additional solar photovoltaic systems, and other improvements are also in progress.
As Phase 1 nonprofits see their savings and impact grow, PFGP looks to Phase 2 and beyond. Sarasota’s nonprofits are prepared to lead the nation in climate mitigation and resilience as they increase vital community services, but more funding is needed to support their growth. If their story creates a lightbulb moment for you, add your contribution at www.partnersforgreenplaces.org.