Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub does not, at first glance, look like she'd be Florida's most aggressive elected leader on sustainability issues, from green building to water and energy conservation.
The congenial, 60-year-old Republican wears her hair and dress suits prim and speaks with the gentile Southern accent of her native North Carolina. She was swept up in politics in 1992 by the ideas of Ross Perot and his Reform Party. But her concerns about the land, the water and the atmosphere put her beliefs much closer to those of Al Gore: "Common sense tells you that the globe is warming," she says.
County officials, home builders and environmentalists alike say the county's progressive leadership, more than any other factor, has pushed Sarasota to the vanguard of green building and sustainability statewide. "Shannon Staub is Miss Sustainability -- she has given this issue an incredible amount of exposure," says Rob Struckman, who oversees green building at Venice-based Waterford Cos. "It helps that she has the trust of both the builders and the public."
First elected in 1996 and returned to office unopposed in 2000 and 2004, Staub earned her green reputation on water issues during Florida's last drought. When the drought was over, water-management districts and local governments across the state eased water restrictions. Staub helped convince fellow commissioners and constituents they should make once-a-week watering permanent. The county was the first in Florida to adopt a mandatory micro-irrigation law; sod cannot make up more than half of any landscaped area. It also passed a strict water-conservation ordinance for golf courses; implemented conservation water rate structures; and helped create the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Water Conservation Program now used in half of the counties. The result? The county's per-capita water use has plummeted 40%, to an average 90 gallons a day. Florida's statewide average is 174 gallons per person per day.
Sarasota County commissioners next turned to green building, beginning with a look at what they could do in their own facilities. In 2002, they passed a sustainability resolution that said all new county buildings would be built green. The county has the only two LEED-certified local government buildings in the state: The solar-powered Twin Lakes office complex and the non-irrigated North Sarasota Public Library, both 40% to 50% more efficient than conventional buildings. In 2005, the commission passed the first green-building incentives program in the state. Developers who pledge to build green get a fast-track permit, with approval in a week instead of upward of two months. As soon as the building is certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition, the county refunds $1,000 in permitting fees.
Sarasota also boasts a hybrid vehicle fleet, a green procurement program and, most recently, a carbon-neutral pledge. The county was the first in the nation to commit to the national 2030 challenge -- promising to cut its carbon emissions, in increments, to zero by 2030.
Still, Staub isn't satisfied. Imagine, she says, the huge ripple effect if Gov. Charlie Crist took up sustainability as his mantle, starting first with water and energy efficiency and green-product procurement within state government. Staub points to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's ambitious goal to run the corporate giant on 100% renewable energy and produce zero waste. Scott has made specific commitments to cut the corporation's greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% over the next seven years, double truck fleet fuel efficiency within 10 years and reduce solid waste from U.S. stores by a quarter in the next three years.
"If Wal-Mart's CEO can do it," says Staub, "the governor of Florida can do it."
WEB EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
As Trend launches its new website this month, look for new interactive features, including experts who will answer reader questions about stories in our print edition. This month, one of the national leaders in the green field, Charles Kibert, answers questions about green building. Kibert, a building-construction professor at the University of Florida, is the author of "Sustainable Construction: Green Building Design and Delivery."
Send questions for Dr. Kibert to feedback@FloridaTrend.com.
Trend will post his answers at FloridaTrend.com.