Environmentalists who are in it to win it

Interviews coordinated by Cathy Grubman and Caroline Brewer

“Our Land, Our Water, Our Food” was the subject of a recent symposium hosted by Audubon Naturalist Society at Woodend. More than 75 people gathered to plot a part of the environmental future of the DC region. We asked a few of the leaders who attended: “What is the greatest environmental effort you have been involved in with your organization?” and “What lessons were learned to help us move forward?”

 Here’s what they said:  

 We gave birth to a blueprint for how to be smart about growth

Greatest Environmental Effort: Our Blueprint for a Better Region, is a vision for a revitalized city and network of walkable, sustainable, and inclusive transit-oriented communities, linked together by our Metro system. It is a vision conceived by the region’s leading conservation groups who founded the Coalition for Smarter Growth in 1997. In the years since, we’ve changed the debate about growth, with our sustainable and inclusive vision at the heart of the Council of Governments’ Region Forward vision. The market has responded, resulting in 120,000 new residents in DC in just 12 years and 86% of new office development within 1/4 mile of a Metro station. This efficient use of land reduces the conversion of farms, forests and natural areas; reduces driving while increasing walking, bicycling, and transit use; cuts air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and better connects all levels of the workforce to jobs.

Lessons Learned: Collaboration and partnerships are important, not just with similar conservation groups, but with housing and equity advocates, the business community, and neighborhood advocates. We also learned it takes a sustained effort over many years to build relationships, establish credibility, and win change, but eventually you can hit tipping points where thinking quickly shifts and you can make substantial progress Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth


Attention to food sources can help us grow an environmental consciousness

Access to healthy, affordable food takes many forms, and is an important environmental question. D.C. Hunger Solutions co-convenes the D.C. Farmers’ Collaborative. This allows us to ensure that low-income residents have access to healthy, affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables. By including farmer’s markets into our summer meals outreach, we introduce our youngest residents to locally grown fruits and vegetables while ensuring they receive a healthy meal during a critical time when school is not in session.

Lessons Learned: We have learned that collaboration and consolidation are very powerful tools in the non-profit sector. We go further when we work together and play to each other’s strengths rather than trying to do it all ourselves. Beverly Wheeler, Director, DC Hunger Solutions

We built lasting bonds over a big backyard threat

Greatest Environmental Effort: Our Trustees, Fred and Diana Prince, are landowners in the Piedmont and have a home in the District. They understand that protecting these resources requires ongoing vigilance, commitment and a bit of grit. They take the long view and remain committed to a variety of strategies that, when taken together, have a multiplying and enduring impact that strengthens the vitality of the communities in which they live.

Their resolve was tested in 1994 when Disney planned a major theme park in a small rural community just outside the city. The park would have exacerbated sprawl, compromised the natural environment and desecrated historic land.

Lessons Learned: The resulting campaign challenging Disney created a model for collaboration. It started as a small, grassroots effort of landowners but quickly expanded into a debate about how we grow as a region and went on to include a national ideological discussion regarding the importance of preserving our culture and historic lands. It is an example of the power that is generated when disparate groups find commonalities in their work and develop strategies from the local to the regional to the national level. The Disney campaign went on to launch a smart growth movement in the region and birthed several organizations that are still in the forefront of these issues. And, in addition to the Piedmont region, groups continue to work across the “mega-region” from Baltimore to Charlottesville and Richmond.  Carolynn Brunette, DC Managing Director, Prince Charitable Trusts


We have engaged masses in the metro area

Greatest Environmental Effort: Over the past 45 years, PEC has helped communities throughout the Piedmont region of Virginia articulate a vision of a place they love and hope that they will be able to pass it on to the next generation in even better shape.  Our supporters are passionate about their communities; they are always striving to make them better and protect them from unnecessary change.  What PEC is most proud of is that we provide ways for everyone in our communities to contribute to a better future, whether it’s by direct, do-it-yourself actions like donating a conservation easement or investing in a farm solar system or by focusing citizens on critical policy decisions at the local, state or federal level.  We are proud of short term campaigns to focus the public Disney’s America, open pit mining for uranium in Virginia, poorly planned highway projects like the Outer Beltway. What we are most proud of, however, is the sustained civic engagement in our region that has resulted in 400,000 acres of permanently protected areas, improved air and water quality, the great places to live like Charlottesville and Leesburg, and a resurgent farming community that is beginning to provide the Washington metropolitan area with delicious and sustainable food.

Lessons Learned: One thing we’ve learned is that “quick wins” are hard to come by. True change takes a sustained commitment over many, many years. Chris Miller, President, The Piedmont Environmental Council


People will fight for what’s right

Greatest Environmental Effort: At ANS, we stand on the shoulders of 120 years of advocacy victories in the DC region, protecting land,: water and natural resources for the good of all citizens. We are proud of our recent win – protecting the emergency drinking water supply for 4.3 million residents of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. We’ve achieved victories like this time and again by finding issues that unite citizens to a common purpose. With Disney, history lovers, horse farmers and passionate environmentalists banded together to resist a mega-park that would have destroyed precious open lands in the Piedmont. To safeguard our emergency drinking water supply in the Ten Mile Creek watershed, ANS united more than 30 citizens groups ranging from union members, to faith groups to champions of the Agricultural Reserve in defense of clean water.

Lessons Learned: In the face weakening federal guardianship of the environment, we must forge ahead to bolster local environmental protections by remembering the keys to advocacy success – people will fight for places and resources that matter to them. They will fight especially when we focus on the big tent issues that go beyond our ‘green box’ of environmentalism and unite citizens around shared values, needs and concerns. Lisa Alexander, Executive Director, Audubon Naturalist Society


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