It was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and, in a way, it was … just not the way we were expecting.
Every year, I had committed to taking a vacation with my kids, Billy and Ashley, to make up for the demanding schedule of my job as an engineer. We were out to visit the highest mountain peaks on every continent and to see some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders.
This year, we were in Antarctica, getting ready to see the penguins in the Larsen Sea. Except we couldn’t.
In 2002, the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed. More than 1,200 square miles of ice shelf was gone, and our ship couldn’t get through. The cause was a series of warm summers, which created melt pools that acted like wedges in the ice on top, along with warm ocean temperatures that melted the underside of the ice shelf.
At their age, I’m not sure my kids knew that we had a front row seat to an unprecedented world climate event, but I did.
During our travels, we had seen inklings of climate change before. Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, we saw massive coral bleaching events caused by the warming seas. As we traveled, it was also obvious just how deeply … and how unequally … climate change would affect people. For some … the wealthy … it would mean very little. They would just pay for more air conditioning. For others, including some people we met on our trips, it could soon become the difference between life and death.
I had long been interested in sustainability, and even before these trips, I had been working in the field. But these life experiences opened my eyes and made me dig deeper.
Those who meet me, and those who visit Wekiva Island, might wonder why sustainability is so important to me and to our business. Experiences like these are the start of my answer.
Putting sustainability to work
These trips with my children were not my first foray into environmentalism and sustainability.
I am an engineer by trade, and I went to Penn State University to study the field. In my first job at Reynolds, Smith & Hills, I had the chance to work on some really cool, green projects … including using landfill gas to make steam that heated and cooled a two-million-square-foot helicopter manufacturing plant, and turning invasive weeds into gas that ran a generator and made power.
These were neat, but as I continued in my career, architects and engineers realized that the buildings themselves … the facilities we designed and worked in … were one of the biggest contributors to the carbon we were dumping in our planet’s atmosphere. And it was putting us on a bad path.
As an engineer, my life is math … so I looked at the numbers. I saw that there was a direct correlation between the carbon and the mean temperatures on Earth, and I saw that things were changing.
In 2006, a very smart architect, Edward Mazria, came up with the 2030 Challenge. The challenge outlined how the industry could become carbon neutral by that year. By this time, I had a leadership stake in EXP, the company I work for, and we would outline what clients could do to support that goal.
One day, a client asked me what we did to be carbon neutral. I didn’t have a good answer. Of course, that didn’t help me in my goal to design a greener building for him. I was determined to have that answer next time someone asked.
We started pushing the boundaries at EXP at a time when that wasn’t exactly the norm. We offered bonuses for employees who bought green vehicles, and we bought wind power credits to offset our building’s carbon footprint. We even figured out a way to offset the carbon from our plane travel … something that’s common now but was a bit of a puzzle then.
After looking at the math so much in the office, it didn’t take much for me to start running the numbers on how me and my family’s activities affected the planet.
Taking sustainability home
At home, we had just about every gadget out there to go green. As my daughter, Ashley Rose, wrote about in her recent blog, we even got some attention for it from a national CBS program.
But though that was supposed to be a positive piece, I saw many people mocking the concept and calling us “scuppies” … saying we were wasting money in an effort to appear green.
That fueled my passion to make a difference. Enter Wekiva Island.
I wanted to build a business that was carbon neutral, and I wanted it to be so successful that no one could say that was stupid.
That passion is evident in our guiding pillars: Art, education, and sustainability. Art, because the Wekiva is so incredibly beautiful, and ignorance will ruin it. Education, because we want people to learn from what we’re doing and take some small part of it home with them, even if they don’t realize it. And sustainability at the core, running underneath it all … from planting trees to collecting rainwater for water closet flush to generating our own power from the sun.
To that end, we’ve already done so much I’m proud of. We continue to approach our goal of becoming carbon neutral through our trademarked CERO principle: Conservation, Efficiency, Renewables and Offsets. We have a LEED Platinum certified building, the Mike Barr Education Center, our Classroom. We recently rolled out our partnership with O-Town Compost to make composting easy for our community.
We have turned into a real environmental center, fueled by FUN … not taxpayer dollars.
My vision, now, is to take that even further. We recently engaged ESG advisors from Nasdaq Corporate Solutions to help us start the process of analyzing our stakeholders’ ESG priorities and creating an ESG roadmap for Wekiva Island, activities that are usually undertaken by publicly traded companies. Why? Because I want this business to be held to the highest standards. I want to show that our sustainability efforts are real … not greenwashing.
Wekiva Island is one of the only public windows to the Wekiva River. We feel a responsibility to share this resource with the community … and to protect it.
SUSTAINABILITY is not always the easiest path for a business. We don’t have to do it. But from my life experiences, I’ve come to realize that really, we do. For all of us. For our planet. For our grandchildren. For their grandchildren.
And as we head toward 2030 and carbon neutral, I hope Wekiva Island can be a true example of how it’s done.