Celebrating the women of Sarasota County Sustainability

Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. In honor of Women’s History Month 2022, we’re celebrating women in sustainability, both internationally and in our own local community.

History of Sarasota County Sustainability

Roadmap to Sustainability Plan
[Credit: Alia Garrett, Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability]

Since the inception of Sarasota County Sustainability in 2002, the program has been led by women who have made a profound impact on our local environment. The program has grown and evolved immensely since the early 2000s, but one thing that remains unchanged is that women are the leaders and powerhouses of this program.

This month we are celebrating all the amazing work achieved by the pioneers of our program and their dedication to sustainability. The groundwork for the county’s long history of commitments to sustainability was laid by two sustainability icons: Jodi John and Nina Powers.

Jodi John and Nina Powers
Jodi John (left) and Nina Powers. [Credit: Lee Hayes Byron, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County]

Jodi had a long career with Sarasota County working in the county’s first recycling division and then starting the Office of Sustainability in 2002, with Nina Powers. Jodi and Nina were leaders in green building, environmentally preferable procurement, and sustainable living programs, helping develop many of the programs that made Sarasota County an early leader in the issue nationwide. Jodi led the efforts from 2002-2008, getting most of the foundational policies we rely on passed. These policies include: Green Building Resolution (2005), 2030 Challenge Resolution (2006) and the Energy Management Action Plan (2008) to name a few. Both Jodi and Nina made significant impacts on this community and are deeply missed.

Spotlight on the women of Sarasota County Sustainability

We also want to highlight the women that currently run the Sustainability Program at the UF/IFAS Extension office. All five women are committed to promoting environmental, social, and economic sustainability here in Sarasota. These incredible women share their roles and inspirations for pursuing a career path in local government sustainability.

Lee Hayes Byron- Director, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

Lee Hayes ByronLee Hayes Byron is the Director for Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability which is a partnership between the University of Florida and Sarasota County to bring researched-based information to our community. From agriculture to wildlife and composting to solar, Sarasota County Extension provides classes, speakers, technical assistance, and programs to help residents and businesses build a better future. Previously she was the Sustainability Manager for Sarasota County, overseeing sustainability improvements within government operations and the efforts to create a sustainable community across Sarasota County. She remains involved in the sustainability program to the extent possible, teaching about solar, climate change, energy financing programs and more.

What inspired you to pursue your career path?

Growing up in Sarasota, I was involved in my school’s environmental club and active outside, kayaking and exploring natural Sarasota County. My roots in this community are deeply connected to the places that make it special- the bays, rivers, and natural lands. In college I studied human/ environment interactions and it became clear that I wanted to make a difference in the environment through my career. I have been so fortunate to find a way to do that in my hometown after working at the national and international levels after graduate school.

Sara Kane- Sustainability Program Supervisor Sara Kane

Sara Kane manages the sustainability program for Sarasota County. She oversees sustainability improvements within government operations and the efforts to create a sustainable community across Sarasota County. Her responsibilities include promoting energy efficiency, green building practices, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and waste reduction strategies to residents and businesses; ensuring sustainability improvements in county facilities and fleet; employee and community education; resiliency and climate planning; and grant management. Sara has worked in the environmental field for 19 years including positions at the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Mote Marine Laboratory. Sara has a Masters in Global Sustainability with a concentration in water from the University of South Florida.

What inspired you to pursue your career path?

I grew up in Nebraska, which instilled a great sense of place and appreciation of open land, agricultural fields, and beautiful, undisturbed nature. When I saw the ocean for the first time, visiting relatives in California, I fell in love with it. I knew then I wanted to live by and be in the water. After I graduated high school, I decided to study the ocean and environmental science and moved to Galveston, Texas to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University. There my passion accelerated when I took scientific diving classes and did research in Florida and Mexico. After graduating, I moved to Sarasota and started working at Mote Marine Laboratory in Dive Operations. Later working with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, I found that working on community outreach and collaborating on projects that could make a difference in the community was a perfect fit for me. I decided to pursue my Masters in Sustainability at USF and my focus shifted from water to all environmental topics. I love being a public servant and working in local government sustainability. It’s great to work on impactful projects with a passionate, dedicated team.

Alia Garrett- Sustainability Outreach Coordinator

Alia Garrett is the Sustainability Outreach Coordinator for UF/IFAS Extension & Sustainability Sarasota County. She is responsible for education and outreach projects to encourage sustainability actions in the community.  Alia leads planning and implementation efforts for sustainability events and workshops and supports efforts to create a sustainable community across Sarasota County. Alia has a Master’s Degree in Global Sustainability from the University of South Florida.

What inspired you to pursue your career path?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an environmentalist at heart. Some of my earliest and best memories are of my family and I spending time outdoors. I fully committed to pursuing a career in sustainability after taking a class called Environmental Politics as an elective when finishing my bachelors degree. The class moved me so deeply and inspired me to continue my education and pursue a masters degree in sustainability. In my current role, I am able to put my passion into practice and make a tangible difference for my community which has been so fulfilling for me.

Nicole Barber- Energy Program Specialist

Nicole Barber

Nicole Barber manages the Energy Upgrade program at the Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension & Sustainability. Her responsibilities include promoting energy efficiency to residents and businesses, grant program support, growing the Energy Coach volunteer program, and maintaining collaborative relationships with community partners. Nicole has a Master’s Degree in Global Sustainability from the University of South Florida’s Patel College.

What inspired you to pursue your career path?

Growing up surrounded by nature in Colombia, I was always very fond and aware of all the gifts nature provided us with. So as a child, it had been instilled in me the importance to take care of it. As an adult, I moved to a few different countries in Asia and was deeply affected by pollution and social equity. I couldn’t stop thinking of solutions to fix this problem and that’s when I really started to delve deeper into sustainability. I decided to pursue my master’s in Sustainability and loved every minute of it. I finally knew what I was supposed to be doing. In my current role, I am now able to keep learning more about sustainability and can make a positive difference in the community.

Luz Ramirez- Sustainability Analyst

Luz Ramirez

Luz Ramirez is the Sustainability Analyst for Sarasota County Sustainability. Her primary duties include developing greenhouse gas emissions inventories, assisting the county with its LEED for Cities certification, collecting best planning practices, sustainability metrics, and development of outreach materials. Luz is currently working towards her M.S in Global Sustainability.

What inspired you to pursue your career path?

Sources of inspiration for pursuing a career path in sustainability stem from the time I volunteered for the Red Cross in the rural areas of Colombia. Deteriorated water conditions and changes in the water cycle, increasing vector transmitted diseases like malaria were all public health issues that had been exacerbated by climate change. Having witnessed this firsthand stimulated a passion for driving positive change and helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Supporting sustainability and gender equality

Celebrating women isn’t something that should be reserved for March, so let’s continue to highlight the important contributions that women make in the fight against climate change both here locally and around the world. Recognizing that true innovation comes from a diverse and accepting environment with an inclusive culture of support for women in the sustainability field.


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Posted: March 30, 2022

Category: Conservation, Natural Resources
Tags: International Women's Day, Pgm_Sustain, Sustainability, Women, Women In STEM Careers

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