Sarasota County has a long history of commitments to sustainability for both its own operations and the community. Twenty years ago, Sarasota County formed the Sustainability Program to implement changes and improvements for a more sustainable future. Making us the first county sustainability office in Florida and one of the first in the nation at the time according to records kept by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. In recognition of this milestone anniversary, we’re highlighting a few of the many ways we’ve invested in our community and our planet thanks to the collaborative efforts of our staff, volunteers, foundations, businesses, and residents.
Below is a list of policies and projects related to the climate that we have implemented over the past two decades. The policies below are linked to the full documents and additional policies, projects and information can be found on our sustainability website.
Here’s what we’ve accomplished over the years:
- 2008: Certified as a “Gold” Green Local Government by the Florida Green Building Coalition.
- 2015: Recertified as a “Gold” Green Local Government, which was the highest level at the time for a Florida County certification.
- 2020: Earned a “Silver” designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar.
Policies and Goals:
2002: Sustainability Resolution
- Establishes the county Sustainability program and implements policies, guidelines, goals, and strategic actions to promote sustainability.
2005: Green Building Resolution
- Provides for design, construction, management, renovation, maintenance, and deconstruction of county facilities in accordance with green building standards. Establishes green building incentive for private sector.2006: Roadmap to Sustainability
- Sarasota County’s first Sustainability Action Plan that included goals and actions for the future.
2006: 2030 Challenge Resolution
- Directs that County buildings be designed for reduced energy use and to be carbon neutral (requiring no fossil fuel energy) by 2030.
2008: Energy Management Action Plan Adopted
- Set goals for energy and water efficiency in county buildings and reductions in fuel use.
2010: Community Energy Use & GHG Emissions Resolution
- Commits to reducing energy use and emissions in the community.
2016: Comprehensive Plan Updates
- Promote energy efficient buildings and infrastructure and the application of renewable energy strategies in both the public and private sectors (Policy 5.1.9).
- Sea Level Rise policy outlines county actions related to sea level rise planning, data, and collaboration (Policy 4.7.2).
- 48 electric vehicle charging ports at 22 locations, electric vehicles in fleet.
- 2017: Creation of the ChargeUp! Rebate program that provides rebates to businesses, non-profits, and local governments to install electric vehicle charging stations.
Energy & Water – County Buildings
- Energy performance contract to reduce energy and water use in county buildings, saving money on utility bills.
- Solar PV at 4 county locations, more planned & solar hot water at multiple locations.
- New county buildings are third party “green” certified.
- 17 USGBC LEED, 1 Green Globes, more in progress.
Energy & Water – Community
- Since 2010, received approximately $7.5 million in grant funding to complete community energy and water efficiency projects.
Energy Upgrade program
- The Energy Upgrade program began in 2012 as an education program on residential energy efficiency strategies. It evolved in 2016 to focus on low-income residents in partnership with human service agencies like United Way and Salvation Army. The primary method was educational workshops with distribution of DIY energy saving kits to participants. In 2018, a volunteer training program was added, increasing capacity to reach more low-income households, and adding in-home “energy sweeps” at public housing units to go further in implementing recommended strategies for immediate savings. To date the program has reached 2,088 households through workshops and 153 households with energy sweeps.
- The DIY kits are funded through a grant from Department of Energy. A grant from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation has enabled an expansion of this program with hiring staff, and deeper energy retrofits in Sarasota Housing Authority units to increase savings potential for their residents.
An additional grant was received in 2021 through Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that provides funding for energy efficient appliances and HVAC systems to affordable housing providers.
Partners for Green Places – nonprofit efficiency and solar
- The Partners for Green Places program has provided local non-profits with energy audits, detailed Energy Roadmap reports, and funding to implement energy and water efficiency strategies identified. There is a companion program providing combined grant and loan funding for solar photovoltaic installations on a subset of those non-profits.
Education and Outreach
- In addition to the Energy Upgrade program, education is provided to residents on various ways they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with classes on solar technologies for adults and youth, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, climate solutions, electric vehicles, green living, green building strategies, through the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop, and more.
Sea Level Rise and Resilience Planning
- In June 2022, Sarasota County received a Resilient Florida grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. TheSarasota County Vulnerability Assessment and Resiliency Plan Project will conduct a comprehensive Vulnerability Assessment pursuant to Section 380.093, Florida Statutes for Sarasota County. The Project will also include an adaptation and resilience plan that will develop a critical and regionally significant asset inventory, a detailed list of adaptation strategies and projects ranked and ready for implementation and conduct outreach meetings to present the results of the studies.
- In 2021, a baseline coastal analysis and vulnerability assessment for the County’s coastal barrier islands was completed. The project was conducted in partnership the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) with the Resilient Coastline Program grant funding.
- In 2020, a “Sea Level Rise (SLR) Vulnerability Assessment Report” was completed by Sarasota County staff. It looks at high and low sea level rise scenarios for 2030, 2050 and 2100. The report includes an analysis of county assets and has scenario maps for infrastructure. It also has recommendations to continue this work and looks at policies that will help our county plan for future sea level rise.
- Sarasota County is a member of several collaborative groups of experts and practitioners that address sea level rise and climate change issues across the region. Staff actively participate in the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition and the Sarasota-Manatee Climate Council.
Waste and Plastic Reduction
Reducing single-use plastic items benefits our community in a variety of ways. Primarily, it saves waste from going to the landfill. It also saves the energy and water resources that go into creating the single-use, disposable items. We make it easy for county staff to cut plastic waste at their county events, with a suite of reusable dish set kits and beverage kits available for checkout. Public Utilities, General Services, and Extension departments, have a goal to increase the number of water bottle filling stations at county facilities. This will enable both county employees and residents to use refillable water bottles more easily, in support of our “Drink Local” tap water campaign and reducing the number of single use plastic bottles being used.
Sustainable Event Guide
- Developed a Sustainable Event Guide to help event planners make their events more sustainable. The booklet provides tips for adding sustainable practices during an event, including what to do throughout the planning process (before, during and after the event) and small things to remember, like paperless invites, limiting single-use items, and having clearly marked waste bins.
New and Future Priorities
Now we’d like to highlight some new and future priorities and hear from our Sustainability staff about what they are looking forward to the most in the coming years. Here’s what they said:
Programs and Projects
- Collaborate with other county departments, cities and external stakeholders to advance work and identify funding opportunities for climate and resilience projects
- Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories for local government operations and community-wide
- National LEED for Cities/Communities certification
- Update Sustainability and Resilience Plans
- County Electric Vehicle Analysis Report
- Solar assessment and expansion
- Expansion of energy equity program across the state
- Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant projects
- Continue to pursue grant opportunities and coordinate regionally
- “Although we were one of the first local government sustainability offices in the nation, and have a lot to be proud of, we realize that there is more to be done in a shorter time frame. It’s essential that we act with a sense of urgency to make our operations and community more sustainable and resilient. We are proud to live in a community that cares so deeply about our environment, and we look forward to continuing the work together. In the coming years, I’m excited about working on resilience projects and creating new goals, projects, and collaborations,” said Sara Kane, Sustainability Program Supervisor.
- “I am excited to see the innovative solutions and technologies that the future holds for all the work that remains to be done. Yes, the challenges we face are daunting, but our capacity far exceeds the challenges. We must never question that,” said Alia Garrett, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator.
- “One of the things that excites me the most is being able to work in an inclusive and empowering environment with outstanding leadership in a career that I find the most fulfilling,” said Luz Ramirez, Sustainability Analyst.
Locally and globally, there are many existing solutions that demonstrate the capacity for societies, ecosystems, and economies to thrive amid change and complexity. In the coming years we are excited to continue this constantly evolving journey, with countless directions and possibilities. We invite you to join us on this journey, through your choices and actions and by encouraging others in the community. Together we can make a difference – today, and for future generations!
Here’s to many more!