Florida's Sarasota County seems, at first glance, like unlikely ground for lessons on climate change philanthropy.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the county by nearly 40% and dominate the county’s board of commissioners. A Democratic presidential candidate has not won in the county since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And it sits in a state where the former governor reportedly prohibited use of the term “climate change” in state agencies, even as rising sea levels made flooding commonplace.
And yet, a sustainability initiative backed by a pair of the region’s community foundations, in collaboration with a long list of community partners and other funders, offers some possible pathways for local funders to advance green initiatives and win community buy-in amid unfavorable political conditions.
Known as Partners for Green Places, the effort is informed by past philanthropic successes on environmental issues in the region, and follows a two-pronged strategy of energy efficiency upgrades and solar installations at more than a dozen local nonprofits. Its leaders have big aspirations, hoping the initial round of projects will inspire broader action in the region.
In addition to Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the initiative brings together a coalition of public and private partners, including Sarasota city and county governments, the agricultural extension of the University of Florida, and local nonprofit consulting business DreamLarge. The effort is also backed by two private foundations, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, which has frequently partnered with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation.
“One of the challenges that our board gives us is to ask ourselves, ‘If not for Gulf Coast, than who?’” Thaxton said. “If the private sector’s not there, if the government’s not going to do it, if the public is having difficulty with it, that’s where we can step up.”