By John Lai
Member, Lee County Community Sustainability Advisory Committee
What does “sustainability” mean? Can it help continue to better our community despite our challenges? And, more importantly, can it be measured?
Sustainability is about the “triple bottom line” as it’s called in the business world: society, economy and environment. It means using these resources in a way that ensures they’re around for our kids and grandkids not diminishing one so much that we throw off the balance. The goal is a vibrant community that continues to attract visitors, jobs and a skilled workforce for generations to come.
As a member of Lee County’s Community Sustainability Advisory Committee, I request your attendance at the CompleteLee Sustainability Plan Public Workshop on Thursday.
None of us has the resources to do it all, so we need you to help us identify the priorities for our community and tell us who else needs to contribute.
Sustainability in Lee County is not new. It’s a long-standing value set forth by the community and established through policies and initiatives by the Board of County Commissioners, dating back to the early 1990s.
The results of sustainability efforts in Lee County government are starting to surface. An energy management plan for county facilities has reduced energy consumption more than 26 percent, saving taxpayers more than $24 million. Strides have been made to increase bike lanes and sidewalks, providing transportation options, increasing safety and allowing us to get out of our cars and enjoy Southwest Florida.
In a 2011 survey of more than 1,100 residents, 91 percent of respondents agreed that sustainability is important to our future. Lee County values this feedback and is committed to a balanced approach to decision-making.
That’s what sustainability in Lee County is all about — addressing short-term needs in ways that don’t compromise the community’s long-term goal of a highly desirable quality of life.
That all sounds good, but how do we know if taking a sustainable approach really makes a difference? We can’t move forward on a hunch. It has to help us meet our goals. That is why Lee County is in the final phase of developing our first sustainability plan like a business plan for the community. It will guide us in balancing that triple bottom line by creating benchmarks, measuring progress and demonstrating results. It’s a plan for continuous improvement.
Of course, none of us has unlimited resources. We’ll use the sustainability plan to prioritize goals, capitalize on opportunities, promote efficiency and coordinate operations. This not only helps maximize benefits and avoid unintended consequences, it saves tax dollars and promotes innovation. While the goals will be unique to Lee County, they will apply national standards to compare our community to others, seek additional funding and promote accountability.
More than 35 non-profit, for-profit and government organizations have partnered to help establish this “business” plan. It is our community, after all.
The CompleteLee Sustainability Plan Public Workshop will be held on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Eco Living Center at Rutenberg Park, 6490 South Pointe Blvd., Fort Myers.
If you cannot attend, additional opportunities to participate will be available in the coming months via Lee County’s online public forum at www.leecountytownhall.com.
Lai is general manager of the Hyatt Place Forum in Fort Myers and a member of the Conference and Convention Council Board, Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.