A Green Come True: ECOMB’s Center for the Environment

By Peter Perez….

Luis Rodriguez and Gabriole Van Bryce

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. So simple yet so meaningful in today’s world as the push for environmental sustainability gains more and more momentum. How much do we live our lives by these three elementary words? How much do we even know about these words?
In 1994, the Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches (ECOMB) was founded to address just these questions. These principles are so fundamental to the organization’s essence that their value statement even says, ‘ECOMB believes that, by educating and encouraging people to get involved and to act responsibly towards their environment, together, we will improve our quality of life, save resources, and live more sustainably.’ However, until recently, ECOMB did not even have enough funds to pay its Executive Director.
In 2001, Luis Rodriguez became the second Executive Director of ECOMB and quickly took ECOMB to new shades of green. Former Miami Beach Commissioner Saul Gross, who Chaired the Commission’s Sustainability Committee said, “Luiz is remarkable. He moves a thousand miles an hour, with ideas and initiatives and information. His passion is infectious.” Commissioner Gross was right. Now, ECOMB has developed programs to reduce the amount of litter on the Miami-Dade County beaches, waterways, islands and Biscayne Bay, increase both business and residential recycling rates, as well as preserve and restore habitats.
Due to this incredible growth, ECOMB now has friends in the proverbial high places. Perhaps the most noteworthy is Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora, who was Chairman of ECOMB’s Board of Trustees in between stints as a Miami Beach City Commissioner. With his help, ECOMB was able to lease its own building in 2009 from the City of Miami Beach at a very affordable rate. For the first time since it’s founding in 1994, ECOMB now has a freestanding headquarters. “I’ve been trying to lease a building for some years now.” Rodriguez says. “Initially, it was an office space; then we realized we actually needed a building, so we could cultivate a great environmental center. We’re calling it the Miami Beach Center for the Environment.” Luiz immediately mapped out an ambitious expansion plan.
In addition, ECOMB has attracted a number of volunteers. One volunteer in particular stands out. Gabriole Van Bryce, Treasurer of ECOMB’s Board of Trustees, is Luiz’s right hand woman. Not only is Gabriole an experienced LEED AP, she is partner at greening consulting firm Eco-Logical Solution, Chair of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainable Business Council, and chair of the Green Hospitality Council for the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association. Luiz asserts, “ She is the most dedicated Board Member ECOMB has ever had and works tirelessly to promote ECOMB’s mission and goals.  [ECOMB] could not have achieved many of the organization’s accomplishments without her support and that of its volunteers and interns. She is a jewel of a human being.”
According to ECOMB, ‘The Environmental Coalition of Miami & the Beaches’ (ECOMB) looks forward to furthering its partnership with the City of Miami Beach as well as with other local “green businesses” to fully implement the Miami Beach Center for the Environment at 210 Second Street. The Center’s goal will be to provide environmental programs and services to residents, visitors, and City employees. The Center will provide local nature interpretive displays, environmental programming and events, a green building and native landscaping showcase, a composting demonstration area, rain barrel, as well as a recycling drop-off center for small electronics, batteries, and CFLs.’ The main goals of the MBCE is to inform, teach, and explain the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle, as well as that of many other sustainable living strategies.
Luiz wants the MBCE to be LEED accredited. The US Green Building Council’s website (usgbc.org) explains LEED as, “An internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.” LEED certification has four levels: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The MBCE will be restored and expanded in a way to achieve either a silver or gold certification.
Exceptional enthusiasm for this project has already been generated. For example, Ken Fields, the Director of Marketing and PR for Electron Solar Energy, says “It is our sincerest wish for the success of your project and Electron Solar Energy would like to participate, in any way possible, to help you in your endeavors… Electron Solar Energy will provide, build and install, at Electron’s cost, a Solar/Renewable energy demonstration and display.” In addition, a high-profile architectural firm has offered to work with the MBCE to help make it LEED accredited. The firm believes that by introducing local residents to the latest strategies and benefits of sustainable living, residents will apply these important principles to their everyday lives.
“ECOMB really needs the funds,” says Rodrigues. “I have been a one-man operation for many years. Our goal for 2010 is to raise enough funds through grants, corporate sponsorship or partnerships, donations and fundraising events, so that we have a professional team working with us and we can actually pay them for their services.” So all you ambitious grant writers and altruistic businesses looking for a good way to donate your services, products, and/or money, look no further. ECOMB is a bona fide organization that could use your help. Considering all ECOMB has done for us over the last 16 years, it is the least we can do.
If you would like to contact ECOMB you can email either Luis Rodriguez at luiz@ecomb.org, or Michael Laas at michael.laas@gmail.com.

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