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

Newspaper: Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and EnvMagazine
Title: A Green Come True: ECOMB’s Center for the Environment
Author/Reporter: Peter Perez
Date: August 2010

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 was founded to address just these questions. These principles are so fundamental to their 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 money to pay its executive director.

In 2001, Luiz Rodrigues became the second executive director of ECOMB and quickly took ECOMB to new shades of green. 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 in between stints with the city. With his help, ECOMB was able to lease their own building in 2009 from the city of Miami Beach for $1.25 a year. That is less than a beverage at McDonalds. For the first time since its founding in 1994, ECOMB has a freestanding headquarters. “I’ve been trying to lease this building for some years now” Rodrigues says. “Initially, it was an office space; then we wanted 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.

According to ECOMB, “The Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach (ECOMB) proposes to partner with the city of Miami Beach as well as other local “green businesses” to create 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.

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 accreditation 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 accreditation. The USGBC directory indicates that this will be the first LEED accredited building in the city of Miami Beach.

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 wishes for the success of your project that 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, well-known architectural firm OPPENHEIM – ARCHITECTURE+DESIGN has offered to work on the MBCE free of charge. Founder Chad Oppenheim goes so far as to say, “In order to further ensure the success of such an ambitious project, OPPENHEIM would be committed to using all of its resources and network of contacts and relationships to identify and seek out local citizens, businesses, and institutions that would be willing to champion this project, through donations and sponsorship. … The importance of this project cannot be overstated—it is a catalyst, the first of its kind in Miami Beach, the bridge that will introduce all local residents to the latest concepts and benefits of sustainable living, their importance moving forward, and how they can be applied to our 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 grant writing, corporate sponsorship or partnerships, and donations or fundraising events, so that we can have a professional team working with us. And we can actually pay people 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 Luiz Rodrigues at luiz@ecomb.org or Michael Laas at Michael.laas@gmail.com.