The Garden’s Sustainability Staff Maintain Significant Achievements During COVID-19
Despite the current pandemic, the EarthWays Center has been resilient as ever when sharing sustainable solutions with the St. Louis region. All programs and projects continued, and staff learned many new systems to maintain virtual contact while working remotely.
This period of remote work has allowed the Garden’s sustainability division to adapt to virtual outreach and coordination with all of our partners and with additional sustainability experts throughout Missouri. Below are a few highlights from this unprecedented but rewarding period.
Virtual Green Living Festival
With help from various divisions of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the EarthWays Center shifted its annual Green Living Festival, presented by Ameren Missouri, to an entirely virtual presentation format. More than 150 participants joined live presentations over the course of this three-day online festival highlighting green living, energy and efficiency and NatureScaping. Festival programming also included:
- 23 virtual exhibitor booths and interviews highlighting local resources for a more sustainable lifestyle.
- More than 40 workshops, panel sessions, family-friendly activities and resources now available online year-round.
- Generous support from seven sponsors, without which the Virtual Green Living Festival would not have been possible.
Growing Green in Unexpected Ways
Throughout this uniquely productive time, EarthWays Center staff have also:
- Maintained support of the Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center planning efforts.
- Virtually delivered a five-talk series of weekly presentations with two education agencies, Oasis and Sherpherd’s Center, which serve to enrich the lives of older adults.
- Transitioned educational offerings for St. Louis Green Business Challenge from monthly in-person seminars to popular weekly Challenge Virtual Brown Bag seminar series while working to finalize updates for a new Challenge website.
- Successfully transitioned to a virtual workshop format for the Energy Efficiency teacher workshops sponsored by Liberty Utilities and Spire. This effort traditionally entails travel by EarthWays staff to all corners of Missouri, but this year staff managed to make necessary connections entirely online. Teachers have been enjoying the format and learning about new resources.
- Modified Camp EarthWays to be a virtual camp offering with new resources for families, including videos on how to build a solar oven, conduct a home energy audit, how solar panels work and how to naturescape a backyard.
- Developed new virtual field trips and tours, including one to the local landfill and a Sustainability Tour of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
- Developed or modified “Green to Go Public Talks” topics to offer 12 talks suitable for virtual presentation.
- Continued offering the Green Resources Answer Service, answering everyday sustainability questions of all kinds from the public.
- Contributed one of six Summer Reading Program videos for St. Louis County Library, reaching 1,661 viewers in one week with a program promoting native plants.
- Co-facilitated a very successful Give STL Day on May 7 that resulted in $12,500 in donations to the Garden — a huge success during the challenging financial times of COVID-19.
- Kicked-off the second year of Grow Solar St. Louis with all virtual “Solar Power Hour” information sessions. When combined with the sister program Grow Solar Metro East, we’ve seen over 300 KWs of renewable solar energy to the region and surpassing the first three participation benchmarks earning homeowners a 1.5% rebate on their new solar installations — remarkable during COVID-19.
- Shifted to fall virtual video delivery of MSD Project Clear Rainscaping Small Grants Program‘s required landowner orientations. This effort involved compiling all Rainscaping video resources — including existing recordings not previously available to the public — and initiating virtual paperwork submission to continue Rainscaping reimbursements remotely.
- Awarded approximately $100,000 in funding through the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance Rainscaping Cost-Share Program for twenty-five landowners in sub-watershed focus areas to rainscape their yards with native plants to help improve water quality and increase biodiversity. Work also continued on updating the extensive Deer Creek Watershed Management Plan.
- Shifted the U.S. Green Building Council – MO Gateway Chapter (USGBC) Green Schools Quest to adapt to stay-at-home orders by extending the deadline and celebrating the participants and winners electronically for a full week by releasing a video every day.
- Presented virtually to national and regional conferences, including sessions addressing: racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the contractor and home performance fields; horticultural plastic waste issues; and business advantages of green infrastructure measures.
- Planted and maintained the seventh season of the Sunflower+ Project: STL in Old NorthSt. Louis.
- Kept in touch with a regional contractor’s network about COVID-19 best practices for healthy home and energy efficiency around the state.
- Began developing an energy program in partnership with local non-profit organization, EnergyCare, to assess and improve the homes of our most vulnerable populations.
Building Green in the Era of COVID-19
The USGBC staff’s work resulted in the passage of the City of St. Louis’s Building Energy Performance Standard at the last meeting of the 2019-2020 board of alderman session (also the board’s first virtual meeting). This created good media coverage, a national USGBC webinar, issuance of RFQ for a Regional Energy Resource Hub, development of an Energy Efficiency / Renewable Energy Toolkit, and scheduling multiple Q&A sessions this summer and fall.
USGBC also launched virtual ‘Coffee Breaks’ — quick, lively conversations surrounding timely green building topics including ‘Planning for Equity’ and ‘Engaging the Community in the Design Process.’
The EarthWays Center appreciates everyone’s commitment to making sustainable choices during COVID-19 when it cannot always be a priority. Stay up to date with sustainability at the Missouri Botanical Garden and throughout the region by visiting mobot.org/sustainability.
Sustainability Program and Events Specialist