May 10, 2016

Preservation of SWFL is summit subject

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Cape Coral Daily Breeze

April 29, 2016


If the environment is healthy, so are its people, meaning lots of money coming into Southwest Florida.

That was the message as more than 200 business and community leaders gathered at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs on Thursday for the second annual Sustainability Summit, sponsored by Visaggio & Co., in partnership with the Florida DEP and Goodwill Industries.

The theme of the event was “Healthy People, Healthy Place, & Healthy Profit” to improve the quality of life of Lee County. Business and environmental best practices go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, especially in an area where tourism is king.

“The thread that holds this together is health and quality of life. So it’s a lens to look at all the local issues and priorities that contribute to it,” said Matt Visaggio, founder of the summit.

The event featured morning breakout panel discussions, with the upcoming Babcock Ranch as one of the hot topics.

Retired FGCU professor Dr. Bill Hammond discussed “Babcock on the Brain,” saying that in the millions of years of human development, nearly all of it was living in or with nature, with their transportation being mainly their feet.

“The kids and adults learned while they were walking. Those have implications on how we live today. We live in a society where we’re locked in offices, in classrooms,” Hammond said. “At Babcock, we’re trying to create a lifestyle that recognizes technology but also looks at the need for people to get out.”

John Hillman, VP of sales and marketing for Babcock Ranch, and Pason Gaddis of Florida Weekly also held a session on Babcock, explaining it in general.

“We talk about sustainability, not just ecologically, but socially,” Hillman said. “We built a 443-acre solar facility for FP&L. It’s part of their initiative for have three of these statewide.”

There also was a sustainable art gallery for which the Supervisor of Elections Office was on hand to count attendees’ votes for the show competition.

There was also an electric and hybrid car show, featuring new passenger vehicles that use no gasoline, and the SWFL Fifth-Grader Sustainability competition, featuring students from Gulf Elementary School and hosted by NFL great and current North Fort Myers High School football coach Earnest Graham.

Mary Lou Benecke, former vice president of Public Affairs at Dow Corning, was the keynote speaker, speaking of the private/public partnership in putting health at the center of the community

Kimberly Verblaauw, Gulf principal, said her students performed well, and that sustainability is a very important part of the curriculum.

“We cover it in phys ed and in science class. They have learned a lot,” Verblaauw said. “Sustainability starts now. Our kids are the future and they’re going into the jobs that are going to help us maintain the community. We need to teach them to be stewards of the community and financial knowledge like paying taxes and debt relief.”

“We’ve learned how to keep the Earth clean and our bodies healthy. We have a lot to do at the school and with STEM,” fifth-grader Olivia Resendes said.

Also, Graham discussed how he is helping transform lives off the football field while developing players on it.

Scott Cashman, CEO of Cape Coral Hospital, said he was impressed by how health unified the groups.

“It focuses on using health as a unifier for the community. Cape Coral has been great at doing that. When they hear more about what happened here, they can spread their efforts further,” Cashman said.

“I’ve heard some positive messages from Babcock that give me a good deal of hope,” said Max Forgey, former planning and Zoning committee member in Cape Coral. “We have a finite supply of resources and we continue to grow. You take that which is finite and make the best use of it.”