Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) was honored this month by Sustainable Florida, a statewide organization with a vision to “protect and preserve Florida’s environment while building markets for Florida’s businesses” through sustainable best practices. The group awarded its Best Practice Award for Community Engagement to EPC’s annual Clean Air Fair initiative.
“Our agency is really big on outreach,” says Jeff Sims, General Manager of EPC’s Air Division
, which runs the fair. The fair, he says, “becomes a big interaction point for the public.” Sims says the award is new to Sustainable Florida this year and that the EPC was among stiff competition, about 20 businesses, competing for it from around the state.
Margaret Rush, the EPC’s Sustainability Coordinator
says beyond providing a forum for educating the public on what the exhibitor companies are doing – something that is not always easy to understand in the abstract – the Clean Air Fair also creates a unique networking opportunity for a cross-section of business, civic and governmental groups “to talk about minimizing pollution” and for businesses to gain peer-to-peer knowledge on sustainable best practices.
Launched in 2001, the EPC’s Clean Air Fair is an annual event meant to celebrate the month of May as Clean Air Month, as designated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Fair is open and free to the public and exhibitors alike, with the aim of raising awareness and promoting environmental and sustainable practices.
This year’s event attracted more than 1,000 attendees, with more than 50 exhibitors from a wide range of businesses – from solar management and conservation organizations to major companies like TECO
. The bustling, open-air event purposely takes place at a location that is “great for pedestrians” at the Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa. In addition to live music, complimentary food items and other give-aways, for the past several years they have showcased alternative vehicles – such as the fully electric Tesla, which claims to get 270 miles to a single charge. The innovation on display, Sims says, “draws in people to the more cutting-edge stuff.”
Rush says she is noticing a greater interest in sustainability ”especially if you can make an economic case for it as well as social. More and more [sustainable initiatives] are coming in line as the cost of ‘business as usual.’ It just makes sense,” she notes. “That’s why it is important to learn about them.”