Sanctified stewardship

After spending years on the road, accepting offers to speak on a variety of environmental issues, Ron Dodson, president and CEO of Audubon International, came to a very simple realization. "No matter where I've been," he says, "I have found that water-clean or polluted-does flow downhill. Air, water and wildlife do not recognize political borders that have been created by humans. More important, I've found people from all walks of life, who speak all kinds of languages, in all sorts of places, who care about and are taking action to protect the quality of the environment."

Businesses with similar beliefs, all over the country, have taken Dodson's words to heart and become members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System (ACSS). Within our industry, the program is most recognized in association with golf courses. However, it also applies to corporate/business properties (as well as schools and residential backyards), including corporate parks, cemeteries, recreational park districts, nursing homes, hotels and resorts, among others.

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The importance of being environmental stewards Dodson is adept at relaying the importance of recognizing how every individual can make a difference in improving our environment. When describing the ACSS, Dodson says, "What [ACSS] really means is that the quality of air, water, wildlife habitat-indeed the fate of the environment for future generations-is up to all of us. It's up to you. Simply, the way we live makes a difference." He goes on, "The ACSS is dedicated to educating people to become environmental stewards. By providing information, guidance, motivation and recognition, we are helping people enhance and protect wildlife and their habitats and conserve natural resources throughout North America and, increasingly, around the world."

With such thoughts in mind, Dodson continually challenges businesses to consider the impact they can have by making changes at their sites that can positively impact the environment. "Participate pro-actively in resource-management decisions that confront us in our society and in our daily lives," he advises. "Choose sustainable actions on an individual and collective level."

And, not surprisingly, consider becoming an ACSS site. It's not a complicated process-at least to start. Interested businesses fill out a registration form and send it (with a check for $100) to Audubon International. Upon receipt, your organization becomes a registered member of the ACSS. You then receive the following, which begins your journey toward becoming a certified ACSS site: *A guide to environmental stewardship at your business * An environmental planning form in which you describe the nature of your organization, outline your goals and plan improvement projects *A 1-year subscription to Audubon International's Stewardship News publication *A Cooperative Sanctuary art print to display *Guidance, assistance and support from Audubon staff to help you achieve your goals.

The Environmental Plan (which Audubon says takes about an hour to fill out) will help you identify existing site conditions, including your environmental assets and any constraints, and helpyou plan environmental-management strategies for your organization. Once you complete and return it, you'll achieve certification in Environmental Planning and receive direction for becoming a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

The pilgrimage toward certification continues as you work to achieve awards in the program's four additional components: wildlife-and-habitat management, outreach and education, waste management and resource conservation. Audubon finds that the process of implementing projects in each area takes an average of 1 to 3 years for most properties, but the ultimate rewards of achieving the certified sanctuary designation are well-worth the effort.

What's the point? Obviously, it takes some serious effort to become certified as an ACSS site. But the Audubon organization goes to great lengths to provide incentives to strive for that goal. Being a certified site: *Promotes your positive, pro-active environmental achievements * Educates employees about habitat management, best-management practices and public-outreach strategies designed specifically for businesses *Provides on-going technical information, support and guidance for implementing environmental projects *Results in financial savings for many participating businesses *Improves the image of business owners as valuable, knowledgeable professionals * Connects businesses and business personnel with local resource people and organizations who can support the business' environmental-management programs *Helps business managers organize and document their environmental activities.

"Being a responsible environmental manager is a key part of running a successful business today," says Jean Mackay, Audubon International's education director. "An environmental program designed for your business makes both environmental and economic sense. Not only will your efforts benefit wildlife and the environment, they will help your business increase revenue, decrease maintenance time and improve employee morale. You'll also be recognized as a responsible member of your local, regional or national business community."

Currently, the ACSS business program can boast of many varied and interesting members, each with its own environmental focus and set of stewardship projects. A short list includes: *Reader's Digest Association (Pleasantville, N.Y.) *Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, Wash.) *YMCA (Sterling, Ill.) *Winterthur Museum (Winterthur, Del.) *The Ritz-Carlton (Kapalua, Hawaii) *Golf House, headquarters of the USGA (Far Hills, N.J.) *Hansen Nature Center (Henrietta, N.Y.) * White Haven Memorial Park (Pittsford, N.Y.).

Audubon has showered accolades most particularly on White Haven, which has the honor of accomplishing two "firsts" with the program. the site was the first cemetery enrolled in the Audubon Certified Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Cemeteries in 1993. Its most recent accomplishment is that it became the first Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Cemetery in the world.

"Not only has White Haven Memorial Park made a great environmental commitment, exemplified through their designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary," says Jean T. Mackay, Audubon's education director, "but they have acted as the leader in their industry and have set a new standard by which other cemeteries can manage their land."

Under the tutelage of Andrea Vittum, White Haven's president and CEO, the cemetery has been involved in various stewardship projects with the resulting rewards of renewed health and restoration of wildlife habitat and natural-resource conservation. Projects such as a recycling program for plastic flowers and wreaths, a large network of nesting boxes to attract blue birds and continual outreach to the community and visitors have made it an environmental success story in its industry.

In fulfilling its award in the wildlife-and-habitat-management category, White Haven gave particular attention to the issue of integrated pest management (IPM). "Most landowners believe the only way to control pests such as grubs is to treat an entire lawn with an appropriate pesticide," Vittum writes (International Cemetery & Funeral Management, December 1998). "White Haven was no exception. We used to treat all 80 mowed acres with grub control every August at a cost of approximately $6,500. Years of testing has proved, however, that spot treatment of the worst areas of pest activity can control pests just as effectively as blanket treatment while greatly reducing the amount of pesticide used.

"Information provided by Audubon International showed us how to test for the presence of grubs and treat only those areas where the number of grubs exceeded predetermined tolerance levels." As a result, White Haven cut in half the amount of chemical grub control it used and saved $3,500 per year."

If you're surprised that White Haven is allowed to use any chemical treatment and still be certified as an Audubon site, Vittum easily explains. "Rather than banning pesticides, land development and other activities that are potentially detrimental to the environment" she says, "the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program works with landowners to find creative solutions benefiting both the environment and the landowner. The theory is that when environmental stewardship is advantageous to a business, the business will participate willingly and consistently."

This theory seems to be on target. Another site that has achieved ACSS certification and experienced great success on a variety of fronts as a result is General Electric-Selkirk (Albany, N.Y.). With 3 acres designated as a sanctuary filled with wildlife species and numerous indoor and outdoor stewardship activities and projects, this 700-acre facility has become a model of environmental stewardship for other GE plants, as well as the corporate community as a whole.

"The success of GE's environmental initiatives lies in our educational programs and high level of employee participation," says Al Olmstead, chair of GE Selkirk's Wildlife Habitat Council. Regular features in an employee newsletter, workshops and guest lecturers, educational pamphlets and an annual Earth Day celebration have helped to educate and motivate employees and their families to be environmental stewards both at work and in their homes.

One of GE's greatest accomplishments has been the creation of a nature trail. Nearly a mile long, the nature trail passes through a brush lot, an open meadow, a conifer forest and a hardwood forest. Along the trail, employees and visitors often run into a variety of wildlife ranging from hawks and owls to coyotes and red and gray foxes. Deer and turkey are seen feeding on fallen acorns and beech nuts. GE offers guided tours to employees, as well as nature walks for children from a local camp. A map and trail guide allow employees to take self-guided walks at any time.

Skeptics have few defenders If you're still skeptical of the rewards you'll receive from undertaking a goal such as Audubon certification, education director Mackay can help you put it into perspective.

"Many of [us travel] to natural areas-national parks, wildlife refuges, the local lake or campground. You probably notice the exceptional beauty, the abundant wildlife and the pristine natural resources-flowing mountain streams, huge stands of old-growth forests and wildflowers," she explains. "You might even think that this land is 'better' or 'more important' than where you live. You might think that this land 'deserves' to be protected and prized.

"And natural lands should be protected. These areas hold a treasure of biodiversity, rare plants and opportunities to witness wilderness. But what about your land, where you make your home, your business, your children's school, where you recreate-your community in general? Seventy-one percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. That is a staggering amount of natural resources, green space, homes to wildlife-a jigsaw puzzle of land uses and land-management styles."

So what about your neighbor? The school down the road? Your cemetery, business park or local college? It's possible you could have a greater impact than you could ever imagine by taking some steps toward more involved environmental stewardship. And becoming a certified Audubon site might only be a few miles down the road once you start...

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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