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Arizona can learn a thing or two from Minnesota!

Green Lessons From Our Neighbor to the North – by Laine Seaton
Executive Director, Environmental Fund for Arizona

loonarizonaMinnesota is kicking our butt. No, I’m not talking ice hockey or the fact that they have 10,000 lakes – yes, it’s not just their state motto. Rather, I’m talking about their killer support for their environment – hey, they have 10,000 lakes to keep pristine remember? But seriously, Minnesota is leaving us in the dust when it comes to supporting the environment through workplace giving. What’s that you ask? Workplace giving is just that – where employees in companies, cities, counties, universities, or really any organization can give to charities through their workplace, usually via payroll deduction.

For decades, the United Way has been the biggest player on the block. But more recently, other groups, called federations, have joined in looking for an equal piece of the workplace giving pie, representing other nonprofit sectors including the environment. EarthShare (link to www.earthshare.org) is the granddaddy of environmental federations and has 19 state affiliates across the country. There are however a few of us ‘rogue’ independent greenies, like our own Environmental Fund for Arizona (EFAZ) (link to www.efaz.org), but the Minnesota Environmental Fund (link to www.mnenvirofund.org) is one that we Arizonans would be wise to emulate.

In a little over 15 years, MEF has established itself in 140 campaigns across the state, including private companies as well as cities and counties, and now brings in on average $900,000 in donations annually for its 25 environmental group members. No matter how you slice it, that’s a nice chunk of change for MEF members to help continue their missions.

Now contrast this to how Arizona is matching up…or not. Just 17 workplaces across the entire state currently include a ‘green’ choice in their workplace campaigns. For those of us who connect the environment, smart growth, and sustainability to the health and vitality of Arizona’s future, not to mention who believe in the ‘spirit of philanthropy,’ you’d think offering an environmental choice to workplaces would be easier. It’s not. Unfortunately, sometimes long-standing tradition trumps common sense and cool ideas.

Why is ‘giving green’ at work so darn great and why should Arizona take notice? I’ll tell you. Not only does it introduce hundreds, if not thousands of folks to smaller environmental nonprofits who might not have access to companies themselves, but do amazingly cool work for our environment, but it allows Arizona employees to learn about the significant variety of environmental issues being tackled across the state, and helps them to get involved. Think Sonoran Institute and their work with Superstition Vistas. Think Audubon Arizona and their recent opening of the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, the gateway to a lush Sonoran riparian habitat used by over 200 species of birds and other wildlife. And don’t forget Grand Canyon Trust. They’re our champions of Arizona’s – and the nation’s – spectacular treasure, the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau. These are just 3 of 29 organizations that make up EFAZ (link to www.efaz.org). Here’s another reason – one that is ridiculously obvious. Arizona is pushing ‘green’ in a big way, no not just to save the planet but for more practical reasons, like recharging our state’s economy with green jobs. Solar energy…hello? Water issues…we’re all over it. Why wouldn’t companies, cities, counties, and universities welcome a green choice into their campaigns?

So, what’s the moral of the story? Let’s not let Minnesota keep kicking our environmental butt. Isn’t the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran Desert worth saving? I say ‘wake up Arizona and smell the organically-grown, fair trade coffee.’

by Editor

Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at 06:28
  • Sue Thomas
    Mar 4th, 2010 at 13:04 | #1

    I can understand your frustration, but you need to look at the culture and economics of Arizona. The greatest increase in population in the last fifteen years and now the biggest downturn in the housing industry. An economy built on wood and concrete. I am from the Midwest and there is a different ethic and higher education level and a more stable population.

  • Eric Gorsegner
    Mar 4th, 2010 at 16:29 | #2

    Hats off to this effort. Times are tight and so is money – but our CHOICES OF OPTIONS in terms of where we donate need not be.
    For as long as I can remember, Arizona’s major employers (and I’ve worked for many) provided me a long list of United Way agencies from which I could CHOOSE. And I always gave. But my choices were limited.
    Arizona’s natural environment and resources are the cornerstone of much of our economic prosperity. We market it… we recreate on it … and all we love it. It helps define us as Arizonans.

    There are now MORE than a handful of organizations dedicated to our heritage, our lands and our wildlife and they are among the most impactful and effective and effective in accomplishing their missions. The employees of the major employers should at least have the OPPORTUNITY to say “yes” to them. Especially with the renewed efforts and “reintroduction” of EFAZ by Ms. Seaton it seems to me the time has never been better… and, best of all, it doesn’t cost money. It just adds more CHOICES and thats a good thing. Just say “Yes” … its easy.

  • Mar 17th, 2010 at 14:02 | #3

    Great article and so very true. Arizona is falling woefully behind in the green race, we need a wake-up call.

    Arizona has an opportunity to be the silicon valley of green yet we are being passed up and over by many other states.

    It is up to us as entrepreneurs to make change and up to us as voters to demand it.

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