EARTH DAY has been celebrated in Savannah for decades. But this year is really the first time it’s been organized and run by a nonprofit organization dedicated to putting it on.
The Savannah Chatham Sustainability Coalition (SCSC) debut their inaugural Earth Day this Saturday in Forsyth Park, with a wide variety of events, free and open to the public as always.
The City of Savannah itself founded the local Earth Day celebration and ran it for many years, and they’re still the major sponsor. But this year’s launch by SCSC marks the beginning of a new chapter for the local event.
Joanne Morton is SCSC’s Director of Sustainable Events, and she spoke to us about the group’s efforts and new outlook.
“One thing we talked about in 2017 was that we should start a nonprofit specifically to run Earth Day in Savannah. The festival shouldn’t be privately run. We wanted more of a community engagement event, with an organization that could promote and organize the Earth Day Festival year-round,” Morton says.
The partners and directors of SCSC comprise an impressively diverse group who are very active at the grassroots level.
For example, Cynthia Hopson, vice president of the Edgemere-Sackville Neighborhood Association, is SCSC’s Director of Sustainable Neighborhoods and also active with the Savannah Shines project.
Board member George Seaborough works with Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy and is president of the Twickenham Neighborhood Association; board member Rob Hessler is co-chair of the Parkside Neighborhood Association and is a local artist.
Two SCSC partners are under 30, Matthew Grady and Elizabeth Rhaney.
None of this is an accident, Morton says.
“If we’re going to be talking about sustainability, we have to get to know each other – we have to make sure all communities are represented,” Morton says.
“We have a broad spectrum of different communities involved. We’re not just focused on hugging the trees.”
Morton says the group expressly avoids any overt political message, but at some point one has to talk about issues in a rational way.
“If you really want a sustainable community you have to eventually bring in economics, education and social justice,” she says.
“Without working with all of them, it may not matter if you have a clean park. We have to heal the people before we heal the earth.”
While of course political candidates can come to the event as they please, Morton says, “I don’t think anything about sustainability or the environment should be political anymore. We have to change the way we talk about these issues – there shouldn’t be anything political about our future or our health.”
That idea fits perfectly into one of Morton’s other labors of love, her Magic Passion Love Manifesting Mobile vision board. Sort of a moving art exhibit, Morton started that project nearly ten years ago in an effort to raise awareness of the connected vision all humans share.
“We have to bridge the gaps and keep talking to people. Of course that goes hand in hand with what I’ve been trying to do with the Manifesting Mobile display – the idea that we’re all more alike than not alike,” she says.
A wide range of community groups will host talks, displays, and presentations. One of the most interesting is Junkluggers of the Coastal Empire, a business which helps small organizations recycle and reduce their footprint and get tax deductions.
“We are an eco-friendly junk removal company. Our main goal is to keep debris out of the landfill,” says Junkluggers’ Trevor Hess.
“We have 130 or so partners we work with. We focus at the micro level. Instead of working with a really large organization, we might work with a nonprofit that’s had the same chairs for 30 years,” he says.
At this year’s Earth Day, Hess says, “We’ll be doing e-waste collection – things like computers and TVs, including TVs with the old CRTs. These are mostly recyclable components, for example the gold and silver in the parts can be extracted.”
Hess and Junkluggers will also give a presentation on the “Three Rs”: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.
“Recycling and reusing are pretty easy. People have more difficulty with reducing. That’s something we really try to work with people on,” says Hess.
Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools are participating in Earth Day this year as always, with an appearance by the Oatland Island Wildlife Center’s OWLS program.
Owned and operated by the school district, Oatland Island is a mostly outdoor educational campus with an impressive array of wildlife and a great trail system.
“The OWLS program is new, this is our first year,” says Elize Zador, a teacher who works at Oatland Island. “The students range from grades 7-12. It’s for students interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what we do at Oatland Island. Their activities can range from from guest services to gardening.”
OWLS members can also run the “discovery cart” on the trails at Oatland Island, an activity Zador compares to a docent at a museum.
This year, the OWLS are participating in the Savannah Earth Day celebration as part of their “environmental action project.”
Zador says the focus this year lines up with the larger Earth Day goals of reducing plastics, especially single-use plastics.
They will also be doing three talks throughout the day, with an “animal encounter.”
The theme for the ‘big’ Earth Day is to end plastic pollution.
“Locally, we’ll be focusing on zero waste. Especially with regards to single-use plastic,” says SCSC’s Morton.
“The other thing is to get rid of Styrofoam — that’s just embarrassing. If we’re bringing in all these international tourists it’s just embarrassing for people to still see us using Styrofoam,” she says.
“There are solutions now! And the great thing is, the more restaurants and bars that participate and buy compostable cups, the cost will go down. There are other ways to keep your 59 oz Coke cold!” she laughs.
Tent One – Energy & Recycling
11 am – Energy Efficiency with GA Power
Noon – Waste to Wealth: How to Use the Three R’s (Reducing, Reusing and Recycling) to Your Advantage; Presented by Trevor Hess of Junkluggers of Coastal Empire
1 pm – City Recycling, Presented by Gene Prevett of the City of Savannah
2 pm – Summer Heat is almost here! Presented by Bryant Dunn of McCalls HVAC .
Tent Two – Bees, Snakes, Mermaids and Trash Monsters!
11 am – Protect our Pollinators, Presented by Laura Liu of Coastal Empire Beekeeping Association
Noon – Dispelling the Fear of Snakes! Presented by Oatland Island Wildlife Center
1 pm – Miraculous Miranda the Mermaid, Presented by Talisa White of Miss Southeast Earth United States/ Eco Ambassadors
2 pm – Trash Monsters, Presented by Krystal Skolosis of The Revival Society
Tent Three – Gardening
11 am – Basic DIY Mushroom Cultivation and Composting, Presented by Robert Kiser of C-Port Mushrooms
Noon – Grow Your Own Food Year Round with Hydroponics, Presented by Andrew Morris of Savannah Hydroponics & Organics
1 pm – Permaculture Gardening 101, Presented by Victory Gardens
2 pm – Breaking down the pallets, Presented by Stephen Langford of E. 34 Greenhouse
Tent Four – Healthy Choices
11 am – 50 Ways to Save the Planet without Leaving your Kitchen, Presented by Chef Amber Marie of Clean Cuisine
Noon – A Tea Primer – Unlocking the Power of Tea, Presented by Peter Brodhead of Brighter Day Natural Market
1 pm -Wild Medicinal Mushrooms, Presented by Marty Colvin of Green Freedom Farms
2 pm – Zero Waste Clean Food Choices, Presented by Carla Golden of Palmetto Plant Eaters and Lowcountry VegFest
3 pm – Alchemystic, Presented by Thailia Chee of Alchemystics
Student Workshop Tent
Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah and Burton 4-H offers an afternoon of environmental education. Presentations begin at 11:30.