Cultivating a New Path A ONE-OF-A-KIND COLLABORATION FUELS ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

April 13, 2016 5:03 PM | Anonymous

Source: Curiosity Magazine   

On some of the nastiest, most wretched mornings of the past 25 years, Frank Henson set off to work not in the comfort of a car, but on his bicycle. Somewhere in the 8-mile stretch between his neighborhood of Madisonville and downtown Cincinnati, Henson was that guy riding along on two wheels — in a suit and tie. Crazy, right?

Not exactly. Henson and his wife, Mary Messman, both tax professionals, gave up their car to encourage a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Henson was 40 then, the age, as he puts it, when certain afflictions like high blood pressure and cholesterol start to rear their ugly heads. But when he started riding back and forth to work (the trip home involved a 275-foot climb in elevation), he was able to lose weight and stop medicating.

As Henson found out, the benefits of biking and walking are readily apparent in terms of personal health and reduced exhaust emissions into the atmosphere. But biking and walking can also play a significant role in improving a local economy.

A 2012 University of Cincinnati study found that property values along the 75-mile Little Miami Scenic Trail commanded a $9,000 premium because of the proximity to the biking and walking path. Another study out of Ohio found that property values near trails remained constant through the last recession. In addition, new jobs are created — in tourism-related industries, construction, and maintenance.

But in order to reap the many benefits of these biking and walking trails, you have to actually have them first, and in Cincinnati, that’s where the “backbone organization” called Green Umbrella comes into play.

Green Umbrella founders noticed that there were hundreds of small nonprofits, governmental organizations, and businesses advocating for environmental sustainability in the region, but each one operated independently. Instead of joining forces, these groups sometimes competed for funding and sometimes wasted opportunities to strengthen each other’s efforts.

What if, the founders wondered, they could create a cross-sector umbrella group to bring together organizations to advance shared environmental goals? Partnering with like-minded organizations in Kentucky and Ohio, Green Umbrella has helped unite more than 200 nonprofits, businesses, educational institutions, and governmental entities into one powerful, collaborative force that simply gets things done.

Fifth Third Bank has been a strong supporter of Green Umbrella’s mission through board engagement and corporate sponsorship. The partnership seemed like a natural fit for the bank due to their ongoing commitment to eco-innovation, sustainability, and efficiency. The company now has 27 LEED-certified bank branches and roughly 1,000 of its financial centers have recycling programs. In the bank’s Madisonville campus in Cincinnati, there’s even a place to compost lunch leftovers.

Supporting Green Umbrella helps extend the bank’s green initiatives into the communities. Scott Hassell, the bank’s director for environmental affairs, serves as Fifth Third’s liaison to, as well as board president of, Green Umbrella. “It’s all about how we can change behavior and move the whole region forward,” Hassell says of the collective group’s mission.

The bank’s relationship with Green Umbrella may be its most outward-facing environmental initiative yet. The demand for Green Umbrella’s leadership goes beyond transportation. Its action teams are also involved in energy, land, waste reduction, and watershed issues, among others.

Kristin Weiss, Green Umbrella’s executive director, says that the support and partnership Fifth Third Bank provides is key to the organization’s work. “The commitment from Fifth Third for our organization is an incredible example of great nonprofit board engagement,” Weiss says. “Having Scott as our board chair has really helped guide the strategic priorities and partner-ships for our organization in a big way.”

Currently, Green Umbrella and its partners are working to create a seamless commute into downtown Cincinnati and around town that will require morphing some 20 scattered miles of biking and walking trails into a connected, 42-mile urban loop, according to a trail-connectivity study called Cincinnati Connects. The study found that there will be 242,000 people living within one mile of these trails, with a projected economic benefit of $43.5 million. The ultimate hope: hundreds of miles of connected trails to supply Frank Henson and his cycling peers with endless hours of enjoyment.

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