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Minnesota flag

Adding Leverage To Going Green At Arizona Businesses

Minnesota 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 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, but the Minnesota Environmental Fund 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 three of 29 organizations that make up EFAZ. 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, 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. Aren’t the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran Desert worth saving? I say ‘wake up Arizona and smell the organically-grown, fair trade coffee.’


From Eyesore To Eye-Pleasing, Rio Salado Has Changed Dramatically Over The Years

Once an ugly swath of usually dry land that often served as a dumping ground, Rio Salado today offers the best of both worlds — economic development opportunities and a riparian haven for environmentalists.

Options for education and entertainment round out the dream planners had 40 years ago for the Salt River as it winds through Tempe and Phoenix. Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile stretch of sky-blue water that anchors the eastern section of Rio Salado, marks its 10th anniversary on Dec. 12. Meanwhile, in Phoenix the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, an 8,000-square-foot education facility, opened in October.

Ask Steve Nielsen, who was Tempe’s Rio Salado project manager for more than 13 years, if it has reached its potential, and he replies without hesitation: “Absolutely.”

But he concedes: “With current economic conditions, development around the lake hasn’t progressed as quickly as we had envisioned. At the same time, Rio Salado was the least valuable property in all of Tempe, and now it is the most valuable.”

Nielsen, currently assistant vice president of university real estate development at Arizona State University, says the primary objectives of Rio Salado were flood control, economic sustainability for Tempe and environmental enhancement.

“From that perspective, we achieved every one of those,” he says.

What’s more, Tempe established wildlife habitat areas upstream and downstream from the lake. In Phoenix, at 3131 S. Central Ave. on the south bank of the Salt River, sits the National Audubon Society’s first education center in Arizona. Sam Campana, vice president and executive director of Audubon Arizona, calls the learning facility a centerpiece for Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project.

“Birds are the main attraction, but children also learn science, geology and history here,” Campana says.

The five-mile stretch of Rio Salado in Phoenix also features more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails. Yet, with all that Rio Salado offers, and with 35 schools within five miles of the center, there is a sense that this inner-city paradise is underutilized.

Rio Salado Beyond the Banks is an advisory committee to the city of Phoenix that has a vision of maximizing the long-term educational, recreational and economic benefits of the river to the community. But George Young, an active member of the committee, says, “It’s a very slow work in progress, frustrating at times. The city has budget problems, and that’s kind of thrown a wrench into a lot of our ambitions, especially as far as the promotion of Rio Salado goes.”

Chris Parks, Rio Salado Habitat supervisor for the city of Phoenix, says plans call for restoring the river bottom from 26th Street to 19th Avenue, with trails, equestrian paths and restaurants along the way. Eventually, the city hopes to establish a sense of connectivity with Tempe Town Lake for the public, as well as animals and birds.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman says development around Tempe Town Lake stalled around 1999 and 2000, but picked up in 2004 after services provided by the city’s development department were streamlined to help developers and local residents avoid costly delays. Today, virtually all development around the lake occurred since 2004, and that includes 18 months of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Tempe Town Lake, along with projects on Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard, offers developers various paths to success, Hallman says. Tempe, he adds, is well positioned for economic recovery.

“The lake is part of that picture,” he says.

SunCor Development Company, which is developing the Hayden Ferry Lakeside project at Tempe Town Lake, occupies 40,000 square feet in one of the towers. Thus far, SunCor has erected six structures with more than 1 million square feet — two office towers, a loft office building, two condo high rises with a total of 150 units, and a garage. The overall urban infill project encompasses 43 acres from bridge to bridge on Mill Avenue to Rural Road. Nine more towers, more commercial than residential, are planned and will add 4 million square feet of space to the project. Steve Betts, president and CEO of SunCor, says it will take seven to 10 years to complete the project.

“We always thought Hayden Ferry Lakeside was a multicycle project, with ebbs and flows through several up and down cycles,” Betts says.

He expects the project to be one of the first to come back when the economy improves.

“It is literally the geographic center of the Valley surrounded by three freeways, it’s on the light rail, it’s five minutes from the airport,” Betts says, “and you have the only urban lake at your doorstep.”