The following is a reprint from ‘Direto de Miami translated from Portuguese to English. It’s always nice when a local environmental hero gets kudos. Luiz Rodrigues and ECOMB have become invaluable for Miami Beach.
[Environmental Proposals of Brazilian Environmentalist get the Obama Administration's Attention!
By Chris Delboni | Column: Direct from Miami (http://colunistas.ig.com.br/diretodemiami)
Photos by Carla Guarilha
When President Barack Obama visited the Miami area a few months ago, his government recognized and praised the City of Miami Beach's new Sustainability Plan and the wide variety of environmental projects that it has been proposing and implementing. He dubbed Miami Beach a "sustainable paradise" - a compliment to a wide range of sustainable proposals on waste prevention, recycling, energy conservation, transportation, habitat restoration - “The Sustainable City Concept” - developed in 2007 by a Brazilian, native of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Rodrigues, now executive director of ECOMB - Environmental Coalition of Miami & the Beaches.
The NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) was founded in 1994 and its main activity is educating, coordinating and promoting beach cleanups.
In 2000, Luiz – who moved to Miami from California – with extensive experience in marine biology and environmental education, he became a regular volunteer in the organization.
Always introducing new ideas to improve the environmental conditions in the region, Luiz was invited to take over ECOMB in the following year. After much deliberation, he agreed.
At the time, he used to work at the Discovery Channel Latin America from 7am to 15:30, and ECOMB in his apartment until 2 in the morning.
"They used to call me Luiz ECOMB,” he said laughingly and a bit proud of the new surname he was given.
He worked practically alone, without depending on funding and staff. However, little by little and through his friendly nature, dedication and seriousness, Luiz established a greater level of credibility with local government officials and city residents, who began to support his environmental initiatives. One such example is his leadership and local coordination with City officials regarding a major international environmental event: the International Coastal Cleanup Day, which happened last Saturday and was attended by close to 1000 volunteers in Miami Beach.
"I think I have one main goal, which is to be an agent of change in the community," he says. "We are not able to change the world alone, but we are able to change the world around us." And thus, ECOMB's presence in Miami Beach grew exponentially.
In 2007, based on the “The Sustainable City Concept: ECOMB’s Agenda for a Greener Miami Beach” proposal created by the Brazilian and presented to the City Miami Beach Commission by Commissioner Michael Gongora, the City established the Sustainability Committee.
Luiz carried out a double shift, for seven years, between his regular full time job and the NGO until 2007. Then in 2008, he received $42,000 grant from Miami-Dade County to implement a litter prevention campaign and to better structure ECOMB, already considered practically a local institution.
"I always remove barriers," says humbly but immensely proud of his achievements. All the work I do is in benefit of our environment, my city - Miami Beach - our tourists and residents."
Then life changed: Luiz left his full time employment and began to dedicate his full attention to ECOMB's environmental projects and permanently moved his office from his home to an office located in South Beach.
But his plans did not stop there.
Needing a permanent and larger space, he and his team proved to City of Miami Beach officials that ECOMB saved the administration approximately $150,000 a year through their bi-weekly shoreline cleanups. "We did all the calculations, presented them to City Commissioners and Mayor and asked the City for an office space."
And once again he achieved his goal.
In 2009, Luiz received a phone call from City Hall stating that the NGO could lease a space being used by as a police sub-station, but that was about to move to a new location.
"It took about six months before the proposal was finally approved," he says.
Today, he leases the property for $ 1.25 (one dollar and 25 cents) a year. But the small building will soon become a great icon: the “Miami Beach Center for the Environment", which plans to incorporate a variety of green building concepts and become an environmental education center. The Center, which already implements a comprehensive community recycling program, will carry out workshops and training, a green resource library, an organic garden and an outdoor screening of environmental/educational documentaries, which is also part of a new educational project which Luiz began developing last year.
This new project is scheduled for next month: the Miami & The Beaches Environmental Film Festival.]