Stars of the South

 

ERIK LYONS AND MARIA FERNANDA CASTRO

WHAT THEY’RE DOING: The founders of Green Lifespace—Maria Fernanda Castro and Erik Lyons are Savannah’s go-to authorities on “going green.” Green Lifespace has three primary functions: Consulting businesses and individuals on greener methods and practices, recycling pickup and green cleaning, using all environmentally friend- ly products. “The whole concept of Green Lifespace is to have a healthy, harmonious mix of different philosophies like Feng Shui, and one that is environmentally responsible,” Castro explains. They also co-founded con- ceptualized and coordinated GreenFest—a one-day festival that saw over 40 eco-sensitive organizations and businesses showcase their services, which helped to unite disparate groups of like-minded individuals and groups. “Everybody knew what everybody else was doing, but nobody had sat down and talked and said ‘how can we work together?’ ” says Lyons. The pair remains involved with myriad groups and causes, from the Earth Day Committee to the UGA Oyster Restoration Program.


HAILS FROM: Castro grew up around Miami, Florida; Lyons hails from the Chicago area.

WHY SAVANNAH: Castro was recruited by a local radio station and moved to Savannah with Lyons in early 2007. Almost immediately after relocating, the pair began picking up freelance green consulting jobs, starting with restaurants like the Firefly Café and Gallery Espresso, who entrust Green Lifespace with their recyclable waste.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To facilitate a domino effect of environmental action, one person at a time, and to impart the message that giving your life a green makeover is easier (and cheaper) than it seems. “A lot of people feel like they want to do something, but people are paralyzed by the amount of information out there,” Lyons explains.

“What we want to do is show them it’s really simple; we’ll show them exactly how to do it and even tell them where to get their stuff.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: To continue painting Savannah and the Lowcountry green, and to become LEED accredited. They also hope to expand their business to other cities with a similar environmental needs.

QUOTE: “We [teach] people that everything they buy counts and every- thing they do does have an impact,” says Castro. “Most people believe they don’t make a difference, but everybody really does. So it’s all about education and just a little guidance.”

 

JANICE JAMES

WHAT SHE’S DOING: A lifelong Southerner and United States Postal Service employee for the past 32 years, Janice James got hip to the environment in 1996 after joining Keep Savannah Beautiful—a local non-profit organization. She later became the group’s president, and served the com- munity in this role for three years. “[During] my last year in office, I thought ‘hey, we need kids involved, as they are our future and the people who will carry the torch,’ ” James says. “I started going to a couple of community meetings to express the need and importance to involve our youth.” So, James took matters into her own hands and founded YFACE—Youth for a Cleaner Environment. “The vision I had for our city was to have a very active and visible environmental group offering a program which would primarily involve the youth of the community,” she says.


HAILS FROM: Savannah, Georgia

WHY SAVANNAH: After taking up the cause of the environment, James began traveling to areas throughout Georgia attending work-shops concerned with educating youth in ecological and sustainable issues. “In the north Georgia cities, environmental issues, concerns and support is so great, especially in educating the youth,” James says. “But participation is low from this area. I hope through YFACE and other environmental groups, participation in this area will increase.”

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To enliven the area’s youth—particularly minorities—to care about the environment and the health and future of the city. “Some, not all, minority children could care less about littering or saving our trees,” she says. “But once involved in YFACE and exposed to certain [things], I do see a change, if not an overnight difference.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: James says YFACE has designs to build a small greenhouse, which will allow the group’s children to work hands on with plants and soil. They also plan on becoming more active in recycling and other community projects.

QUOTE: “Seeing our youth grow in a positive manner—do good things and make positive statements and actions—motivates me…it revs me up.”

 

CATHY SAKAS

WHAT SHE’S DOING: As education coordinator for NOAA and Gray’s Reef since 1998, Sakas translates scientific research conducted at the marine sanctuary into programs understandable to teachers and students and palatable to the general public. She received both her B.S. in Biology and Masters of Education in Science from AASU; as an interpretive naturalist, she has guided tours to Central and South America and the Caribbean, teaching people about the environments they visited. Sakas has also written, narrated and hosted numerous television specials and series for both GPB and Turner South (and has become widely recognized as “the coastal naturalist” as a result). Sakas currently serves as vice-chair of the Education and Information Advisory Panel of the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, and is a board member and past president of the Tybee Island Marine Science Foundation. She was the founding president of Georgia Coastal Education Group—a committee of state and federal coastal educators.

HAILS FROM: Portsmouth, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay

WHY SAVANNAH: Sakas, who says she has “tidewater in her veins,” fled to the coast after living with her family in landlocked Middle Tennessee. She settled in Savannah in 1970, and now she says she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To pass on the message of the ocean’s importance, and to constantly remind us that the ocean is not, despite what

Jacques Cousteau once notoriously declared, an inexhaustible resource.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: With ongoing work- shops and interactive instructional programs, Sakas stays busy. This summer, she will be one of only four people on a committee to bring approximately 600 marine educators to Savannah for a National Marine Educators Association conference.

QUOTE: “I’ve traveled all around the world and seen some beautiful places, but for me, Coastal Georgia is it,” she says. “How many other coasts have16 barrier islands but only four of those developed? It’s extraordinary.”

 

PATTY AND FRANK MCINTOSH

WHAT THEY’RE DOING: Patty & Frank McIntosh were united by a common love of public service and community betterment. Patty has served as Vice President of the coastal division of the Georgia Conservancy—a non-profit organization that works to protect Georgia’s environment—for going on ten years. She is a chairwoman of the Chatham Environmental Forum, a vice-chair of Skidaway Marine Science Foundation and involved with such organizations as the Department of Natural Resources and the Coastal Advisory Council. She also formally served on the Chatham-Savannah Metropolitan

Planning Commission. Frank is the director of land protection for the Georgia Land Trust. He also writes newsletters and designs graphic materials for organizations like the Skidaway Marine Science Foundation, Savannah Riverkeeper, the Center for a Sustainable Coast and, of course, the Georgia Conservancy.

HAILS FROM: Frank is a native Savannahian who is, in his words, “related to Lachlan, who killed Button Gwinnett in a duel.” Patty, the product of a military family, lived in Arlington, Virginia, Texas, Germany and Atlanta before moving to Savannah.

WHY SAVANNAH: According to Patty, “I came to Savannah almost ten years ago to work for the Georgia Conservancy and it was a great opportunity to get Frank back home around his family.” Because of Georgia’s wealth of fragile salt marshes and tidal freshwater wetlands, Patty considers her work with environmental preservation vital to the region’s future. “And of course Frank’s memories and perspective of Savannah and Georgia’s coast serve as constant inspiration for the need to save and protect our coastal legacy before it’s too late.”

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To proselytize the virtues of pre- serving Georgia’s precious natural resources. “I want Savannah to realize that its current crest of success is due to the fact that it has for quite a while guarded the gifts of nature and the past, and those are a lot of what drives the current success,” says Frank. “Connecting people to our coastal lands, islands and waters through heightened awareness and appreciation will go a long way toward protecting the environment,” Patty agrees.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: With their respective organizations, negotiating scenarios that favor coastal sustainability, and shoring up interest and activism through grassroots efforts.

QUOTE: “Life should be fun, but if we don’t beat ourselves up a little bit every day about the way our current lifestyles are degrading our planet we aren’t being very honest,” Frank says. “We need to start thinking how we can find our current happiness without using up all the environmental capital that would allow the people coming along after us to have some happiness.”

 

PAUL WOLF

WHAT HE’S DOING: Officially retired but still work- ing an average of 50 hours per week for his various causes, Paul Wolff is the embodiment of someone who actually practices what he preaches. Since relocating to Tybee Island over ten years ago, Wolff has played an active role in a variety of organizations, including the Coastal Advisory Council, the Groundwater Guardian Team, the Green Building Council, the Sierra Club and the Georgia Recycling Coalition. He was integral in implementing Tybee’s curbside recycling program, and has been an outspoken proponent of Savannah recycling. As a Tybee Island City Councilman, Wolff writes countless resolutions and ordinances
to help transform Tybee into a model of sustainability.

HAILS FROM: A certified army brat who never lived in any place for more than two years, Wolff bought a farm in south central Tennessee and moved to Tybee Island in 1994, after visiting on the recommendation of a friend.

WHY SAVANNAH: According to Wolff, “I fell in love with Tybee at first sight.” But almost immediately after relocating there, he says he became cognizant of the many ways the barrier island was being neglect- ed. “Ever since [I moved here], I’ve watched it being sold out from under us, in essence, to the pressures of development,” he says. Now, he’s dedicated to blazing trails in coastal sustainability and stewardship. “This place is so unique and the whole coast is in
a place of peril, so it’s worth working for,” he says.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To influence mindsets in an environmental context and implement public policy that will positively impact Tybee for years to come. “Americans have been so arrogant for so long, we have developed a throw-away society,” he explains. “Europe and parts of Asia are way ahead of us in realizing that we are essentially throwing away the only planet we’ve got.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: Currently, Wolff is working closely with the Strategic Energy Institute at Georgia Tech to develop an energy-producing wind farm consisting of 3 – 5 wind turbines immediately off the Tybee coast—the presence of which has the potential to sever Tybee Island from the power grid altogether. Though it’s tied up by federal regulation, he’s convinced the program is plausible, and is planning to travel to Denmark with SEI in the near future.

QUOTE: “As stewards of a fragile, finite environment, we all need to be committed to conserving resources, protecting our ecosystem and educating citizens about the importance of sustaining every community as an integral component of the world as a whole. We need to take a holistic approach to resource conservation, water use and energy use, because they’re all connected. I am increasingly struck by the fact that everything we do affects everything else.”