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Environmental awareness fuels support

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Nature Conservancy in 2007 received $75,000 from Duke Energy and $500,000 from Bank of America that represented savings resulting from requests by investors and customers for electronic versions of the companies’ reports and billing statements.

“Corporations are recognizing that their customers are indeed concerned about global environmental issues,” says Mike Horak, associate director of philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy.

Buoyed by growing public awareness of issues like global warming and urban sprawl, and their impact on land, air and water, local environmental groups are seeing more interest and support.

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, for example, has gained more members and donors, while donations are up at the Sierra Club and volunteerism is growing at the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition.

And last year the Catawba Lands Conservancy had its best year ever, including a 45 percent increase in contributions, a 12 percent increase in acres conserved and a 25 percent increase in the value of land conserved.

“There is an increased awareness of environmental issues,” says Dave Cable, executive director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

That includes broad issues like global warming, local issues like the drought, and “micro” land-conservancy issues like the launch of the Carolinas Thread Trail, an effort by a coalition of land trusts and foundations to assemble a 500-mile network of greenway trails.

“Our land conservation efforts are advancing,” Cable says, “because people are seeing that, given our rapidly diminishing landscapes, they can leave a legacy by permanently protecting their land.”

BEYOND THE CHOIR

For many environmental groups, heightened awareness about environmental issues has meant a sea change in those groups’ impact, says Chatham Olive, conservation organizer in the Charlotte region for the Sierra Club.

“For so many years, environmental groups were lower-profile, with a decent membership base, but getting beyond the choir with our message has always been a real challenge,” he says.

But that has changed with growing public recognition of the interconnectedness and reciprocal impact of human activity and the environment, environmental leaders say.

“People have become very aware of environmental issues, not only in their own backyard but around the world,” says Horak of The Nature Conservancy.

PHILANTHROPIC IMPACT

Growing awareness of environmental issues is making it easier for environmental groups to spread their message and secure philanthropic support, environmental leaders say.

On its “Going Green Carolinas” website, for example, WSOC TV is publishing information provided by the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club also has seen an increase in volunteerism, enlisting several dozen volunteers, for example, for Charlotte Clean Green, an event it will sponsor April 18 through April 21 in partnership with Central Piedmont Community College and the Charlotte chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

And Olive says a growing number of companies are taking on green projects, including green buildings that Bank of America and Wachovia are developing, respectively, in New York City and Charlotte.

Lisa Cox, Raleigh-based director of development for the Sierra Club, says the growing awareness of environmental issues has translated into more members and donors for the organization.

The group’s direct-mail appeals generated 800 donors in 2007, up from 600 in 2004, for example, and the average direct-mail gift grew to $75 from $36, she says.

“People really seem to have responded to climate change as an issue,” she says.

Olive says environmental groups need continuing support to continue to raise awareness about environmental issues.

The Nature Conservancy is counting on growing awareness of environmental issues to generate support for a $3.5 billion global capital campaign it is launching and for a statewide campaign whose goal could equal or exceed the $25 million the group raised in a campaign that ended in 2006.

And at the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, public hearings and meetings the advocacy group encourages people to attend are attracting bigger crowds, says June Blotnick, executive director.

“People are concerned about climate change,” she says. “They want to do something. They are coming out to meetings to change public policy.”

Blotnick says her organization also is attracting more volunteers and now faces the challenge of transforming itself from an all-volunteer group to one with a professional staff, an active volunteer program and a budget that can support its advocacy work.

“We’re helping to create greater awareness but we’re trying to build our organization,” she says.

Blotnick says she also is working to build broader collaboration among environmental groups.

“Climate change has really awakened a lot of people,” she says. “Now, we have to educate ourselves about how we can live with nature without destroying it.”

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