People, Places & Profit: Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit



Dr. Bill Hammond asked his breakout session a simple question at the 2nd Annual Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point on Thursday, April 28: “What is sustainability?” Of the roughly 90 people, few offered the same answer.

“We organized the Sustainability Summit to allow people to think about these things in a clear way,” said Chairman Matt Visaggio. “Our theme is ‘People, Places & Profit’ with People at the top of that triangle. When that flips, society goes out of whack. To me, sustainability is ‘Secular Humanism’ tied to good health. No one lives in a vacuum – everything affects each of us and our health. The Summit gets people to think and care again. Too often we feel government cures all ills; I want people to learn they can accomplish the same results, and sustainability is that effort.”

“Healthy People, Healthy Place & Healthy Profit” describe the series of three, hour-long breakout sessions. The first was Healthy People featuring Agrotourism at Southern Fresh Farms in Lee County, the community-based Healthy Lee and North Fort Myers High School’s “Demonstrating Leadership for The Next Generation.”

The Healthy Lee panel included current chair & president of Edison National Bank, Robbie Roepstorff, who called the success of the 10-year initiative “a true community collaboration because you cannot accomplish anything unless everyone embraces it.” Healthy Lee is a conglomeration of businesses, healthcare facilitators, religious leaders, education systems, municipalities and physicians. They work as one to reduce healthcare costs, improve nutrition and active lifestyles and enhance coordination of medical record services.

Fellow panelist Sally Jackson, System Director of Government & Community Relations for the Lee Memorial Health System, celebrated Healthy Lee’s stunning accomplishments: “While most communities increased, Lee witnessed a 15% decrease in obesity, with children down 34%. Those converting leisure time into physical activity grew 25%, and almost 23% more now meet or exceed recommended physical activity requirements, resulting in a 29% decrease in heart disease and the same for stroke-related death.”

Healthy Places followed, with the Babcock Ranch alternative energy community, Southwest Florida sustainable hotels and the City of Bonita Springs that is a “Florida Green Local Government.”

Dr. Hammond, professor emeritus from Florida Gulf Coast University and owner of Natural Context Consultants, previewed Babcock Ranch, the new city on the Lee & Charlotte County line designed to be the most sustainable community in the United States. “To turn this into reality, you must break the conventional rules,” related Dr. Hammond. “That mantra is perfect for sustainability!” Babcock Ranch is a 91,000 acres public/private partnership, with 73,000 acres donated as a nature preserve, leaving 18,000 for development. “Even out of that, another 8,000 acres are for parks and natural areas. It will have community gardens and native landscaping and its own healthy food – if you want to see who is growing your produce, go down the street and see it!”

Any proper sustainable program has development as a component, or “sustainable development,” as Dr. Hammond calls it. “Babcock Ranch weighs Total Life Costs; they ask the crucial question, ‘How do we value these things?’ Often it is cheaper and better environmentally to preserve land rather than develop it with houses and roads and parking lots and all the amenities people require. Babcock Ranch would rather save the mangroves then plow them over and fill them in.”

The final breakouts were Healthy Profit, with the Babcock Ranch sustainability design, Southwest Florida’s Green Economy sector and Publix Super Markets sustainability standards.

John Hillman, senior vice president of Sales & Marketing, continued with Babcock Ranch. “Our essential element is to keep people connected to each other and the land,” he summarized. “Babcock Ranch homes will be Old Florida, with 8-foot-wide front porches, with neighborhoods interconnected by trails to not only discourage driving but to encourage taking the long way home. Conversely, our technical innovations will be the finest and fastest in the world; we will be a Future-Proof Community!”

Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit.
More than 300 community leaders attended the 2nd annual Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit.

Babcock Ranch will eventually have 19,500 homes, with all power from its adjacent 443-acre solar field. “600 panels go up each day,” said Hillman. “When we are done it will total 330,000, or enough to go end-to-end from Fort Myers to Chicago.”

Keynote Speaker Mary Lou Benecke discussed the role of sustainability in building regional business alliances to encourage economic development. The Sustainability Summit concluded with Earnest Graham, head football coach of North Fort Myers High School and former NFL running back, leading school children versus the audience in a version of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader: Sustainability Version.”

Visaggio & Company, Strategic PR & Communications, organized the Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit. Over 300 elected officials, public and private sector business leaders and community advocates were in attendance. The 3rd annual Summit is scheduled for April 27, 2017. For information and its monthly on-line newsletter see

Sustainability, whether by one definition or in endless versions, is today a way of life for Southwest Florida.


Gary Mooney



PIC 2: More than 300 community leaders attended the 2nd annual Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit.