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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

These people give the world hope

Published:   |   Updated: June 18, 2014 at 12:43 AM

To be honest, sitting down to the 2014 Sustainable Business Awards wasn’t my idea of a way to spend Friday afternoon, especially because I knew the guys at the office were meeting for ribs over at Kojaks and this had to be a salad crowd.

Even the stunning view of the city from the University of Tampa’s Vaughn Center didn’t help.

It got worse when I looked at the name tag of the guy sitting next to me and it read Dr. Kala Vairavamoorthy.

I mean, there was no way I was going to get that one on the first or second try, and it wouldn’t be polite to say, “Nice to meet you, Kala” or “Hey, Doc.”

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And then the doctor began to draw a crowd.

After a minute or so I learned he was not only a University of South Florida dean but also an expert on water management who is conducting research projects all over the globe.

In fact, the entire room appeared to be full of smart people.

You forget that USF and the University of Tampa have lots of extraordinarily smart people. Vairavamoorthy is not only one of those top dogs in water systems but he is applying it to climate change and a host of environmental situations worldwide. Maybe instead of writing so many stories about new Bucs quarterbacks we ought to find out what Vairavamoorthy is up to.

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What was impressive about this particular gathering was that so many of the people in the room were from here. They live and work here.

The Sustainable Business Coalition is an idea that came out of something called Earth Charter US, a Tampa-based nonprofit that was the idea of Jan Roberts.

Talk about smart people. Roberts wasn’t at the luncheon Friday because she is working her way across the country on her latest project, which is videotaping other creative people, and doing it on a shoestring.

She is a 1974 USF graduate. I got to know Roberts when she was living on her small sailboat, founding what now is called the Centre for Women, teaching ethics and figuring out ways to save the planet.

Several organizations were responsible for this awards luncheon, including the Sustainable Business Coalition and the University of Tampa’s Center for Ethics, but Jan Roberts was the reason for all of it.

The idea was to recognize CEOs and executives of companies in the area that are leading in zero-waste programs and community initiatives, and offering innovative employee benefits.

I’ll give you a quick list of the winners — all companies that have become environmental leaders and have done wonders working with their employees.

Advanced Healthcare Partners, Landmarc Contracting, Suncoast Food Alliance, Triad Cleaning Solutions and The Refinery restaurant won in the small-business category.

Bayshore Solutions won again this year in the medium category, as did Elutions.

The Jan Roberts Patron Award went to Premier Eye Care, whose employees are involved in dozens of local issues.

I have to tell you, it was one long lunch and I would have handed out an environmental energy-saving plaque to someone who shaved an hour off it. But I also went home surprised at the depth of creative ideas on sustainability and improving employee conditions in this town.

Companies could learn a lot from the Sustainable Business Coalition.

Look it up at www.sbctampabay.org.

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