Savannah Tree Foundation’s Green Gala celebrates 40 years, aims to show how events can be eco-conscious

'The Green Gala will show how we can model sustainable events in Savannah.'

Tiedeman Park will be the location of Savannah Tree Foundations Green Gala. The park is an example of Savannah’s urban canopy.

To celebrate its four decade milestone, Savannah Tree Foundation (STF) is hosting “The Green Gala: Celebrating 40 Years of Growth” on Saturday, April 23 in Tiedeman Park. 

For locals and visitors alike, there is no denying the beauty of Savannah’s urban canopy. The moss draped magnolias and live oaks that line our streets attract droves of visitors from around the world.

Since 1982, STF has worked to uphold its mission of protecting and growing trees within Savannah’s urban forest, all while engaging with the public on how to properly care for the trees of today and tomorrow.

Planting roots for 40 years

The organization began with just three women - Lynda Beam, Suzie Williams and the late Page Hungerpiller. The trio started meeting in the 1970s calling themselves “The Monday Morning Mothers of the Earth,” and discussed tree related issues in Chatham County. When the County began clearing acres of land for development in the 1980s, Beam said it prompted them to take action.

“Our initial intent was tree protection ordinance for the county,” said Beam. “We wanted to make a tree protection audit dealing with public land, rights of way and other large tracts that were going to be developed within the county.”

The trio spoke with different cities around the country to learn how they each managed their trees, and what sorts of ordinance they had in place. On the floor of a living room, they began to cut, paste and tape together a tree ordinance for the county to consider.

The county commission rejected their ordinance, but that didn’t stop the three from taking their ideas to the city.

“We thought, well let’s try the city because it has so many trees. It also has The Park and Tree Commission, which is probably one of the oldest in the country, and we’ll try to enhance the city ordinance.”

Forty years later, with almost 4,900 trees planted, 143 planting sites and 54 unique tree species throughout every municipality in Chatham County, STF’s efforts have not wavered.

“Seeing the organization grow has been incredible. It began with just all volunteers and one part time worker. We’re doing great things, and it’s [STF] expanded county-wide,” said Beam.

Going green with events

In addition to celebrating the work of STF’s founders and current members, STF says their gala will also show how events can be eco-friendly while not hindering the experience of attendees.

The effects of global climate change have shown the need for industries to start thinking about environmental solutions. The event industry can adversely affect the environment through emissions produced by food and material waste, lodging and travel.

The cultivation of a greener future is something STF has dedicated itself to help accomplish—whether that’s planting the right tree in the right place or incorporating greener practices to lessen the impact our everyday lives have on the environment.

STF members say the gala will use a number of environmentally responsible methods and materials to cut back on the amount of waste and energy produced by a typical event.

This includes a sustainably-sourced four-course dinner prepared by local chef Nick Mueller, compostable and recyclable dinnerware and drinkware, such as corn-based plastic cups, recycled glass and bamboo plates. 

Invitations for the event were printed on recyclable paper, and an online silent auction intends to eliminate paper waste.

“The Green Gala will show how we can model sustainable events in Savannah. We want to have an extraordinary event, but do things to make sure that we’re not generating a bunch of plastic or not being able to recycle a bunch of glass that we produce,” said Zoe Rinker, the executive director of STF.

Rinker explained that a major component of planning eco-friendly events like the Green Gala requires planners to think of an end use for everything they buy and source for the event.

For the gala, STF will partner with Code of Return (COR) Compost and Lammergeier: Closed-Loop Glass Recycling to handle material and food waste from the event.

COR Compost provides an environmental approach to waste management by taking food waste and breaking it down into nutrient rich compost.

Maria Vaughn, one of the co-founders of COR Compost, said events that compost food waste and biodegradable materials have the potential to save money in the long run.

“Initially there may be some upfront costs and changes as far as infrastructure, but if you create more of a circular, regenerative pathway, you should be able to actually save money. The benefits and advantages of doing the right thing is what we’re trying to educate and create as far as awareness goes. It shows the concern for the environment and is also a benefit because a lot of this stuff can go and regenerate right back and to their system,” explained Vaughn.

Glass is an infinitely recyclable material that can be reused without loss of quality. Despite this, almost 7,550 tons of glass was landfilled in 2018 according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Malena Gauss, the owner of Lammergeier: Closed- Loop Glass Recycling noted the importance of events making conscious choices about the life cycle of the materials they use - particularly glass.

“When you’re talking about sustainability in the general sense, it really comes down to the ability to meet your needs for now, without depleting the resources needed for tomorrow. With events specifically, I think it’s important for them to really think about the lifecycle of the product that they’re choosing,” said Gauss.

STF believes that the introduction of these eco-conscious methods and practices can be used as a template for future events in Savannah, and a way to let the public know about the resources available to them.

For additional information on STF’s mission and The Green Gala visit savannahtree.org

About The Author

Alex Arango

Alex Arango is a multimedia journalist and Savannah local. He has a passion for quality community journalism, and is looking forward to serving the city that he has always called home.
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