The Rapidian

WMEAC honors Mayor Heartwell with first Environmental Legacy Award

WMEAC's 2nd Annual Earth Day Celebration honors Mayor George Heartwell and explores the past, present and future of West Michigan environmental advocacy.
Katie Fahey, Sustainability Coordinator at Spartan Nash addressing the crowd at WMEAC's Annual Earth Day Celebration.

Katie Fahey, Sustainability Coordinator at Spartan Nash addressing the crowd at WMEAC's Annual Earth Day Celebration. /Courtesy of WMEAC

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) hosted their Second Annual Earth Day Celebration on Wednesday, April 23 at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The event brought together environmental advocates, community leaders and public figures to celebrate the past, present and future of environmentalism in West Michigan and discuss the future implications of climate change on the environment.

The event also marked the inauguration of WMEAC's Environmental Legacy Award dedicated to individuals who have committed their lives to protecting the environment and natural resources, despite opposition.

"Recognizing that in a generation we have not seen a level of leadership that surpasses that of our own Mayor, George Heartwell, we are pleased to name the award the George Heartwell Environmental Legacy Award," says Rachel Hood, Executive Director of WMEAC.

Heartwell's work includes commissioning a comprehensive Climate Resiliency Report, focusing on city-wide vulnerabilities associated with climate change. He has also led efforts to establish one hundred percent renewable energy by 2020. Part of these initiatives include the installation of geothermal energy sources in several fire stations and a small solar array on the water services building. Further alternative energy programs include the development of a bio digester, small wind farms and solar energy installations on a municipal level across the city.

The Grand Rapids mayor also endorses improvements to the city's stormwater management systems.

"We now must accelerate our investment in stormwater management systems. Once again we have turned to our friends at WMEAC and contracted for an important study and citizen engagement effort to help drive our investment in stormwater management over the next decade," says Heartwell.

Heartwell's commitment to the environment and climate resiliency despite political pressure and opposition has earned him the respect of many West Michigan environmental advocates.

"What is important is not that my name is on [the award], but that there are a generation of folks my age that have dedicated their lives to the environment and that there is this other generation, the age of Katie Fahey, who are young and picking up the torch," says Heartwell. "What's exciting to me is to see how youthful this crowd is here and the passion and commitment they bring."

Katie Fahey, Sustainability Coordinator at Spartan Nash and winner of the 2014 Women of Hope Award, spoke about the impact of connectivity on future generations of environmental advocates.

"This ability to connect and the opportunities that the internet, computers and becoming a global society present to us are amazing," says Fahey. "For the environmental movement we need to tap into this and realize that these online connections are the things that will allow us to make bigger and better change. Together is how we are going to make things happen. It's not just one organization's, one nation's or one generation's job. Utilizing our connectedness is how we will sustain our earth and our species."

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