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Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It is an annual event celebrated around the world to demonstrate support for environmental protection. According to the Earth Day Network, more than one billion individuals are mobilized for action each year.

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Richard Plate, Ph.D.

This year, people will not fill parks, visit zoos, and participate in tree planting ceremonies. Instead, they will participate online, along with the global community. It’s perhaps one of the best opportunities to connect individuals across the world around a common cause – climate change.

Richard Plate, Ph.D., has mixed feelings about Earth Day. “Getting people to think about the environment is always good,” he said. “However, like most holidays, people see it as a one-day event.”

Plate is a faculty member in Environmental Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Undergraduate Studies. His research focuses on the impact of climate change and how communities can organize to address it.

He believes that addressing climate change begins with education that creates sustainable behavior changes. It starts by taking actions that individuals can control. It might be changing your grocery list to include ingredients for a meatless Monday.

Active community engagement is also crucial. As a Central Florida native, Plate believes that the region is making great strides. In 2019, Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, provided Orlando with a $2.5 million grant to help fight climate change. The funds are part of his “American Cities Climate Challenge” to provide $70 million in assistance to 25 cities from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh and from Seattle to St. Petersburg.

Orlando is using the funds to add 150 electric-vehicle charging stations, further convert the city’s fleet of cars and buses to electric, promote efficiency in buildings, and expanding solar energy.

Plate and students in his Environmental Studies Capstone class are assisting Orlando to achieve these goals through community partnerships.

“In the Capstone class, students work in small groups with community partners to help them advance their sustainability goals,” said Plate. “The projects include working with Second Harvest of Central Florida to reduce food waste and feed those in need. Another group is working with Winter Park’s Sustainability Program to encourage businesses to use the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.”

The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a tool that allows businesses to track and assess energy and water use. Using this data, companies can identify opportunities to manage energy use better, reduce costs, and earn recognition from the EPA. The City of Orlando has been using the tool since August 2018.

“We’ve all been to Park Avenue in Winter Park,” said Plate. “If we decide to patronize energy-efficient businesses, we’re making another decision that benefits the environment.”