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  1. Clearwater

Clearwater just hired its first sustainability coordinator. She's a 'walking stereotype.'

Sheridan Boyle, 25, will become Clearwater's new sustainability coordinator on Monday. A major part of Boyle's job will be to update the city's 2011 Greenprint plan. [Sheridan Boyle, city of Clearwater]
Sheridan Boyle, 25, will become Clearwater's new sustainability coordinator on Monday. A major part of Boyle's job will be to update the city's 2011 Greenprint plan. [Sheridan Boyle, city of Clearwater]
Published May 7

CLEARWATER — Sheridan Boyle is a vegan, she drives a Toyota Prius and she has dedicated practically her entire professional life to the earth.

She's Clearwater's first-ever sustainability coordinator and readily admits she's a "walking stereotype."

"This isn't just a job," Boyle, 25, said. "It's really a lifestyle and a passion."

As sustainability coordinator, Boyle will be in charge of climate change planning, environmental community education and promoting eco-friendly policies within the city. She starts her new job Monday.

The position, which pays $49,944, was originally posted in March.

Nearly 100 people applied for the job, assistant to the city manager Jim Halios said. Clearwater went with an inside hire. Boyle grew up in Oldsmar and attended Countryside High School. She left Florida to attend Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, where she studied biology and developed a passion for recycling. For 30 hours a week on the school's recycling crew, she sorted through garbage — and nurtured her passion for the environment.

Boyle has spent the last year as a recycling specialist for Clearwater. ("I have a high tolerance for smell," she said.) One of her many responsibilities in that function was to organize workshops that taught citizens how to recycle properly.

Boyle's vision for her new job is rooted in community outreach.

"I don't want to just do sustainable initiatives, I want to to sustainable initiatives that add to the identity of Clearwater," Boyle said.

Clearwater officials created the sustainability manager job because they realized they needed a point person to update and manage the city's "Greenprint" plan. That 2011 document laid out the city's environmental ambitions.

Some parts of Greenprint, like the city's plan to make its streets more friendly to all forms of transportation, are already well underway, Boyle said.

Others, like climate change planning, are going to need more work. The Greenprint document details the need for Clearwater to reduce its carbon footprint. But it makes few suggestions for how the coastal city should deal with the sea level rise that could be coming in future decades.

Read more: Climate change is here. Will Tampa Bay finally get ready?

Luckily, the city won't be tackling its environmental challenges alone. St. Petersburg and Largo have similar offices. Pinellas County also announced this week that it had hired a sustainability and resiliency coordinator.

"We're going to lean heavily on ... other cities as far as communication and best practices," said Halios, Boyle's future boss.

Sharon Wright, St. Petersburg's sustainability and resiliency director, found herself in a similar position to Boyle in August of 2015. She had just taken over an office that, prior to her, did not exist.

Wright said that one of her biggest early challenges was accommodating citizens who finally had a place to channel years of pent-up activist energy.

Boyle and Clearwater can build on the progress that Wright and St. Petersburg have made. St. Petersburg tailored its recently adopted Integrated Sustainability Action Plan so other cities could use it as a model for their own if they wanted, Wright said.

Boyle said she expects her job to come with challenges. How best to communicate the unique danger of a changing climate to population that might be skeptical? How best to measure the success of Greenprint — a plan that can be in places as vague as it is sweeping?

Wright said no matter how daunting the future looks, it's important for a sustainability director to aim big.

"The great and very difficult thing about sustainability is that it touches everything," Wright said.

Contact Kirby Wilson at kwilson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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