It is hard to imagine that 2020 is finally coming to an end. This year has provided many unique challenges to non-profits and organizations across the board. It has challenged how we work, how we fund this work, and how we keep in touch and engaged with the people of our community who are also faced with challenges beyond their control.
Despite this, we can look back onto the year and see some positivity and light. We need this hope and optimism during these times to keep us going and focused on what wonders tomorrow may bring. In May, Director of Sustainability and Resilience at Western Technical College, Dr. Casey Meehan, wrote a blog entry echoing this focus. His piece “Let’s Choose to Return to Better” exemplifies that even during a pandemic we can choose to do more and even choose to do better.
When the world seemed to shift suddenly back in March, our organization was challenged to think outside the box to continue to deliver our programming, but now with an extra focus on public health safety. We wanted to continue our mission to celebrate and advance sustainability efforts within the driftless region by convening conversations, connecting with community members and inspiring sustainability. With previous programming centered around in person events and cohort style outings, we knew things needed to change.
In April, we began this pivot by investing time and focus in our website and digital presence. We updated and refreshed our website adding new capabilities including a Sustainability Spotlight Blog which offers entries highlighting local sustainability and recaps of our events.
It was in May that we launched our first live virtual event. Sustainability Chats, or virtual green tours, allowed us to show locations and examples of sustainability to audiences safely through Zoom. We took a tour of a solar passive home in Onalaska, heard how La Crosse Distilling Co. refocused into hand sanitizing production early in the pandemic, viewed how a small city lot could be turned into an edible oasis of urban agriculture, traveled to Viola to see how GoMacro produces their nutritional bars and powers the entire Village on renewable energy, found out that mattresses CAN and ARE being recycled, and learned about the Grow Solar La Crosse group-purchasing program.
From May to November, the Sustainability Institute hosted seven virtual Sustainability Chats and culminated the year celebrating and recognizing sustainability efforts through the Inspiring Sustainability Award event. These events amassed 174 unique attendees with 108 of those participants being new to our programming! At each of the Sustainability Chats, we polled our attendees hoping to gather information and feedback to help us improve as we continued. On average of all events, 90% of attendees felt that these events were time well spent and 96% felt inspired to learn more or share about the topic being presented. We also saw that on average, 90% were likely to recommend attending a Sustainability Chat to a friend or colleague.
One important piece of information to us when thinking about how we move forward into 2021 was that the virtual logistics of these events were rated on average at 94%. We know that the focus on public health safety and the challenges of in-person events will leak into 2021. These numbers encourage us to continue virtual programming for at least the first half of the new year. 2020 has taught us we need to be flexible and ever-changing so we will continue to think about how we can find new ways to enact our mission as we prepare our 2021 programming calendar.
If you would like to help us shape our 2021 programming, please consider taking a short survey. This survey allows us to improve upon what we have done while exploring new and different topics and locations you may suggest.
We deeply appreciate the feedback from our supporters and want to thank all of you who joined us for one or possibly more of our virtual events. We hope that you may join us again in 2021! Keep an eye on our website and your inbox for updates on upcoming programming.
It is through membership support and donations that we were able to provide ALL our virtual events for 2020 at NO COST. If you find what we do contributes to a more vibrant and sustainable driftless region, please consider joining as a member today or donating through PayPal.