Summit of Sustainability Awards

The Summit of Sustainability Awards (SOSA) was a natural outgrowth of the city of Akron’s sustainability plan established on Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

A group of area companies and nonprofits that had shown a dedication to sustainability practices along with the city and county was convened to create this regional recognition process that could grow over time.

This committee felt strongly that the initial application process should be simple and broad to allow many organizations to participate. It also wanted to create a central website that could become an ongoing resource for new tools and techniques that were shown to be successful in day-to-day practice.

As promised, the SOSA have evolved slowly.

The application now requires more metrics to prove an organization’s sustainability plan effects on people, planet and prosperity. In addition, the group offers education through website resources, training events focused on how to acquire metrics to track sustainability efforts, relevant keynote speakers at the annual October awards ceremony and networking events created through its subcommittee, Sustainable Business Network.

This has all been done in an effort to recognize organizations that are on a true path to sustainability and eliminate greenwashers — organizations that aren’t truly committed to sustainable practices. Both the Summit of Sustainability committee and expert judges who volunteer their time each year to choose winning SOSA applications agree on the standards.

As our area organizations themselves evolve to not only make more sustainable choices, but also create actual sustainability goals and plans as well as track their process with metrics, The Summit of Sustainability felt that it was time to recognize individuals who are a part of change in their Summit County organizations.

It is through the efforts of these changemakers that a value has been created not only within their organization, but also their community within Summit County.

Therefore, SOSA is pleased to introduce you to our first class of Sustainability Changemakers who are each the driving force for sustainability change in their respective organizations and our community.

Some of the names you may know, others you may not. But each is a driving force for change.


Cindy Pantea
communications and office manager
Keep Akron Beautiful


2015 Sustainability Changemakers

John Farber
Head of School
Old Trail School

Under John’s visionary leadership, the school has greatly expanded its commitment to environmental sustainability, one of the primary components of the school’s mission.

The school has created a model for school environmental sustainability programs that focuses on five major components: facility, food, operations, recycling and water. Each of these is continuously evaluated by the school’s administration with a goal of improvement and direct connection to the curriculum.

The goal is to reduce the school’s carbon footprint while introducing students to their natural world through hands-on, collaborative science lessons, gardening and habitat restoration. The 62-acre campus allows teachers to focus on location-based education.

Old Trail School takes advantage of its unique surroundings by encouraging students, families, faculty and staff to take time to examine and explore the outdoors, using the campus as an environmental learning center.

The school recently installed a solar array consisting of more than 1,200 panels mounted to the ground. These will produce more than one-third of the school’s electricity each year and save the school more than $1 million over the next 30 years.

A mini solar array will also allow students to learn about what is happening on the larger array via an interactive dashboard.


Laura McElrath
Operations Director
Akron Marathon

Laura helped the Akron Marathon earn Ohio’s first gold level certification for the Council for Responsible Sport in 2014.

The marathon has objectives around deliberate planning, measurement and continuous improvement, which McElrath focuses on. In 2014, organizers elaborated on sustainability plans and are hard at work expanding the effort in 2015.

On Sept. 27, 2014, the marathon saw several dozen social and environmental efforts including the update of a comprehensive sustainability plan; implementing green purchasing guidelines for event vendors; eliminating bottled water from the race course; donating leftover food and clothing to local nonprofits; calculating a complete greenhouse gas emissions report; and diverting over 80 percent of waste generated by the event from the landfill.

The Akron Marathon relies on McElrath to help deliver these results and works with many partners including ReWorks, Keep Akron Beautiful and the city of Akron to make it all happen. In addition, participants in the marathon — volunteers and runners — assist in the effort to promote sustainability.


Karen Starr
Hazel Tree Interiors

Karen Starr, a West Hill resident, is a big proponent of sustainability in the community and strives to use locally sourced, reclaimed materials, recycling and upcycling in her interior design projects.

Her business, Hazel Tree Interiors, is dedicated to providing high-quality and eco-smart decor, interior design services and custom picture framing. The company strives to source products from local companies and often incorporates custom-made pieces by local artisans into their designs. All of the pieces for sale in Hazel Tree’s gallery/store are locally made, and many are made with reclaimed materials.

Starr, co-owner, is a believer in the value of upcycling, which takes waste materials or useless items and converts them into products or materials of better quality and environmental value. One example of this is the effort she organized to collect food scraps and recyclables for the 2015 Highland Square PorchRokr Festival. Two-thirds of the waste was recycled or composted that day — nearly 10,000 people attended the festival.

Starr is a co-creator of The Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS), and still serves on the planning committee.


Akron Zoo Green Team

The Akron Zoo Green Team has led the Akron Zoological Park’s efforts in organizational sustainability for more than 20 years. The effort was codified in 2009 with the completion of a business training program focused on setting “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAG) with metrics and timelines to add the focus and structure necessary to achieve bottom-line success.

A sustainability plan was created in 2009 and has been updated annually, tracking continued progress toward the following goals:
■  Net zero energy.
■  Reduction by 50 percent of gasoline and motor oil use by 2020.
■  To produce zero waste.
■  Support of local food through zoo operations.
■  Procure only environmentally sensitive products and support green vendors.
■  Ensure that sustainability is a key message in zoo communications and operations.
■  Reduce water and sewer waste by 50 percent.

The Akron Zoo Green Team has helped the zoo make significant strides toward its goals and has helped foster a collaborative and positive spirit at all levels of zoo staffing. It also has supported outreach into the community for a broader collective effort.


The Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS)

In late spring 2012, the Cleveland-based sustainability network, Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) disbanded, leaving its members without an organized means to gather around the various facets of local sustainability.

A small Akron-based group (Gina Burk, Tom Crain, Sue Lacy, Phillip Nabors, Samuel Salsbury, Sabrena Schweyer, Tony Troppe and Karen Starr) that was active in E4S rallied together the very next month to start what would become The Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS) to fill the gap.

Since 2012, GAINS has gathered the local community together on the second Wednesday of each month and explored topics relating to local environmental, social and economic sustainability, with a strong focus on encouraging entrepreneurship.

As the group has grown over the years and gained new planning committee members, it has achieved far-reaching community results, sparked dialogue and facilitated many partnerships — all while remaining a completely volunteer-based organization without any funding to support its work.

GAINS is a good example of what a small group of passionate and dedicated people can accomplish when they believe what they are doing is important to their community.


Honor Roll


Paul Emery, Ron Cox and Dale Banas
Project manager; supervisor, gas operations; technical consultant
Dominion East Ohio

Paul, Ron and Dale annually organize an environmental project through Dominion East Ohio’s Energizing Communities initiative. In 2014, the team organized a project at Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Conservancy Center. Participants cleared and leveled an area of land for a sustainable Kitchen Garden.


Nicole Koharik
Global sustainability marketing director
GOJO Industries Inc.
Nicole develops strategies that advance GOJO Industries Inc. sustainability leadership in driving social, economic and environmental innovation. She generates novel solutions for sustainable value through internal and external stakeholder engagement while championing the ongoing work of embedding sustainability thinking into every aspect of the business.


Amy Longenbach
Manager, safety and warehousing
Bridgestone Americas
Amy was project leader for Zero Waste to Landfill at Bridgestone Americas’ Akron campus. She studied the entire campus and identified waste streams as well as vendors to handle each waste stream. Under her leadership, the Green Team used creative ways to change thinking habits.


Tom Marting
Facilities and resource management director
GOJO Industries Inc.
Tom utilizes several sustainable design tools like Life Cycle Analysis to help GOJO Industries Inc. deliver sustainable hand hygiene products to GOJO customers. He also led the development and training for a sustainable packaging scorecard and sustainable chemistry assessment system.


Rick Merolla
Chief of staff
City of Akron
Rick helped launch the city of Akron’s Greenprint initiative in 2008, setting a vision for a sustainable community that contributes to climate and environmental protection. The goal is to create opportunities for a healthier quality of life and economic growth.


Phillip Nabors
Mustard Seed Market & Cafe
Phillip led the planning and design for the Mustard Seed Market & Cafe in Highland Square. This location was classified as a food desert, a neighborhood with a 20 percent poverty rate and the lack of availability to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables within a square-mile radius.


Doug Piekarz
President and CEO
Akron Zoological Park
Under Doug Piekarz’s leadership, the Akron Zoological Park has reduced water and sewer usage by 81 percent (as of Dec. 31, 2014) from the 2009 baseline. Organic waste is being diverted from landfills at a rate of 633,000 pounds annually, well over 2 million pounds have been diverted since this program was instituted in 2011.


Danette Rushboldt
Interpretive naturalist
Summit Metro Parks
Danette Rushboldt spearheaded the creation of a pop bottle greenhouse at the Summit Metro Parks’ F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm in Akron and engaged the community and local schools to save pop bottles. She also creates works of art from salvaged materials diverting as much as possible from local landfills.


George Schneider
Manager, building services and Advanced Technology Workshop
Bridgestone Americas
George Schneider challenges his employees to be innovative in developing new processes to reduce and conserve energy, encouraging them to share those ideas across Bridgestone Americas. He helped implement the Environmental Champions at the Akron campus to meet the company’s zero landfill initiative.


Megan Weidner
Manager, global sustainability and social responsibility
Diebold Inc.
Megan Weidner created and implemented Diebold Inc.’s global sustainability and corporate responsibility strategy. She has helped the company divert more than 30,000 ATMs and more than 7,000 tons of ATM-related scrap from the landfill and has led the removal of all Styrofoam from Diebold’s Summit County buildings.