This story was originally written on February 23, 2016. An UPDATE: Grace Carlson successfully finished the long road to an MBA degree in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University in Seattle, WA.
Grace Carlson is a 52-year-old sustainable marketing pro ‘living the dream’ with her husband in a condo at The Renaissance with a view of the Van Wezel and Sarasota Bay. The two walk hand-in-hand in all things sustainable.
“Most people know that Michael and I are deeply sustainable personally and professionally,” Grace said. “Michael was the first architect in the area to embrace green building design.”
Her husband created the first LEED-silver-certified commercial interior in Sarasota on the corner of Fruitville and Orange Ave. in a renovated 1930’s grocery store. Grace shared the green office space with Michael, running Grace Unlimited, her former PR and marketing firm. In chatting with Michael’s clients, Grace discovered they had a need to convince their constituents of the importance of their sustainable building efforts. That’s where Grace stepped in and has been running with green-gusto ever since.
Her passion for conservation and love of the natural world probably started forty-some years ago. “If you want to go way back, I was a girl scout,” she said with a smile. “We were taught to leave the campsite just as we left it. I learned to be a good steward and environmentalist.”
But it goes beyond green sometimes. Her moral code and efforts are also about social justice and social equity in addition to environmental justice and conservation. She played an integral role in creating a healing environment for cancer patients and families at The Wellness Community and her husband designed the building. She served on the board of the local American Cancer Society for six years and lobbied for cancer research. She branched out in social justice arenas, lobbying for fair domestic partnership law and more. And she assisted Embracing Our Differences, a local non profit, in communicating the importance of diversity.
“It’s been an honor to work with my clients over the years,” Grace said. “ I’ve been helping others for years. Gaining valuable tools. Now I want to be that change agent…with whatever time I have left in this life.”
Currently President of Carlson Studio Marketing, Grace is a board-certified PRSA professional. Accredited as a LEED Green Associate with the U.S. Green Building Council. And she’s a consummate connector, persistent go-getter, out-of-the-box thinker, team builder and navigator of diverse cultures. She has a warm, inviting manner and a soft smile but underneath the softness is an all-about-business determination.
At Carlson Studio Marketing, “we have adopted a modest, but effective business model to create solutions that help business and government reach their prospective target audiences, communicate their value proposition and advance their sustainable programs, policies or initiatives,” Grace said.
She is currently earning her MBA in Sustainable Systems and accreditation in renewable energy. She’s commuting to Seattle to do this and since, has already landed two clients out there.
“They get it out there,” Grace said, pointing to the advanced environmental practices the Pacific Northwest folks embrace, in comparison to Florida.
“They are 100% hydro-electric renewable energy-run in Seattle. Here, we have this abundance of solar power we’re not even leveraging,” Grace said.
She’s not happy that the Florida Legislature just granted FPL the opportunity to drill for natural gas throughout the state.
“It’s not that I’m anti-corporation,” Grace said. “But corporations are supposed to listen to the customers, not tell us what we get…it’s backwards.”
As we sat on the sofa in her lovely Renaissance condo, drinking green tea and talking, I was impressed that this warm, engaging change agent was willing to go to such great lengths to travel coast to coast to propel her career in sustainability. And more importantly – to create her legacy – to leave the world a better place when she’s gone.
“I’m compelled to play a more pivotal role in making the world a better place.”
With little hope for Sarasota to change its ways anytime soon, Grace and her husband are living ‘bi-coastal.’ Michael continues his successful architectural business here. And Grace travels regularly to the Pacific Northwest, where she can ride a bike that she rents and leaves at a bike pod. Ride a bus. Walk. Or use Lift (a consumer ride service like Uber). She’s in her element out there, but remains grounded in her Sarasota roots.
If she could tell Sarasotans what to do to improve its environmental accountability, she’d tell them to stop the urban sprawl. To improve efforts in transit technology and mobility options. Focus on ride sharing. Riding bikes. And to look at the return on investment in sustainability efforts.
“It (improved mass transit and ride sharing) means improved health. Better socialization (getting out and meeting people rather than driving your car alone). And incredible monetary savings. There are hidden costs in each person driving a car (like having to pave and widen roads) in addition to its negative affect on the environment,” Grace said. “Not to mention it creates jobs.”
What if we had a connective tissue (mass transit), she asked, within and between cities like Tampa, Pinellas, Bradenton and Sarasota?
“We could attract companies like Google and Microsoft because they’d have an employee base that is more far reaching,’ she explained.
We do have Bus 99 that takes folks from North Port to Sarasota and goes as far north as Bradenton she said. “So a nurse in North Port can take the bus to Sarasota Memorial.” And the free trolley on the island is a nice perk. It’s a start.
“It’s not about taking people’s cars away,” she said. “But what if you had a choice?”
She apologized for ‘getting so fired up about this stuff.’ “Do you think people will really care about this?” she asked.
Sarasota won’t be losing Grace anytime soon because her husband’s business continues to thrive. But she admits she wants to retire someday to a place where she can walk, bike or ride a bus everywhere. In the meantime, she’ll be creating her legacy and living her dream in Sarasota and Seattle. And she is confident she’ll continue to serve clients embracing sustainable efforts.
“The world’s a mess!” she exclaimed as her eyes widened and she brushed back her auburn-brown hair, walking to the balcony, glancing out at the bay.
“There’s a lot of work to be done out there.”
For more information, call Grace at 941-228-9083 or email her at Grace@CarlsonEcoMarketing.com
Photos by Patti Pearson