Many environmentalists believe sustainable development and the conservation of ecosystems are essential for the planet’s survival. For Binghamton University alumna Sarah Charlop-Powers, though, these aren’t just good ideas, they are part of her job description.
Charlop-Powers, a member of the class of 1999, is the co-founder and executive director of the Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC), a nonprofit organization that restores and preserves gardens, parks and landscapes, or “green spaces,” and bodies of water and sustainable drainage systems, or “blue spaces.” Prior to her work with the NAC, she worked as a parks manager for Scenic Hudson and as a coordinator for Courtney Strong Inc., a firm specializing in long-term clean energy outreach.
Charlop-Powers said her interest in environmental studies was sparked during her first year at BU, where she double-majored in economics and environmental studies.
“When I got back to Binghamton I immediately started doing programs with Binghamton Outdoor Pursuits,” Charlop-Powers said. “I volunteered and then ended up working in that office. I got really involved in outdoor activities and outdoor recreation, and that really dovetailed my play with my interest in environmental issues.”
After many internships and jobs at various parks in New York, Charlop-Powers earned her master’s degree in environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 2007 and has been directing the operations of the NAC since 2012.
The conservancy, attempting to preserve ecological systems in New York City, is currently pursuing a number of projects studying biodiversity and the reinstatement of coastal dunes following the aftermath of recent natural disasters.
“We receive funding to hire staff to do plant production and in this case, their focus was using a natural solution to create a barrier between the water and the gulf environment, since a lot of the dunes that existed historically were wiped out by Hurricane Sandy,” Charlop-Powers said. “We really focus on restoring and preserving green areas, forests and wetlands to increase our environmental benefits.”
According to her, these benefits include pollution reduction and increased oxygen production.
Managing urban environments well is important to other industries as well, said Alan G. Brake, executive editor of The Architect’s Newspaper. According to him, the conservation of healthy green areas in the city was important to protecting buildings and infrastructure.
“One of the best defenses you can have against severe weather disasters are healthy green and blue spaces,” Brake said. “Without them, the buildings are very vulnerable. I think certainly Hurricane Sandy brought that into clear focus for us.”
George Homsy, an assistant professor of public administration at BU, stressed the effectiveness of protecting natural areas in different areas of the world.
“Protection of open space is crucial in different ways in different places,” Homsy said. “If you’re looking at green spaces in cities, it does provide some habitat but it also provides a lot of ecological services. If you’re protecting a city, you’re talking about cooling a city off, you’re talking about managing storm water better and you’re talking about important places for birds and butterflies to overlay.”