Sunday, May 31, 2020
Erika Greenberg Vies to be National Hero
Erika Greenberg could win $50,000 for community conservation efforts in the Cox Conserves Heroes contest.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019


Erika Greenberg has long been considered a hero among students at Wood River High School who have sought her leadership in fighting pollution and climate change.

Now she’s up for the more formal title of National Hero in a program championed by the local Cox Communications. Greenberg was recognized as a local conservation hero Monday night at the Limelight Hotel and awarded $10,000 for her WATER Club at the high school.

And she’s up for $50,000 more if she can best eight other Cox Conserves Heroes during a national vote that takes place through Oct. 15 at

Molly Pickall, Erika Greenberg, Kristy Heitzman,Guy Cherp and Heather Crocker show off the $10,000 check that the Blaine County Education Foundation will administer for the WATER Club.

“This is a perfect time to have an event like this because change has to happen,” said Greenberg, as the Blaine County Education Foundation accepted the $10,000 check on behalf of the WATER Club. “Things are falling apart around us. We have to do what’s right for the kids that are begging us to make changes for them.”

The $10,000 check drove the amount of money Cox Enterprises has given away to exactly $1 million. The program has honored more than 200 Cox Conserve Heroes since it started 11 years ago. This is the first time the program has honored someone in Sun Valley.

“I’d be thrilled if we could bring more money to the community through this,” added Guy Cherp, vice president of Cox Communications.

Greenberg, a Spanish teacher at Wood River High School, has nurtured environmental stewards through the environmental student club called WATER (We Appreciate the Earth’s Resources) for 10 years.

Susan Giannettino toasts herself and her fellow nominees at the event, which included pizza, pulled pork sliders, veggies and an array of cookies and brownies.

Greenburg said she loves helping the students exploring their passions and finding their voice: “It inspires me to do more.”

It started with five students and now boasts 15 to 35  “super motivated” students, according to Britta Heaphy, the junior who is the club’s student leader.

Heaphy said she became aware of the need when she became aware of the vast amounts of plastic trash in the ocean during a third-grade project.

“I’ve been fortunate to have grown up in such a beautiful community where we’re surrounded by so much natural beauty,” she said. “It scares me to think that my grandchildren would not experience what I’ve enjoyed, I want to make sure future generations can experience what I do.”

Scott Runkel said he felt honored to be recognized for his conservation efforts.

WATER students have reduced paper at the high school by purchasing several $30,000 hand dryers. They’ve installed hydration stations, given away recyclable bags and implemented recycling bins. They’ve worked with the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance to grow seedlings to support pollinators. They’ve tried to educate others about sustainability issues through such events as a plastic project where they created things out of recycled plastic. And they led a highly publicized attempt to get plastic bags banned from local store checkout aisles.

Greenberg said the $10,000 will help students with future projects, reducing the necessity to rely so much on bake sales and other fundraising.

Greenberg was one of seven local conservation heroes picked from nominees by a jury. Others included:

  • David Anderson, who helped expand and create the Hailey Greenway and Colorado Gulch Preserve, conserve the 10,400-acre Rock Creek Ranch and protect Quigley Canyon.

    Dr. Ron Fairfax was recognized for his work with Hailey Ice.

    “As a lawyer, I found many nonprofits suffer from a lack of understanding of legal and ethical issues. As a result, many called me for help,” he said.

  • Susan Giannettino, whose personal desire to hit the trails is interrupted by countless meetings she attends on behalf of the Blaine County Recreation District, The Nature Conservancy, Idaho Trails Association, Hailey Arts and Historic Preservation Commission, Wood River Trails Coalition, Hailey Climate Action Coalition, Boise State Radio and Wood River Women’s Foundation.

    The payoff, Giannettino said, is “spending time in the great places I want to be with some of the most amazing people on the planet.”

    “I’m not leading the charge in any particular way. But I can be in the trenches doing things that need to be done,” she added.

  • Bob Knoebel, a member of Trout Unlimited-Hemingway Chapter, who organizes volunteers each year to mentor a hundred elementary students in the art of fishing in hopes of fostering a conservation mindset among the youngsters.

    “Knowledge and talents are only useful if they are shared with others,” he said.

  • Scott Runkel, a science teacher at Sun Valley Community School, who co-founded the Hailey Climate Action Coalition last spring. The coalition, now 90 strong, has dialed up the heat on local efforts to mitigate climate change.

    Runkel said he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t volunteer: “To quote Edward Abbey, ‘Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.’ ”

  • Jane Williams, who champions Veggie RX, which offers beneficiaries a prescription of veggies from farms and other gardens.

    “I love the satisfaction of dirt under my nails and helping people to be healthier versions of themselves,” she said.

  • Ron Fairfax, the Hailey dentist who worked for years on behalf of Hailey Ice. His efforts eventually culminated with Campion Ice House, which provides youth a safe place to fuel their passions.

    Cox Enterprises was founded in 1898 by James M. Cox, a newspaper man who served as Ohio governor and the 1920 Democratic nominee for president with FDR as his running mate. Today the global company headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., has 55,000 employees and $21 billion in revenue.

    Cherp said caring about the environment is deeply rooted in Cox’s values: “We believe actions speak so we formalized our efforts into what we call Cox Conserves.”


    Cox Conserves is on track to send zero waste to the landfill by 2024 and to be carbon and waste neutral by 2044 with the help of rainwater harvest systems, low-flow water aerators and alternative energy projects.

    Since 2007 the company has offset 148,000 tons of CO2, saved 81 million gallons of water through conservation and diverted 170,000 tons of waste. It also has worked with American Rivers and the Ocean Conservancy to remove more than 26 tons of trash from waterways and beaches since 2010.

    Cox hopes to bring an electric SUV to market in 2020.

    The Cox Conserves Heroes, funded by the James M. Cox Foundation, works in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, which has helped protect homesteads, ranches, Civil War sites, fitness zones, city parks and such historic sites as Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Woods. It’s also helped build Climate Smart playgrounds that absorb rainwater and address heat waves.

    Locally, the organization helped with the levy that expanded the Wood River Trail, a 22-mile-bike path through the valley.

    Sue Orb, who serves on the organization’s Northern Rockies Advisory Board, attended one of the organization’s first training workshop, returning with some of the inspiration that led to the Wood River Land Trust, said Molly Pickall, the organization’s philanthropy director.


    Erika Greenberg is vying for that $50,000 check to give to a nonprofit of her choice with:

  • An Arizona man who created Serve Tucson in 2011 to beautify the city through small-scale cleanups and large-scale beautification projects in neighborhoods and schools.
  • A woman who co-founded the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition in California to protect and restore California’s sea life and partner with water districts to address urban runoff polluting the ocean
  • A Florida woman who cleans holding tanks and prepare meals for sea turtles.
  • A Georgia woman who mentor youth and plan events in conjunction with garden that has connected the community with refugees.
  • A Louisiana man who helped build a 100-acre park in the heart of Lafayette, La.
  • A Massachusetts woman who has led cleanups on the Malden River and collected data to stop trash from flowing into storm water systems where it would eventually end up in the ocean.
  • A Virginia woman who heads up the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains and protects parts of the Appalachian Trail.
  • A Washington woman who hopes to install a pollinator garden in every Washington State school and has developed an app called BEEducated that features teaching users about the challenges bees face and how to foster bee health.


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