Corporate Sustainability in Action: Eric Sophiea is the 2017 Conserves Hero

CASA volunteers headed out to make the trail more beautiful.

By Becca Bober

What do a communications company, a public land trust, a desert aquarium and an outdoor enthusiast have in common? It turns out, more than you’d think. The four unlikely partners came together recently at the 2017 Cox Conserves Heroes awards ceremony held at the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona.

Before and after clean up.

Cox Enterprises is a leading communications, media and automotive services company. Although the Cox conglomerate has a wide variety of operations around the country, the company takes corporate responsibility seriously. Cox Enterprises has seven zero waste to landfill locations, including Cox Communications in Phoenix. The Cox Conserves program partners locally at its locations to create eco-friendly initiatives that are good for the environment, businesses and community.

“Through Cox Conserves, we are committed to making a positive impact on the environment,” Cox Enterprises Senior Vice President Lacey Lewis said in a statement. “This means finding every possible way to recycle, reuse and repurpose materials at our locations.”

One of these local partnerships is the Cox Conserves Heroes program, which is a joint effort between Cox Communications and The Trust for Public Land. The program has donated nearly $800,000.00 to environmental nonprofits and has honored nearly 200 volunteers over the last ten years. OdySea Aquarium, the country’s newest aquarium based in Scottsdale, Arizona, was the local sponsor for the 2017 awards ceremony.

“OdySea is proud to partner with Cox Communications and their Cox Conserves Heroes program,” said Ran Knishinsky, managing member of OdySea. “This partnership is a natural fit for both our organizations as it promotes conservation and community stewardship, a pillar here at OdySea.”

Eric Sophiea (center) displaying his donation to CASA.

So how did Eric Sophiea, the founder of the Climbing Association of Southern Arizona (CASA), manage to win a $10,000.00 donation to his nonprofit of choice? Cox Conserves chose three finalists from the list of nominees and used a public voting process to select the winner. All three finalists stood out in their exceptional community efforts, but Sophiea rose above the others by creatively engaging his supporters at a voting kiosk strategically placed within a Tucson climbing gym.

“We’re grateful to Rocks and Ropes [climbing gym] for letting us put an iPad voting station in the gym to make easier for climbers to look at the Cox Conserves nominees and cast a vote for one,” said Sophiea about his success. He pointed out that the gym is not just a place to practice climbing — it is a way for the community to connect and share information.

Sophiea founded CASA in January 2015 to provide support for climbers who wanted to give back to the community and the places they use. CASA has several initiatives, but it also helps other climbers bring their own projects to life. The organization exists to empower and support climbers in their efforts to give back.

Out of the many things that CASA does, Sophiea says there are three that he is most proud of. “Our stewardship program is out of its league! We get 40-50 people at every single volunteer event. It’s a testament that climbers really want to take care of the places they use. Our Youth Stewardship Day engages youths who are non-climbers and gives them a chance to get out to Mt. Lemmon, do some stewardship, and then earn a pass to climb at Rocks and Ropes,” Sophiea said about two of his favorites.

Another of Sophiea’s favorite programs is the anthology of local climbers, which is a collection of stories from climbers of all ages and skill levels. The second anthology is scheduled for publication on December 7.

In February 2018, CASA is hosting the No Man’s Land film festival that features female outdoor adventure athletes. Those interested in attending a volunteer event with CASA can find more information about upcoming events and programs on the organization’s website.

Becca Bober has an MBA with an emphasis on sustainability leadership. She has directed a number of corporate sustainability projects and currently produces educational content for online learning systems. She lives in Carefree, Arizona.

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