Equinox Center’s formula for success: Research, collaborate, repeat

Five years ago, a new and unique nonprofit was born with an ambitious mission of fostering a healthy environment and a strong economy for the San Diego region.

Equinox Center accomplishes that mission through civic engagement, coalition building, collaboration and cutting-edge research that provides the tools for the region’s leaders to make better decisions on how to balance regional growth with finite resources.

Five months ago, on the eve of Earth Day, Equinox Center released its fifth annual San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard, a nonpartisan report card that tracks San Diego’s quality of life progress.

The dashboard analyzed 13 economic and environmental indicators, such as air quality, energy, waste and economic prosperity.

Locally, no other single research product pulls together so many different factors and criteria to provide a single snapshot of the region’s economic and environmental sustainability health.

The dashboard could not be as effective as it has been if not for Equinox Center’s willingness and knack for bringing together disparate interests such as environmental, economic development and business organizations to focus their attention, talents and resources on issues that affect the greater good.

Historically, these interests often have found themselves at odds with one another. Advancing business interests can be seen as threatening to the environment. Protecting the region’s natural resources can be viewed as hindering growth.

That divide has led to stalemate after stalemate when it comes to improving the overall quality of life for San Diegans.

Equinox Center is proud of the bridges it has built in the last five years, forging partnerships with entities such as San Diego Gas & Electric, San Diego Coastkeeper, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the Center for Policy Initiatives, the California Center for Sustainable Energy and many others.

This approach has helped Equinox amass reams of comprehensive, leading-edge research.

Further, this collaborative model exponentially increases the effectiveness and ability of decision-makers to move the needle -- driving policy, setting agendas and governing with an eye toward sustainability.

In April 2012, the city of Del Mar enacted new waste-reducing policies as a result of a Quality of Life Dashboard report that found that the city had one of the highest waste-per-capita rates in San Diego County.

The data helped city officials understand that they needed a better waste contract that highlighted recycling and lowered trash generation.

In October 2011, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve Councilwoman Sherri Lightner's proposed overhaul of city water policies -- the first of its kind in more than a decade.

Lightner acknowledged Equinox Center’s key role in helping draft that policy.

“The work the organization has done related to water in our region provided actionable data that improved the policy,” Lightner said at the time.

San Diego Coastkeeper has used the Quality of Life Dashboard year after year to help the organization assess the state of our region’s waters from a quantitative and qualitative sense.

This helps the group know where to focus its efforts.

The San Diego Regional EDC has told us that the Dashboard is a powerful resource to help the organization think strategically about how our quality of life can be a competitive differentiator to nurture job growth.

A lot of work goes into the dashboard, which is why Equinox Center needs your support. As everyone knows, research and results like this do not come for free.

Equinox Center depends on the generosity of its many corporate, organizational and individual donors to continue its important work. This year’s fall fundraiser is being planned as an inclusive event that brings together civic and political leaders, business executives, economic development experts and environmental advocates.

Equinox Center’s fall fundraiser will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at SeaWorld and will be co-hosted by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Council President Todd Gloria and Congressman Scott Peters, D-San Diego. Sponsors include SDG&E, Cox Communications and SeaWorld. We hope you’ll join us. For more information, call (619) 838-9065.

Ellis is chairman of Equinox Center’s board of directors. Heverly is the managing director.

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