Caitlin Cress — The Hale Center for Journalism
Kristin Riott is executive director of Bridging the Gap, which she said is one of the leading environmental nonprofits in the Midwest. BTG follows the philosophy that environment, economy and community are tightly connected.
A simple example of the connection between environment, economy and community, Riott said, is the action of planting a single tree. She said this tree can provide $25,000 of economic and community impact over its life by, for example, absorbing air pollution, retaining storm water, beautifying the neighborhood, increasing real estate values and retaining top soil.
Riott’s day-to-day at BTG involves raising and managing funds for BTG, as well as working with staff to execute the nonprofit’s visions for environmental change.
Why are you passionate about the environment?
“I lived in Hong Kong for two years, and I saw the future of the planet,” Riott said.
She described the city as densely populated with very degraded natural systems. Riott’s work at BTG is inspired by the idea that human well-being and economic stability depend on the environment.
“If you look at a lot of poor places around the planet, like Haiti, generally, poverty is preceded by environmental destruction,” she said.
Until 100 years ago, Riott said, Haiti was a heavily forested area. After the trees were cleared, Haiti’s ability to farm and, in turn, its economy, were destroyed because the topsoil eroded. Riott said the Dominican Republic, which is located on the same island as Haiti, protected its forests and is better-off economically today.
Which part of BTG has the biggest environmental impact?
Riott chose BTG’s educational programs. The BTG website has lessons on how to recycle electronics, make a rain barrel and clean in an environmentally friendly manner. In the past, the organization has held programs on topics like embracing change and establishing new habits.
“If we can change one person’s mind, it’s a huge lever (for change),” she said.
Why should Kansas City care about sustainability?
“Being sustainable makes for not only a beautiful community, but a cost-effective and healthy one,” Riott said.
Since Kansas City residents have to drive everywhere, the air is polluted continually. To counteract this effect, Riott suggests planting trees, carpooling and riding bikes.
What one thing can Kansas Citians do to improve the area’s environment?
“Get involved with Bridging the Gap!” Riott said. “We can help change your life.”
BTG has about 1,000 volunteers each year. They plant trees, restore native prairies, pick up litter and work at local recycling centers.
What is your vision for sustaining the environment?
“That’s a big (question),” Riott said. “To help to gently lead people to a new lifestyle that’s less involved with racing around all over the place and buying stuff, and maybe more deeply involved in their own natural community, as well as our human community.”
She said Kansas Citians should take joy in making sustainable choices, like eschewing plastic bags. She said quality of life, both individually and across the region, will improve if mindsets about the environment change.