By Alexandra Fradelizio & Priscilla Rodriguez | m/Oppenheim Media Writers
Within the last three decades, the San Francisco-based nonprofit Save Nature has worked with hundreds of organizations, schools, and institutions to improve conservation efforts around the globe that help protect unique ecosystems made up of plants, wildlife, and communities of people.
The main goal of Save Nature is rather straightforward: to link the public to ways in which they can help save nature. However, the creative ways in which the organization achieves this vary vastly, from a traveling Insect Discovery Lab, where children and adults can learn about (and interact with) unique insects from around the planet, to hands-on classes for children and teens to embark on learning adventures about the outdoors, to easily accessible “adopt-a-coral reef” or “adopt-an-acre” donation opportunities, where donors can help sponsor endangered coral reefs and rainforests.
The vein of creativity that underlies all of Save Nature’s programs and initiatives is inspired by an incredible staff of biologists and conservation leaders, including Norman Gershenz Director, CEO, and, Co-Founder of SaveNature.Org.
In 1988, Gershenz helped launch the organization to help improve the involvement of zoos, aquariums, environmental institutions, and their visitors in the conservation efforts of wildlife and wild ecosystems beyond the walls of the institutions.
“I was afraid zoos and aquariums were saving things inside the zoo and not outside the zoo,” says Gershenz.
And so Gershenz and co-founder Dr. Leslie Saul created the Conservation Parking Meters initiative, which essentially placed parking meters within institutions where visitors could donate a quarter and immediately be greeted with a message on the meter that informed the visitor they had just saved 90 square feet of rainforest.
Over the years, the unique idea expanded to become several projects and initiatives, and now Save Nature has grown to reach more than 80 million adults and children and has helped ecosystems in 11 countries, including Namibia, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and more. The organization’s efforts have also evolved over time to focus on teaching and inspiring younger generations through their love for nature.
This has been pivotal for Save Nature, as Gershenz explains that in today’s world, people are not exposed enough to the environment.
“So [through the organization] we are bringing nature to them and changing their lives,” says Gershenz.
He explains that though it can be difficult to track the impact of exposing children to conservation, it is evident to the organization that these learning opportunities offer transformative experiences for children, who years later, often find themselves working in the field.
In fact, Gershenz explains that he remembers a time when he reached out to a boy and his mother who had made a donation to Save Nature. Upon calling them, Gershenz thanked the child on the phone and explained to him the positive impact that he had had on the environment. Though he says the child seem rather unfazed by the call, the impact was only evident when 18 years later the then-child emailed Gershenz thanking him and informing him that he was now a biology student hoping to continue into conservation work.
“He asked if he could come and meet me in San Francisco,” said Gershenz, “And we did.”
“We know that eventually these things translate to saving places around the world,” he adds about the work Save Nature does in teaching children.
Beyond its impactful work with children, Save Nature also partners with leaders and organizations from around the globe to advance conservation efforts. Some of its current partners include the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Knoxville Zoo, El Paso Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, Saginaw Children’s Zoo, Jenkinson’s Aquarium, Oakland Zoo, and more than 100 others. Through these partnerships, Save Nature has helped raise millions for conservation efforts and has educated children and adults across the U.S. on the wonderful and curious role of animals and their environment.
But another interesting angle that Gershenz says the organization takes strongly into account is the role of humans within their communities and the pivotal role they play in conservation efforts.
“The health of the individual really determines the health of the planet,” he said, explaining that it’s important to invest in the people of the community in order to ensure that the environment and its inhabitants can all thrive.
“And that’s been a great learning curve for myself as far as what conservation really is,” Gershenz adds, explaining that Save Nature also invests greatly in funding community projects that help improve lives.
“Once you address that issue then people have the desire to go out into nature and protect it,” he says.
As Save Nature continues to impact lives across the globe, Gershenz says the organization will work on developing a new and creative idea or item that will be available for purchase so that the public can instantly feel their contributions to the environment. Gershenz explains that he and his team are seeking to develop something similar to the Girl Scout cookie concept, which pulls in approximately $1 billion for the scouts every year.
“I would love to see millions of dollars, if not more money, go into nature,” he says.
Just as he speaks these words, it seemed that nature agreed with him.
“You won’t believe what just happened,” Gershenz said. “I am sitting at my desk, and 50 fiery red Eastern lubber grasshoppers just hatched out and are emerging from the sand.”
“Soon,” he said, “they will be changing the lives of children, forever.”
“Life is ever special here at Save Nature.Org.”