By Maria Saporta
All eyes were on Arthur Blank at the Georgia Conservancy’s annual “ecoBenefête” dinner Thursday, Oct. 13 at Puritan Mills.
Blank, the co-founder of the Home Depot and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, was accepting the “Distinguished Conservationist” award on behalf of his family and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
The Georgia Conservancy had made the decision to honor both Arthur Blank and his wife, Stephanie, before the couple announced that they were separating after 16 years of marriage.
A video tribute to the Blanks highlighted all the contributions that the couple and the family foundation had made to the environment.
When Blank accepted the award, he immediately put every one at ease.
“Stephanie would be here tonight, but her father is ill and she is out out town,” Blank said, adding he was accepting the award on her behalf. Several times during his speech, he singled out his wife for several initiatives she has led and contributions she has made in the environmental arena.
After the dinner, someone who is close to the Georgia Conservancy, described Blank as a “class act” in the way he handled what could have been an awkward situation.
Blank, however, did use the podium to make a valiant case for protecting the environment by saying the “planet is in peril.”
He expressed the need for federal and local government leaders to address the “man-made destruction to our oceans, forests, rivers and parks,” which were contributing to “global warming, pollution and the lost of habitat and the extinction of species essential to our own survival.”
While Blank said he was not a scientist, he did say he is a father and grandfather.
“As I look at the futures for my children and grandchildren, I can’t turn my back on the evidence and the projections of all the professionals who do understand the fragile nature of our planet and our impact on it.”
Among the environmental initiatives undertaken by the Blank family and the foundation are investing nearly $50 million in environmental causes, the formation of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, building the foundation offices to LEED gold standards, making donations to the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine and the PATH Foundation for green space acquisition and the development of trails.
Blank said his daughter, Danielle, works for a nonprofit conservation fund in Montana, and that she had taught him about the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“This dedicated fund was set up by Congress 45 years ago to use a portion of fees paid by companies conducting offshore oil and gas drilling for permanent protection of land and water onshore,” Blank said, adding that the fund has protected parks from Washington State to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia.
“Yet nearly every year, Congress has siphoned money from the fund for unrelated purposes. This year, Congress has considered zeroing out the fund,” Blank said. “Our local, state and national parks can’t speak up for themselves. All of us need to speak up to keep this fund whole.”
Blank went on to say that there are many social, health and economic reasons to protect the environment.
“But all of us here tonight know that these returns pale before the spiritual benefits,” Blank said. “The beauty of nature is balm to our souls. We need its beauty as much as we need its bounty.”