Joseph Horn wants to bring leaders together to enhance sustainability and environmentalism, and he wants to do it in Fort Worth.
Horn is an attorney, mediator and the president of EcoPlex, a think tank and accelerator for the environmental non-governmental organizations and corporate sustainability. The paperwork to get nonprofit designation for EcoPlex was filed in 2019, Horn said, but the concept was developed three or four years before that. Building the EcoPlex in Fort Worth always was the plan, he said.
“Having it in Fort Worth, which is considered an oil and gas town, is transformative,” Horn said. “There’s a strong sense of culture, community, people who are entrepreneurial, and it has a manufacturing base.”
Building EcoPlex in Fort Worth can attract other companies, such as electric car manufacturers, he said. The city is currently a finalist for a new Rivian Industries Inc. site.
Before EcoPlex can start building, it needs more financial support, Horn said.
“We’ve spoken with a lot of corporations, philanthropic organizations — a lot of them are sitting on the side waiting to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “We don’t have a ‘champion’ like Ed Bass coming in and paying for it. We would like Fort Worth to champion it. Not one organization or corporation, but everybody.”
Without the financial backing of Fort Worth, the city could lose the project, Horn said, which he would consider a great loss in education, jobs and innovation.
Horn and other Fort Worth leaders are working together to bring a facility to Cowtown to look for solutions to climate change and serve as an educational resource for the city and country.
How to give
To support EcoPlex, anyone can make an online donation to the nonprofit or get involved other ways at https://ecoplex.us/support/
There are several possibilities for the location of the complex, Horn said. One is Farrington Field, which is used for Fort Worth ISD sporting events. The facility is now part of the National Register of Historic Places after a vote in September.
Farrington Field would be an ideal location because it is in the Cultural District and near other popular Fort Worth destinations like the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Fort Worth Zoo, Horn said. However, the building site is not yet set, and Farrington Field is not the only place being considered.
EcoPlex is built on five main pillars and aims to make Fort Worth a leader in sustainability. The building would house a lab and allow for research and innovation. It also would be one of the country’s first museums dedicated to the environment and solutions versus just exhibits other museums have.
The five pillars of EcoPlex
- Earth Epicenter, or collaboration and policy-making
- EcoLeaders Institute, or engaging youth
- Center for Global Resilience, or working to protect against environmental threats by strengthening technological resiliency and human survivability.
- Center for Innovation and Applied Sciences, or investing and promoting green technology
- National Environmental Museum
A Climate Museum already exists in New York, but it is dedicated to climate change and solutions for it instead of ecology as a whole.
When describing EcoPlex, Horn said it will be a “living laboratory, showcasing innovations and practical solutions.”
“This will give innovators and entrepreneurs what they need – a place to showcase innovation with commercial practicability, accelerating market and business development,” he said.
Inconsistent political leadership has hurt the strategic planning corporations need for sustainability, Horn said. EcoPlex plans to help this.
“Partnerships will produce better solutions and collaborative outcomes, combat greenwashing, help corporations plan to capture economic opportunities and promote overall business development,” he said. “Also, by moving the center of influence away from Washington, D.C., we believe we can de-politicize these issues.”
All of this can help make the country more competitive, Horn said.
“Our goal is to promote holistic problem-solving and real-world solutions to ecological and environmental challenges,” Horn said. “This effort is an accelerator not unlike that of the Space Race of the 1960s. We created a vision and achieved it. That is all we want to do.”
The museum is a large part of what EcoPlex wants to accomplish. Horn said the museum would showcase technology developed by the Center for Innovation and Applied Sciences.
The center does not yet have a chosen facility, but representatives from UT Arlington, Tarrant County College, Texas Christian University and Texas A&M University all are involved in EcoPlex and are in talks about hosting the center.
“We expect to align with STEM programs to embed sustainability and innovation into schools, workplaces and lifestyles through full-spectrum learning tools, teaching skills for new industry opportunities,” he said. “Support for a museum is easier for Americans to grasp, rather than complex, abstract environmental proposals. We want to accelerate the knowledge of how we got here and what path to take going forward.”
The actual building will showcase its sustainability efforts with its self sufficiency in power, waste recycling and water supply, Horn said.
The nonprofit still needs funding to construct the physical building. He also said there are ongoing conversations about where the site will be, but the city building commission is supportive of the building goals in regard to the innovative codes it would require. Horn said this is similar to building codes needed for the Sinclair Hotel in downtown Fort Worth.
Currently, EcoPlex needs roughly $3 million to set up administrative operations, including a social media team, videographers, and fundraiser/advancement officers, Horn said. After those positions are filled, he said, the nonprofit will have credibility and expects more funds to come in.
The administrative team is the first part of the business plan, he said. After that team is established, the collaboration efforts can begin. The museum would be the last part of building because EcoPlex wants to bring in the best scientists and engineers to build the innovative complex.
EcoPlex advisory council members
Robert Ahdieh, Dean, Law School, Texas A&M School of Law
Michael Bennett, architect and consultant
Michael Brennan, executive director, Near Southside Inc.
Gene Giovannini, chancellor, Tarrant County College
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, International Symphony Director
Bob Jameson, president, Visit Fort Worth
Becky Johnson, P.G., environmental science and hydrology, Texas Christian University
Jonathan Kraatz, executive director, US Green Building Council of Texas
Dr. Kent Scribner, superintendent, FWISD
Andy Taft, executive director, Downtown Fort Worth Inc.
Manuel Tapia, Fort Worth actor, current work – “Twelve Mighty Orphans”
Meghna Tare, chief sustainability officer, the University of Texas at Arlington
Elizabeth Waddill, conservation advocate
Andrew Walker, executive director, Amon Carter Museum
Hannah Walker, vice president of Sinclair Digital, LLC
Denise Wilkerson, chief advancement officer, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Ann Zadeh, former City Council member, city of Fort Worth
Advisory Council Ex-Officio:
Dana Burghdoff, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth
Advisors and Consultants:
Kenneth Barr, Barr Consulting Group
Linda Pavlik, President, Pavlik & Associates
John W. Maloney, president, Maloney Strategic Communications
Kirk Millican, architect, Freese & Nichols
Caitlin Davis, program director, Outreach and Media
Trustees of Board:
Joseph Horn, president – attorney and mediator
Robert West, secretary – partner and real estate attorney, Whitaker Chalk
Cynthia Powell – clinical instructor, School of Medicine & Health Sciences, George Washington University
Ed Schneider, retired CEO and President, Botanical Research Institute of Texas
For some, Fort Worth, or even Texas, might not be the first place on people’s minds for a leader in environmentalism.
There are strong systems in place for Fort Worth to be a leader in environmental innovation, said Ed Schneider, retired Fort Worth Botanic Garden president and executive director and EcoPlex board member.
“I would also say that the oil and gas industry, which Fort Worth has always been a leader of, is also going to play a very prominent role in solving some of these environmental issues,” he said. “I think there are a lot of key elements already in place in the Fort Worth area to allow for this kind of leadership that is needed on a national basis.”
Fort Worth also has people willing to invest in the city, such as the Bass family, Schneider said. When he was working with the garden, Schneider said, brothers Ed and Lee Bass showed an interest in the environment.
“A lot of this stems from the ranching industry where there’s land stewardship issues,” Schneider said. “Certainly, environmental issues have to be interwoven and understood if we want the right outcomes.”
TCU Professor and EcoPlex Advisory Council member Becky Johnson said there would be a draw to EcoPlex because there already is such a strong museum culture in the city.
“I think most of the country doesn’t think of Texas as environmentally forward. They think of us as an oil state,” Johnson said. “So, I think the opportunity to showcase some of the things that we’re doing right and putting that in Fort Worth would really shine a pretty interesting light on Fort Worth, and help us take the credit for the things that we really are doing.”
Johnson teaches several courses focused on the environment at TCU. She said Fort Worth has some of the best systems in the country when it comes to water supply, water treatment programs and recycling that are not really publicized.
Because Fort Worth already is a leader in all these areas, EcoPlex could only enhance that, she said.
“I’ve done a lot of work trying to cross boundaries between consultants and academics and state agencies and that sort of thing, trying to get people to work together,” Johnson said. “And I just see this as complex as a place where that can happen, and really push Fort Worth forward. I think we’re primed for it, I think we’re ready for it to have to have that component.”
Schneider said EcoPlex is Fort Worth, it is a collaboration with a group of leaders in the city who are invested in it.
“The important thing I think is what is the outcome that we all want, and that is people focusing more attention on all of these ecological problems that we are facing as a global population,” Schneider said. “I think Fort Worth has the ability to take that leadership mantle.”
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.