Look forward, not merely back.

That was the message from the two guest speakers at the Vineyard Conservation Society’s 50th annual meeting, where members gathered Tuesday night at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury to celebrate a half century of work preserving land and encouraging environmental practices.

Speakers John Abrams and Marc Rosenbaum of South Mountain Co. in West Tisbury discussed what the next 50 years could mean.

“A first step, in my view, is to turn the word regional from a curse word to a poetic word,” said Mr. Abrams, founder, president and chief executive officer at South Mountain, drawing applause. “Only as a region can we do the kind of systems and centers that will really make a difference.”

The meeting, which Brendan O’Neill, longtime executive director of VCS described as “a wonderful opportunity to convene the membership and thank them for support and look what’s next,” included votes to approve officers and a video about the details of their work, but the discussion kept returning to collaboration. Mr. O’Neill said later what emerged from the meeting was “a clearer sense that were all in this together.”

Crowd gathered at Agricultural Hall to celebrate a half century of conservation. — Mark Allan Lovewell

Mr. Abrams said for him and his company, moving through the next half a century will be about a change in energy use. “It’s about our own gradual ascent to a low carbon economy,” he said. He explained that South Mountain is working to become a zero energy and zero waste company, using a painstaking process of documentation and company policy. “Every organization, no matter how big or small, needs to have a policy and a process,” he said.

When examining South Mountain’s footprint, they found a large portion of the carbon emissions comes from cars. Mr. Rosenbaum, director of engineering at South Mountain, described a vision for the next 50 years that includes a huge change in primary modes of transportation. With a reduction of the number of cars, emissions would decrease and safety would increase on the road.

“My vision is you could send your kid to school, six years old, wobbling, and the worst that could happen to them is they’d fall off their bike.” Mr. Rosenbaum said. He explained that despite a subsidy program at South Mountain for those who ride their bike to work, few actually take to the pedals. A poll found safety was a primary concern.

Richard Toole, VCS board president, quoted the United Nation’s definition of sustainability and asked how to define sustainability in the context of Martha’s Vineyard.

“Sustainability is a terrible word,” replied Mr. Rosenbaum. “You don’t want to sustain something, you want to make it better, make it thrive.”

Brendan O'Neill has been the longtime director of VCS. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Margaret Logue, a member from the earliest conservation society’s earliest years who attended the meeting, lauded VCS for doing just that throughout the years —thriving. “It’s amazing and it’s been steady,” she said. “Sometimes visible and in the press, sometimes imperceptible, but it’s been steady.”

In those steady years VCS, which includes advocacy and public education as central tenets of its conservation goals, has worked on hundreds of projects. Leaders have pushed for the preservation of thousands of acres of land, campaigned against development on the Katama Plains, farmlands and the Moshup Trail heathlands, pushed for recycling and helped create walking trails.

Founded in 1965 by a small group of Islanders, the conservation society’s first project was fending off a development threat in the Lobsterville moors of Aquinnah. The group convinced the state to place a limited access designation on West Basin Road, prohibiting future subdivisions and preserving what remains today a scenic, undeveloped area that runs along the northern edge of Menemsha Pond.

“We all plan,” a Gazette editorial observed at the time the conservation society was founded. “If we didn’t, we should be living in chaos or not living at all. But the planning inherent in the very organization of the Vineyard Conservation Society means assisting and encouraging, and not in any sense imposing something fixed from the outside. There is no fixed pattern.”

VCS began its 50th year with five walks through properties to mark the accomplishments of the past. The 2014-2015 winter walk series theme was Walking Through the Decades of Conservation; each one visited a site that VCS helped preserve that decade, including the Gay Head Cliffs and several farms. Other topics discussed at the meeting Tuesday included habitat restoration at the Moshup heathlands, a fertilizer bylaw passed last year, plastic bag bans and the prospect of such a ban on the Island, the tiny home movement, politicizing the climate change discussion, so-called undevelopment of decrepit houses and affordable housing on Island. “We’re proud of our half century of conservation work,” concluded Mr. O’Neill. “I do think of VCS as an institution in shaping the way the Island sees themselves.”