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Gang Green 

How a herd of Springs institutions are leaving gluttony behind

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By now, in the age of diminishing resources and increasing green awareness, you've probably faced many inconvenient truths and at least once considered your own carbon footprint.

Scary, isn't it?

Many folks have noted the doom-and-gloom tone of much of the green movement that, though perhaps accurate in its forecast, tends to leave them feeling a little deflated and hopeless. An offshoot to that: apathy and disregard, or at least limited engagement to make change.

But rather than fan the flames of the global warming crisis further, we thought that in this issue, we'd try to highlight some local folks that are affecting change for the positive.

After a little sniffing around, we picked five of the largest institutions in town, which, in addition to little ol' us, are going greener. This is by no means a comprehensive list of forward-thinkers; we know there are handfuls of other local organizations and entities, as well as private citizens, investing in everything from renewable energy to more efficient transportation. But by their sheer size, these big five greenies stand to make significant impact or rather, significantly lessen their impact on the Front Range.

In addition, we'll look at some new outdoor gear that's embracing sustainability. We'll also meet local bike commuters and learn about the challenges of braving city traffic to save burning more oil. Lastly, on the good news front, we'll take a look at community-supported agriculture programs in the region and see how they're reclaiming healthy farmland while supplying produce.

OK, we couldn't resist including one negatively toned story about damage that's being done to local trails, the arteries into the great outdoors that also need protection. Forgive us.

We hope you enjoy our green package, and keep up the good fight.

Fort Carson

It's 2027. A Fort Carson soldier, Pvt. Joe Rogers, has completed his morning fitness routine.

He hits the shower and a high-pressured nozzle sprays out a combination of water, air and dirt-eating bacteria. The process lasts less than a minute and uses about one cup of water, which trickles into a drain, through a microbial filter and emerges from an irrigation system that waters the post's gardens.

Rogers then gets dressed in clothes made from organic, nontoxic materials that react to body temperature, keeping him cool under the hot sun and warm when the snow falls. He hops onto a high-speed, hydrogen-fueled train that whisks him to his unit. There, he dons lightweight gear, much of it solar-powered, joining his male and female comrades in an exercise using non-lethal weapons.

This is Fort Carson's vision for itself, as laid out in the post's 2007 Sustainability Report.

"The next evening, the [Rogers] family has dinner on their rooftop patio surrounded by beautiful plants and grasses that thrive in dry climate and soils unique to the Pikes Peak Region," the report states. "Leftover food and other waste is fed into a waste-to-energy system that breaks down the waste and generates ethanol and a composite gas to fuel an electric generator that will provide energy for the building on those rare cloudy days."

Tom Warren, who leads a variety of environmental initiatives for Fort Carson, says the idea represents the kind of "outside-the-box thinking" meant to green the Army.

"I don't think we're all that far away from that reality," Warren says.

To get there, Warren says, Fort Carson is taking practical steps in a 25-year community-Army plan that began in 2002. Warren acknowledges that, since then, most Fort Carson-related environmental news has been negative, related to the Army's controversial proposal to expand Pion Canyon Maneuver Site in rural southeast Colorado.

"There is the other side of the coin," he says, adding that the Army views environmental initiatives as a way to become self-sufficient and save money, ideas that ultimately can be traced to national security interests.

For example, new buildings for the 1st Brigade Combat Team and incoming 4th Infantry Division are being constructed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The U.S. Green Building Council independently certifies that buildings meet various environmental criteria, such as conserving energy and water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering the amount of waste sent to landfills.

click to enlarge This costly and impressive array of solar panels helps - generate energy for Fort Carson, a rapidly greening base.
  • This costly and impressive array of solar panels helps generate energy for Fort Carson, a rapidly greening base.

Specifically, the 1st BCT building is being shaped to maximize the power of the sun. It will also conserve water through included Xeriscaping, drip irrigation systems and waterless urinals.

"We're trying to get ahead of the curve where we can," Warren says.

Recycling is huge, of course; in paper, scrap metal, wood pallet and yard-waste efforts, the post has saved more than $580,000.

"We're doing what we can, where we can even picking up all the brass from the firing ranges for recycling," Warren says.

The post is also branching out into alternative-fuel vehicles. It has 12 hybrids and is considering converting 67 diesel-fueled vehicles to cleaner-burning biodiesel.

There are many other projects underway or on tap, such as improving bicycle and pedestrian access at Gates 1, 3 and 4, part of an effort to cut down on car reliance.

But it all seems far from the day when, according to the Sustainability Report, lasers break down toilet waste and harness the energy, freeing Fort Carson's buildings from their reliance on the power grid. Warren chuckles at the example.

"This isn't Buck Rogers and Martians and all that crap," he says, "but it is a vision that we think is achievable and that we're working to achieve." MdY

UCCS

Linda Kogan, the first-ever director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is something of a one-woman sustainability cyclone. But she'll be the first to tell you that she's hardly the only person at UCCS who cares about the issue.

A faculty-lead sustainability committee started pushing green causes in 2001, and it was soon joined by a student group called Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability. Five years later, UCCS created Kogan's position, which reports to the vice chancellor, and UCCS was on its way.

"For the first time [in 2007], some sustainability goals made it to the strategic plan for whole university," Kogan says.

Some of the goals laid out in that plan to get UCCS recognized within five years as a regional leader in sustainability, to distribute awards and recognition to campus leaders sound fairly abstract compared with some of the activities UCCS has already completed. They include:

creating a sustainable development minor;

committing to achieving LEED certification for two new buildings going up on campus;

starting to track greenhouse gas emissions on campus;

and joining more than 500 other institutes of higher learning in signing onto the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which pledges pursuit of carbon neutrality.

Perhaps the most impressive work done so far, though, is in the recycling system. Kogan has installed recycle bins in every office and classroom, all of which get emptied into seven new "pods" on campus. She snared local TV news attention in November by Dumpster diving with a few student volunteers and finding that more than 40 percent of what was in the Dumpster actually could be recycled.

Recently, she enrolled UCCS in Recyclemania, an annual nationwide competition in which hundreds of schools compete in the area of sustainability. At the end of week nine, UCCS rated No. 36, with 25.95 percent of its trash recycled. A year ago, Kogan says, that number would have been 5 percent. Students and the custodial staff deserve some credit, Kogan says, but school administration does, too.

"This is not a cost-neutral project by any means," she notes. "Having a recycling program on campus is a direct statement of a commitment to sustainability, and a financial one."

Piggybacking onto what administration has done, the UCCS student body is now considering its own financial commitment.

Student body co-president Brandon James has spearheaded an effort that's gotten a solar-power referendum on this month's student ballot. If a majority of students vote in favor, every student taking a class at UCCS over the next five years would pay a $5-per-semester fee to raise money for a photovoltaic solar power system for one campus building.

James, who's finishing up his UCCS education this spring, estimates the measure would raise approximately $300,000 at the end of five years.

"The students still have to vote on this, and it's another fee," he notes. "And that's something a lot of students are kind of sick of. But living in the state that we live in, where we're 48th in the nation as far as higher ed funding, it's the only way we can really get money and make things happen on campus. It's sad, but ... if we're going to have a new fee, at least this is something that's going to protect our health, our environment." KW

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Let's start with "zoo-doo," Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's exchange of elephant dung for pumpkins. Venetucci Farm benefits from receiving hearty manure for composting and enriching its soil; in return, Venetucci helps the zoo get its gourd on come harvest time.

click to enlarge Its big! Going green on a large scale requires significant - efforts. But as local institutions are realizing, theyll pay off - in the long run.
  • Its big! Going green on a large scale requires significant efforts. But as local institutions are realizing, theyll pay off in the long run.

While lacking the name recognition, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also offers programs in which it pairs up with community members. Anyone can buy tiger doo ($1 per pound), which, when sprinkled around home gardens, keeps deer away. The money earned goes to support the zoo's tiger area.

At the zoo, visitors can, of course, recycle items like plastic water bottles or soda cans at bins next to trash cans, and the zoo holds its own "EarthFest" on June 21, at which conservation groups provide demonstrations on everything from solar oven to adobe building. This year, the zoo also participated in Year of the Frog events, centered around saving rapidly declining amphibian species. (Half of 6,000 known species are endangered.) For its part, the zoo has begun a breeding program for two near-extinct Rocky Mountain species: the Wyoming toad and boreal toad.

Beginning May 1, the zoo will also be taking part in Quarters for Conservation, an annual program in which each guest receives a token to place in one of six donation slots. Among the causes: bringing native butterflies back to Colorado and helping Andean bears in Ecuador and wild orangutans in Borneo. Twenty-five cents from each admission, and a portion of memberships, will go toward the programs; the zoo expects to raise upward of $100,000 a year through the campaign. MS

Colorado Springs Utilities

The temperature stayed in the high 80s one weekend last summer, then hit 91 on Monday and 94 by Tuesday. On that final day, Aug. 21, folks went home from work to switch on air conditioners, plasma screen televisions and other energy-sucking devices.

And the city's power generators groaned, delivering a record 863 megawatts of electricity at about 5 that evening.

It's a day likely forgotten by most residents, but for officials with Colorado Springs Utilities, it represents a sort of tiny Super Bowl for energy planning. Peak days like this one give Utilities' generating plants a workout and factor into an unfortunate arithmetic: With a growing population and proliferating electronic gadgetry, officials predict a new power plant will be needed in eight to 11 years.

"We're trying to push things out farther," says Steve Knopp, manager of Utilities' demand side and renewable energy programs.

That mostly boils down to either conserving energy or finding renewable sources, and Utilities offers incentives to encourage both.

Solar panels are the renewable energy source most available to homeowners and businesses, and Utilities offers a rebate of $3.75 per watt for those. As an added bonus, Utilities will buy up unused power from the panels, which can bring monthly bills even lower. In 2007, Utilities paid out $167,000 for solar panels, translating to nearly 45 kilowatts of generating power.

Other programs focus on cutting demand. The big push for homes and apartments is getting people to use compact fluorescent light bulbs, and last year Utilities gave away thousands. (The Pikes Peak Conservation Corps' goal to install a million of these bulbs takes this effort to a grander scale.)

It's also trying out a pilot program with remote-controlled thermostats. When demand gets really high, usually in the summer, Utilities can reset these thermostats a few degrees higher to cut the peak energy demand.

For businesses, one program gives rebates for upgrades to more efficient fluorescent tubes, and another pays them for efficiency upgrades that reduce their peak energy needs. And Utilities also offers homebuilders a reason to get in on energy efficiency: It'll pay $450 to builders who make homes to the EPA's Energy Star standards, which on average save residents hundreds each year on utility bills. AL

Colorado College

click to enlarge CCs newly created Sustainability Office staffs a handful of - part-time interns and will likely grow in coming years as - projects are initiated.
  • CCs newly created Sustainability Office staffs a handful of part-time interns and will likely grow in coming years as projects are initiated.

In pledging green action, Colorado College is not unique; colleges and universities nationwide have signed their souls over to social responsibility. CC is unique, however, for not having signed a carbon-neutral pledge just yet.

CC President Richard Celeste is awaiting the results of campus environmental assessments, due in June. By midsummer, he's expected to determine whether CC truly can go carbon-neutral in a matter of years; only if it's possible will he sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Either way, the assessments he's approved so far equate to almost three years of progress as laid out by the pledge. That puts the school further along than some of the 500-plus signees, according to sustainability office head and Chaplain Bruce Coriell.

And no matter what, Coriell's charge will remain clear: The sustainability office is working on plans for 10-year and 10-year-plus actions, affecting everything from green building and upgrades of existing facilities to heating, cooling, electricity, transportation and water usage.

Coriell defines sustainability as "living as if the world is sacred." Though it's taken a while, CC's definitely adopting that mindset.

"There's a huge movement that's been slowly culminating," says 21-year-old senior and sustainability intern Katie Elliott. "This year, it's really come to fruition."

Elliott, who's designed her own "integrated environmental policy" major, says her first couple years at CC were discouraging, with "a lot of hippie-talk but no action." But now, she says, "sustainability's really taken off. It's not just a buzzword."

One particularly significant (yet still tentative) project in the works involves the creation of a college consortium for wind power. If finalized, CC, Colorado State University and a handful of other institutions would manage a site to generate their own wind power, rather than just purchase renewable energy credits.

The campus will also seek large-scale solar-panel generation from systems to be installed on campus rooftops.

An abundance of projects have been under way for quite some time, many initiated and led by students. According to Coriell, 80 percent of CC students participate in service actions, as compared to the national average of 32 percent. EnAct, the oldest student group on campus, has created annual forums and rallies in addition to bringing activists such as Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Joel Salatin to campus.

The group is also responsible for petitioning the administration to secure LEED certification for the soon-to-open Cornerstone Arts Building, after having achieved it for the Tutt Science Center in 2005. That was the first LEED-certified science building in the country.

And students themselves have started a fair-trade coffee co-op in 2001; a campus composting program in 2003; and, recently, a student-community seed exchange and raw milk cooperative through the CC Farm, which is currently moving to a 1.5-acre site behind a campus residence.

The Synergy House, a green residence that houses six students on a organic food plan who oversee composting and food production, also acts as a functional educational model.

To track CC's progress, visit coloradocollege.edu. There you also can check out its just-released State of the Rockies Report Card, for which students assessed environmental concerns in the region. MS

The Indy

OK, so in comparison to the rest of these institutions, we're not very big. But, well, we've got a big heart, and we're excited about what we've done.

The Independent recently decided to invest in efficiency upgrades that would pay for themselves within five years, as well as set aside an additional $15,000 to reduce the carbon footprint at the Indy's home, an 11,000-square-foot brick building whose vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows have seen more than 80 years of life.

Though already accustomed to energy-efficient bulbs, recycling bins and compost containers, Indy employees dreamed of eliminating drafts, leaks in the roof, and maybe even the space heaters kept under some desks.

It turns out that only some upgrades made sense when dealing with an old building. Consider windows: Some thought it would be nice to have the double-glazed kind that keep warmth in or out, depending on the season. But upgrading the windows seemed less than a cure-all given that the brick walls already ooze heat, something difficult to fix without installing some internal layers of expensive insulation. (For you eco-geeks out there: Our walls have an insulation value of just R3.)

Insulating heating pipes from the boiler, however, provides a quick payback: The cost was $1,200, and energy savings should pay for that in two years. Similar story for weatherstripping dozens of windows and doors.

Solar panels, installed along with a new, non-leaky roof, stand as the biggest investment. The total price tag surpassed $40,000, but the Indy will receive about $20,000 in state and federal solar tax credits. The system should generate more than 4 kilowatts of power ($4 per day at today's electrical prices), so the payback period will be about 15 years far less if the cost of electricity continues to rise.

Says publisher John Weiss: "These initial investments should quickly reduce our carbon footprint by about 20 percent." Indy

Compiled by Michael de Yoanna, Anthony Lane, Matthew Schniper and Kirk Woundy.

  • Behold the shower of the future.

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