The green movement is surging in Colorado Springs, taking root in everything from the explosion of community gardens to solar projects and a regional sustainability plan in the works.
Less glamorous, but perhaps more important in these groundwork-laying days, is the contribution of "sustainability directors," hired by large organizations to make them eco-friendly. It's a new job, and the field itself is only about 10 years old. As such, the positions tend to be broadly defined.
A sustainability director might go shopping for solar panels, lecture a classroom, or give input on a LEED-certified building on one day. The next, she might research composters, arrange for a community garden, or design curriculum for a college class.
Locally, women are dominating this emerging field. And some, facing the variety of tasks they're charged to perform, have grown to rely on each other.
Sitting around a table recently, Fort Carson's Mary Barber, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' Linda Kogan, Colorado College's Emily Wright, the city of Colorado Springs' Carrie McCausland, and Pikes Peak Community College's LeeAnn Westfall chatted about their common problems, ideas and goals.
It's convenient, they say, to use someone else's research on, say, the least expensive sustainable wood products, rather than having to re-do all the work. In the future, the women hope their friendship might make them a more powerful force for change, using their collective voice (and buying power) to demand greener energy and other sustainable services.
"What's encouraging is that there's an amazing amount of people working on this, and really bright minds and some people with their hearts in the right place," Kogan says. "And I feel like we have actually an amazing movement and an amazing community."
Since every organization has different expectations of their sustainability directors, the field is still fresh. We spoke to the women about their jobs.
Mary Barber, Fort Carson
If there were a pecking order in this bunch, Barber would be on top.
Coming of age in the eco-conscious '70s, Barber got a degree in environmental biology before starting at Fort Carson in 1981 as an environmental staff member. Her current position, Installation Sustainability Resource Officer, didn't exist until 2007.
Over the years, Barber has witnessed a transformation on Fort Carson, which has evolved from a regular Army post into a national model of sustainability. Fort Carson has been selected to be one of two military sites nationally with "net zero" impact on water, waste and energy by 2020.
It's a huge undertaking.
"That leaves us only nine or so years to get to those goals, which is really going to be a stretch," Barber says.
But Fort Carson has a leg up. It's had a community-based sustainability plan in place for a decade and has 35 LEED-certified silver or gold facilities, with at least 40 more in construction or development.
"We've seen a lot of growth," Barber says, "and in that growth we've tried to grow responsibly."
In 2009, the post installed a 2-megawatt solar array that provides 2 percent of the base's energy, or 540 houses' worth. That brought the base's total renewable energy use to 3.5 percent. It has also reduced energy needs by 16 percent since 2002, despite increasing its square-footage of buildings from 8.5 million to 12 million.
Meanwhile, the base has cut its water use by nearly half since 2003 by improving how it manages turf, and adding Xeriscaping.
Barber has focused mainly on education, outreach and coordination, working with several departments.
Linda Kogan, UCCS
Six years is a long time in the world of sustainability. In 2005, coming from Catamount Institute to a new position with only a strategic plan, Kogan has transformed UCCS on four fronts: campus, curriculum, culture and community.
She's seen three small solar systems installed, and four buildings certified LEED gold, with two more on the way. "That's kind of an assumption now," she says of building to LEED standards.
Meanwhile, a student community garden has hit its second harvest season, and recycling is in full swing. UCCS students perform an annual "Mount Trashmore" event, when campus trash is dumped in front of the library and sorted to salvage recyclables.
In September, UCCS hosts Bike Jam, encouraging students to commute by bicycle and log their miles, with prizes.
Students also pay a green fee that helps fund innovation decided upon by a council. This year, ideas include "fill stations" for reusable water bottles, and LCD screens in dorms that give real-time information on how much energy and water being used.
Sustainability is even part of curriculum. Most freshmen learn about it in an introductory class, and the All Campus Reads selection this year is No Impact Man.
The next big goal for the university, still in its infancy: a coordinated plan to reduce energy consumption.
Emily Wright, CC
When Wright got her CC degree in environmental science in 2004, the college had no sustainability director.
"These kinds of positions, these kinds of holistic, integrated positions — there weren't very many of them," Wright says.
But she had done a major project that calculated the environmental footprint of the college. She was also a member of the school's first sustainability working group, which pressured then-President Dick Celeste to commit to sustainability.
Celeste didn't want to do it without knowing how it would work, so, a few years ago, he hired a contractor. That contractor hired (you guessed it) Wright.
When that was done, Wright began working part-time to implement the plan. She was hired full-time in July of this year.
Now Wright has about 40 students, faculty and staff working to make CC a sustainable campus; her goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2020. Already, the school has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent in two years.
Carrie McCausland, city
In the beginning, McCausland says, "it was much more of a life philosophy as opposed to a profession."
Employed by the city's public communications department, McCausland worked with a "green team" to make the city more sustainable. When a grant-funded sustainability position came open in 2009, McCausland jumped.
These days, she's become a well-known member of the sustainable community. In fact, it was McCausland who suggested interviewing the women for this story.
On the job, she's working to develop the city's first sustainability plan. And McCausland and others are managing a $3.7 million energy efficiency and conservation block grant, which is being used mostly in retrofitting efforts. The city will soon have nine energy-efficient buildings with a cumulative guaranteed cost savings of $154,000 annually. The city is also hoping its new transit building will be certified LEED gold.
Also in the works: green practices for the second phase of the Woodmen Road project (from Stinson Road to Powers Boulevard), which could lead to it being a "certified green road," akin to LEED certification. And the city's first Xeriscaped median could be on the way.
McCausland's team oversees the extension of recycling into city buildings, and has plans for the city's free street recycling to expand. She's also hoping to put recycling requirements into large city special event permits.
LeeAnn Westfall, PPCC
Inspired by Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, Westfall began her environmental work in college, as a volunteer leading youth nature walks and building green roofs. She then worked at Cleveland State University on a $43 million energy conservation program.
PPCC is fairly new to sustainability; Westfall was hired in March, after students approved a fee to pay her salary. But the college has built a LEED-certified theater at its Centennial campus and updated HVAC systems, most lighting and some restrooms. It has a recycling program, a community garden that feeds into both its culinary program and a pantry with free food for students.
Westfall is writing a book with recipes, charts showing seasonal harvests, composting ideas and lists of Colorado's ranchers and farmers. She says her main focus is curriculum; she wants PPCC to be a leader in training students for green jobs.
"We can create a city that's completely sustainable, completely green, top-notch in the nation," Westfall says, "but if we're not getting our youth involved to create future generations of sustainable people, then how sustainable are we?"
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