Economic Summit urges taking steps to sustainability

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Economic Summit

Over 200 people attended this year's Economic Summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Over 200 people attended this year's Economic Summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

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Effe Design's Jan Cohen, left, discusses the benefits of straw bale construction with George Danellis from GDM, right, during the annual Economic Summit held at the Steamboat Grand Hotel on Thursday.

— Ken Collins says "the walls are almost alive" in his untraditional Stagecoach home.

"The color almost glows," Collins said Thursday. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

The varying color and finish of Collins' walls does not come from drywall; it comes from bales of straw.

At Economic Summit 2007, sponsored by a variety of community organizations and held at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center, Collins chatted with Jan Cohen of Effe Designs. Cohen created the straw bales that form the majority of Collins' high-end home, coating the bales in layers of clay and plaster to form a smooth, undulating surface that Collins said not only reflects sound in unexpected ways, but also responds differently to differing amounts of light.

"It feels like it changes throughout the day," Collins said. "A painted or textured drywall does not do that."

Straw bale homes, which feature thick walls and high-performing insulation while allowing builders to save on material costs, were just one of the innovations on display at the summit's Sustainability Expo. Vendors also manned displays about erosion control, environmentally friendly housecleaning supplies, wind and geothermal energy production, other "green" methods of home insulation, and solar power systems such as photovoltaic panels - which Tim McCarthy said have been slow to catch on in Steamboat Springs.

"It's a hard sell right now because there's no incentives out here" in Routt County, McCarthy, of Emerald Moun-

tain Energy in Steamboat, said. McCarthy said while companies such as Xcel Energy offer financial incentives to users of renewable energy sources on the Front Range, no such policy exists locally.

"Basically, it's a 25-year payback," he said of switching to a photovoltaic system. "I would say it's really a personal choice - you're going to pay a premium to make an environmental choice. It's something I've believed in for a long time."

Personal choice was a theme throughout the summit.

Lyn Halliday, who kicked off her Steamboat Sustainable Business Program in March, encouraged local business owners to take steps such as reducing vehicle mileage or installing fluorescent light bulbs to promote conservation at "a local, grassroots level."

"No longer is the bottom line solely how we define success," Halliday said. "Success is now also determined by meeting community and societal values."

Terry Minger, president and chief executive officer of a national environmental organization called the Center for Resource Management - and a former president and CEO of Whistler-Blackcomb Resort in Canada - said efforts by Steamboat's city officials to manage local growth are comparable to "changing a tire while the car is moving."

But Minger added that such on-the-fly repairs are crucial as Steamboat Springs faces a period of booming growth.

"With growth comes problems, and with growth comes opportunities," Minger said. "You either decline and die, or you rejuvenate."

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