As a Green Team member, I'm saddened but not surprised to learn that in the Steamboat Pilot & Today's view, the sustainability coordinator position isn't needed. Saddened because the Pilot & Today apparently did not understand our recommendation; not surprised because, in retrospect, we didn't do a good job of selling.
For Steamboat Springs, the real sustainability issue is this: As the symptoms and consequences of nonsustainable behavior increase (e.g., spiking fuel prices, dwindling water supplies, air and water quality problems, rampant and ungainly development, to name a few), are we going to take charge of our own future (charging bulls), or are we just going to sit there and ignore these trends (boiling frogs), tossing them off as inevitable consequences of modern day life? The boiling frogs metaphor, by the way, comes from the urban legend that if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it up, the frog will cook, unable to sense and react to slow but ultimately fatal increases in temperature.
Let's take a look at what the city has in place to address these issues. First, we have the official Green Team of eight city employees, organized to implement the city's Sustainability Management Plan. That plan is limited in scope (just stuff that falls under city jurisdiction) and limited in vision (basically lead by example). Then there is the other Green Team, many of whom are listed in the plan as "interested community members." We are the locals who show up at the monthly Green Team meetings, bringing an understanding of the bigger sustainability picture and the desire to do something about it. Interestingly, these meetings are packed with locals, while only sparsely attended by the city's official Green Team members. Fortunately, the meetings are led by Gavin Malia, an energetic and very competent city employee whose day job is GIS coordinator. Gavin volunteers much of his time organizing the meetings, gathering ideas and doing whatever follow-up he can.
Not surprisingly, the city's actions along the sustainability theme have been limited. They are looking at energy efficiency in buildings, water conservation, waste recycling, use of biodiesel and the like. All of these actions will have some impact, but none take into account the full breadth of opportunities and threats that are currently before Steamboat Springs in the realm of sustainable development. Recognizing this, the other Green Team recommended that we get a full time sustainability coordinator, someone who could go beyond the city's limits of authority and figure out how to take advantage of opportunities and deal with the threats.
Other cities and counties have figured this out and are taking charge of their future. Yuma County in eastern Colorado has decided that it wants to be a center for renewable energy and has a full-time person working on its behalf. Places in Florida are getting control of development by ranking land by its natural capital value and steering development accordingly. My personal favorite is the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, which is building schools using more sustainable technologies. They achieve around 10 percent savings on design and construction and 30 to 40 percent savings in operating costs, not because of some "magic bullet" technologies, but by smarter project management.
We saw the coordinator position funding as temporary, seed money until the position could spin off into a nonprofit organization funded by grants and donations. In any event, we expected the person to find opportunities and savings that would more than compensate for the cost. Sadly, this may not happen.
Golly, it's getting awfully warm in here. Wait! Are those bubbles I see?