Sarah Jones: Sustainability matters


Last week, I attended the March 4 Steamboat Springs City Council meeting and was alarmed by comments made by City Council members that “sustainability does not even rank in the top-five goals for the council at this time.”

I came away from that meeting with three realizations.

1. Not all City Council members understand the meaning of sustainability;

2. The city of Steamboat Springs is not a leader in sustainability in the country, state or even, some might argue, locally; and

3. The priorities of City Council are out of alignment with the priorities of their constituents.

To address the first issue — what is sustainability? Sustainability is not just about spending city money to do some energy-efficiency upgrades or to purchase some solar panels. Sustainability is a lens through which all decisions are made to create a community, as defined in the city’s own Sustainability Plan “as one that maintains the integrity of its natural resources over the long term, promotes a prosperous economy, and hosts a vibrant, equitable society.”

This is about making decisions for the long term regarding resilience, expense control and reduction, security and protection of our open space for our visitors and for future generations. Perhaps it is time for the current council to reread its own plans and definitions for sustainability in our community.

To address the second issue — lack of leadership in sustainability. Currently, the city of Steamboat Springs is the only community of the 21 Colorado Association of Ski Towns that does not have an Energy Plan or Climate Action Plan, either completed or in development.

By comparison, Garfield County, also a hub for past coal mining and current oil and gas exploration, was able to agree to an energy resolution to “be the most energy-efficient county in the country” with a goal of 20 percent per capita energy-efficiency improvements, 25 percent petroleum reduction and 35 percent of electricity from renewables by 2020 as a means to a more resilient, energy-secure economy. To achieve these energy goals, each community in Garfield County prepared Energy and Climate Action Plans with identified actions and policies.

The result: Carbondale, one of the Garfield communities, has engaged more than 140 clean-energy and energy-efficient businesses in their area, has leveraged more than $6.7 million in energy productivity projects and was identified as one of Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns 2013” because of “a thriving green-energy economy.” Leadership is not about paying bills (stewardship); it’s about navigating our ship to a better place in the future. I hope to see more of this type of leadership from our council.

And finally — misalignment of the priorities of City Council with those of the residents of Steamboat Springs. Vision 2030, the Community Area Plan and the city’s Sustainability Management Plan are three guiding documents developed with strong community and staff input and involvement. In all three of these documents, sustainability and the preservation of the natural environment were identified as integral to the identity of our community and our economy.

Did the hard work and vision of so many in our community yield a small library of documents never to be reviewed? How is it that well-defined commitments toward sustainability are not even in the top-five priorities set by the individuals on council?

It is clear that constituents have identified sustainability as a priority for our community. The job of City Council is to represent the interests of their constituents. I strongly encourage City Council to make sustainability a priority moving forward.


Sarah Jones

Executive director

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council


Neil O'Keeffe 3 years, 2 months ago

GOOD ON YA SARAH! Let the Steamboulder bashing begin! Come on boyz!


rhys jones 3 years, 2 months ago

Sustainability is like Christianity, in that there is a lot of money in talking about it.


mark hartless 3 years, 2 months ago

Yep. And when all is said and done, more will be SAID than DONE.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 2 months ago

So where in the three mentioned documents does it say that City of SB should invest in a solar farm returning less than 4% annually?

With all of the other listed energy and money saving projects available to the city with much faster payback periods, any sane financial analysis would recommend spending money where it is most effective.

Plus, costs of solar are trending to be less expensive which is another important justification to improve energy efficiency elsewhere on projects with faster paybacks.

Meanwhile, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council is unable to effectively manage recycling drop off at Safeway over the weekends.


John Fielding 3 years, 2 months ago

Of we who assiduously practice lifestyles that aspire to include core values of conservation, self reliance, responsible stewardship and harmony with the universe, many find the definitions given to "Sustainability" and the efforts to enforce the use of that "lens through which all decisions are made" through government mandates to be rather contrary to those same values, even to the degree that we find it challenging to acknowledge ourselves as supporting "Sustainability".

To engage Rhys' analogy to Christianity, there are those who believe one can only be a true disciple if actively proselytizing, others quietly maintain that simply following the precepts oneself is sufficient, and that many of the missionary's efforts over the centuries have been abhorrent as seen in light of Christ's example.

Scott's points are well taken, both regarding prudent financial decision making itself as a factor of sustainability, and the recycling issue. Many people will make decisions to participate more actively if the opportunity is present, but still object to those conditions being created by the compelled participation through taxation and regulation. The current recycling challenge could be resolved by creative use of market forces, promoting competition between the businesses involved, removing obstacles to the economical management of the waste stream, placing an "Honor System" donation box at the collection point.

It is an uphill battle to force people to behave as you would wish, better to have them decide for themselves that is an attractive path to follow.



rhys jones 3 years, 2 months ago

All I was saying is, when people see the possibility for profit while pursuing their passions, their eyes light up and they become tireless Crusaders.

That said, the recycling/composting effort in this town is lame at best; all is not as it appears, there are conflicting interests in this potentially lucrative endeavor (I've worked at a recycling center: The people who drop stuff off pay you, and the people who pick it up pay you. You just sort it. Hard to lose at that game.)

I'll shut up now. I just hate to see the noble word Sustainability bandied about as a buzz word, by now diluted by its many applications, to where now it's just folks flapping their gums for their cause.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 2 months ago

Also, the letter's emphasis on local business is rather ironic considering how they have committed to Waste Management's single stream recycling program using a huge facility in Denver.

If YVSC cared about local jobs then they'd be pushing for dual stream which can be locally processed. .


Dan Kuechenmeister 3 years, 2 months ago

Rhys is correct. If there is a profit to be made in recycling then private enterprise will figure it out. If there is no or minimal profit then the solution is user fees by the facility, taxes from the government or a determination that it just isn't worth it. One wonders how much sustainability there is in driving the recycling to Oak Creek the last week of the month, the green machines at Safeway on Friday or Waste Management facility. Does the recycling benefit offset the energy use. Our house continues to recycle as we believe it is a net benefit, but who really knows.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 2 months ago


I'd argue the current goal of the Green Machines is the ease of writing a check from the county's tipping fees fund to a large corporation to offer the public a minimal opportunity to recycle. The Green Machine itself states that it is not to be used for cardboard which is the most common recyclable item. There is no intent to increase the amount of materials recycled via the Green Machines because it costs too much money.

If the intent was to increase recycling then they'd get two long fifth wheel trailers with sides to collect recyclable materials. One for cardboard/paper and the other for plastic/glass. They'd then find a local with a big enough pickup truck to haul each trailer when it fills up to the Materials Recover Facility at MM 2 on hwy 131. That would cut local costs per cubic yard in at least half.

It would also allowing determining if there was enough local volume of what to process the move valuable materials locally and retain that revenue. A site with a baler would be needed.

But, as said above, the purpose of the Green Machine program is not increasing recycling, but PR and the ease of writing a check to Waste Management.


Tricia Nickerson 3 years, 2 months ago

Twin Enviro Services does provide recycling services in Routt and Moffat Counties. The recycling does need to be sorted, but this is a local company.


jerry carlton 3 years, 2 months ago

Sarah Run for city council. You can keep your current job and then be in a position ro reshape policy. You might not even have to run against any one.


mark hartless 3 years, 2 months ago

Don't feel bad, Sarah. I came away from the last decade of observing politicans with 3 realizations too:

1) Not all Presidents understand the meaning of "is", much less a big word like "sustainability".

2) America is no longer a "leader" in much of ANYTHING worthwhile, and

3) The priorities of the ENTIRE POLLITICAL CLASS are WAY, WAY out of alignment with their constituents.

So why should it be any different locally?

Why do you, Sarah, write as if "sustainability" applies only to environmental issues? Do you suppopse economic "sustainability" ought to be part of the "sustainability" conversation?


John Fielding 3 years, 2 months ago

A community that "hosts a vibrant, equitable society.” This phrase is being implemented on the federal government level to serve as the new political correctness, the social engineers mandate, the equal outcomes regardless of efforts mantra, the all value systems are equal philosophy.

If completely implemented it would assure a path for tyranny to follow on, first by the majority, then by the minorities, and eventually by a dictator. The former Soviet Union is an excellent case in point.

I fully support sustainability in its elemental form, the prudent use of the earths resources. Most of this other baggage has hitched a ride on that wagon.


mark hartless 3 years, 2 months ago

Many throughout history have promised "vibrant and equitable societies". Stalion, Mao, Mugabe, Amin, etc...

It makes my skin crawl to hear naive children like Sarah ignorantly champion causes and use sweet-sounding phrases which are really designed to ultimately empower people who have an entirely different definiton of "equitable" that she does.

Equally poor, equally hungry and equally free to pace back and forth in your equally-sized cage is where that fairy-tale ends.

It is NOT the right or responsibility; nor is it within the power of any government to create "equity" or "vibrance" in a society comprised of highly DIVERSE peoples with highly DIVERSE desires and goals.


John Weibel 3 years, 2 months ago

Seems that the county government is the one to focus sustainability efforts on. Given the county has rules on the books which makes it more difficult to operate a business in this county than others. Though, I guess if you want to ensure that the current ranching operations are the most likely to be in the county, then you regulate who can do what, develop a program that works towards protecting those large ranching operations while not fostering programs to help out "new" agricultural operations. The young who wish to get into agriculture, yet who were not fortunate enough to be born into a Routt County agricultural operation.

Personally the PDR program served its purpose in the past, however, the macro economic picture is changing and currently the PDR program works in direct opposition to an equitable society. The other program in the paper on Sunday seems that it could be beneficial in developing small agriculturally developed properties, ie agriburbia developments.

Yet in a community that has deep roots in dairy and ag other than large grazing operations, you would think that the community would encourage diversity in its ag sector. Yet county rules, as the engineer working on my project (hopeful that the original ranch sells in 40 days so I do not go too far into debt) spoke with a county official yesterday, who stated that Routt County officials did not want wealthy people moving into the area and changing the landscape. Yet historically there are lots of dairies in the region. Just drive around and look at all the old dairy structures.

I guess those "old timers" who helped to make it more difficult to operate a dairy in the county did not want competition for their grazing operations, which do not yield the same revenue per acre as would a dairy

Why would the county be so restrictive of something that seemingly every county considers ag, excluding Routt County!

Unfortunately, it seems that one commissioner in particular is worried about others changing the community.


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