By Heather Kelly

Sustainability is no longer a fringe issue — it’s big business.

Mix increased demand for resources with limited supply and the economic risks and opportunities become clear. With the stakes this high, most Fortune 100 companies already have C-level sustainability staff whose job goes well beyond compliance to value creation and innovation.

In Colorado Springs sustainability has taken a while to emerge as a viable business strategy, but that is changing.

In order to meet the growing demand for information about sustainable business among its members, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce formed the Chamber Sustainability Advisory Council last fall.

Recognizing that sustainable industries are well established in other parts of the state, the CSAC decided to provide community and business leaders with an opportunity to learn more about sustainability and how it can stimulate a local economy.

Boulder’s ability to innovate around sustainability led the CSAC to select the city for its First Annual Sustainability Trip.

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The day-long trip consisted of a trip to the Boulder Materials Recovery Facility, Leanin’Tree, and IBM.

Along the way participants heard from a variety of Boulder’s sustainability leaders about how they were able to adopt more sustainable practices, create jobs and develop partnerships that work.

Upon arriving at the Boulder Materials Recovery Facility, the group had the additional opportunity to tour the new Boulder County Household Hazardous Waste Facility, which is scheduled to open this week.

It did not take long to start seeing the economic opportunities that are emerging around what has been typically considered “waste,” because most of what Boulder is collecting is sold or reused.

During the “zero-waste” lunch at the MRF, the group heard from a variety of Boulder area community leaders.

Eric Lombardi, executive director of Eco-cycle, Inc., talked about the power of partnerships and explained that the MRF is the product of a successful partnership between Boulder County and Eco-cycle. Another speaker was David Coddington with the Roofs to Roads project which is creating a market for recycled roofing shingles.

After lunch the group was off to Leanin’ Tree, a greeting card company that has received the Silver Award from the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program. Along with a tour of the facility, the group had the opportunity to learn more about the Environmental Leadership Program.

The Pikes Peak region is currently home to six members of the CELP who receive benefits and incentives from the state for their documented commitment to continual environmental improvement.

The final stop on the trip was at IBM’s data center where the group saw how the company was able to significantly reduce their cooling costs by using a combination of technology and the natural environment. While the scientific minded attendees were able to appreciate the technical detail, most of the group was more amazed by the operational savings and their direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

The bus ride back to Colorado Springs was full of the excited buzz of conversations about ideas to bring back to the Springs as well as information about many things that are already happening in Colorado Springs.

From Bestway Disposal’s proposed Materials Recovery Facility to Catamount Institute’s Sustainable Business Certification Program, there is more going on in the Pikes Peak region than many people were aware.

There was also the recognition that now is the time to take what was learned in Boulder and transform it into a solution that works for Colorado Springs.

Bill Morris, president of Blue Star Recyclers might have said it best.

“There’s a lot of jobs and opportunities at stake,” he said.

One thing is clear: Sustainability is not just a social or environmental issue — it is also an economic issue. It is time to use what we have learned to revitalize our regional economy.

The CSAC is a collaborative effort between the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders with an interest in sustainability. The CSAC provides support chamber members who would like to learn more about sustainability.

Heather Kelly, MBA, is president of Springs-based Sustainable Transformations and a member of the Chamber Sustainability Advisory Council.