In developing themes for its fifth annual Sustainability Conference, the Catamount Institute didn’t have to look far.

Catamount organizers, building around the title of “Tools for Change,” came up with many sessions customized for the Colorado Springs community, addressing everything from disaster (fire) recovery to rebuilding power plants and developing brownfields, and attracting and retaining young professionals.

The goal is to provide attendees information they can use and apply when they go back to their everyday lives.

“We did a really good job of explaining why people and businesses should be green in past years,” said Chris Aaby, Catamount’s marketing director. “This year we asked for sessions that will let people know what they can do and how. Each session will have something they can implement when they leave.”

After keynote speakers inspire with stories of how they and other communities and businesses have incorporated sustainable practices, community leaders will lead panel discussions on topics like rebuilding after the Waldo Canyon fire and water law. Several sessions also will address practical applications for sustainability efforts, from workforce wellness programs to simple energy-efficiency changes in the business world.

“We’re really proud of all the sessions this year,” said Darlene Jensen, executive director of the Catamount Institute.

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Rebuilding from disaster

A powerful tornado more than 1.7 miles wide swept through the town of Greensburg, Kan., in 2007. The standard tornado is only 75 yards wide.

“It was an archetypal monster,” said Daniel Wallach, executive director and founder of Greentown Greensburg. “Over 90 percent of the town was wiped out.”

It was a defining moment for the little plains town of 1,400. Wallach will tell Greensburg’s remarkable story and offer guidance on how the town’s experience can inform rebuilding efforts here after the Waldo Canyon fire.

“One very feasible option was kind of shutting the doors on the town and going away,” Wallach said.

Some people did that. Greensburg’s population shrank by two thirds, since rebounding to 800 residents now. The town has a solid place on the tourism map, not because of what happened there, but because of what is happening there.

“It would have been easy to make the tragedy the story and define ourselves by it,” Wallach said. “But we refuse to become victims. And how the community faced it and the recovery really determined the whole story.”

The town committed to sustainable rebuilding. Starting from dust meant the town could begin with a vision. And its vision for rebuilding wasn’t just about putting something where everything was lost. It was about building a town for the future.

Now, Greensburg is home to the world’s highest concentration of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum-certified buildings.

“It’s a town for the future,” Wallach said. “It’s a model,” with a new industry — tourism.

Wallach said he and Greensburg mayor Bob Dixson will discuss Greensburg’s rebuilding efforts and what Colorado Springs can learn from the little town.

Sustainability is good business

Speaker Hunter Lovins will zero in on sustainable business practices.

Lovins, who lives in Longmont, is president of nonprofit Natural Capitalism Solutions and a professor of sustainable business at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle and Denver University. She also co-founded the Rocky Mountain Institute.

She will address how simple, small and inexpensive investments can make big impacts, not just on the environment, but also on the bottom line, Jensen said.

For decades, Lovins said, she’s been combating the myth that sustainability is expensive. Businesses are starting to get on board.

Sustainability doesn’t have to be building a new LEED facility or revolutionizing the entire business practice. It can happen incrementally, Lovins said.

“Behaving more sustainably enhances every element of shareholder value,” Lovins said. “If you put people in a good, clean and green building, labor productivity goes up 16 percent.”

She worked with a tortilla producer in California who “wasn’t interested in sustainability, but he wanted to sell to Wal-Mart. He’s saving $450,000 a year. Now he’s interested in sustainability.”

Lovins plans to talk about the business case for sustainability. But she will also bring it home.

“I’ll talk about some of the things we’re doing for small businesses in particular,” she said. “I know the Springs is mostly little companies.”

She has a web-based tool designed to specifically help small businesses. Quick tricks include lighting upgrades; the payback is short for going from T12 to T8 lights. Weather stripping is another. While energy might be a small cost, it makes a big difference in employee comfort.

“Ask your workers,” she said. “They know this stuff.”

Employees have cost-savings and efficiency ideas. Implementing them makes employees feel more valued.

Other perspectives

Fort Carson will also lead sessions on military sustainability efforts and how it can work with the community and what projects its taking on.

The conference is a good way for different parts of the community to interact and discuss how they can align for a common goal, Jensen said. It also gives them a chance to learn from each other.

Other key topics include attracting a clean-energy technology industry to Colorado Springs and growing a local market, such as the public market that Mike Callicrate, who owns Ranch Foods Direct, has proposed for downtown.

Catamount plans to buy food from local suppliers for the meals, and Jensen said, “We’re also reaching out to higher education” with discounted admission for students.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that we have this tremendous workforce here,” Jensen said. “And there’s a reason for clean tech jobs to consider Colorado Springs.”

If you go

When: Thursday and Friday, Oct. 25 and 26

Where: Crowne Plaza, 2886 S. Circle Drive (80906)

Cost: $195; Pikes Peak Sustainable Business member, $150; military, $135; nonprofit or teacher, $95; full-access student, $50.

Expo Hall (including public information on the Waldo Canyon fire) open to the public: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26


  1. I love the Catamount Institute…I expect the conference will make a huge difference in peoples lives; giving them new tools for sustainable living. Knowing the good work the Catamount Institute is doing warms my heart.

    Our region is one the most desirable places on the planet to live. We can have our pick of the kinds of businesses who come here. We need to be ‘PICKY’; only allowing businesses who live up to the highest standard of ‘GREEN” to come.

    As a community we need to continually evaluate and raise our standards of what a ‘GREEN’ business looks like in our community. As we all know, humans have a lot to make up for…we’ve sacrificed much of what we love for economy and let pollution run rampant. The price for such gluttony has reeked havoc; death and dis-ease knows no boundaries.

    Regulations have done little to keep our planet ‘GREEN’. We do not need more ‘regulations’, we need government officials (local, state and federal) who, with the involvement of organizations (like the Catamount Institute), and individuals from our community, take on the responsibility of creating sustainable programs that insure sustainable education. Only when every child and adult takes on the responsibility of becoming a steward in their community can we dig our way out of the havoc we have created!

    I believe funding and expanding the kinds of programs provided at the Catamount Institute is our societies only way out. If we clean up our environment, we clean up disease; we create a snow ball effect that brings about a healthy planet full of healthy land, wildlife and people. This is the legacy we owe. We’ll need to be brave and bold. We’ll need to take a different approaches.

    The Catamount Institute is one of those ‘brave and bold’ strokes our community must continue! The Catamount Institute has the kinds of ‘out of the box’ thinkers our community needs. They have already begun the process…we just need to jump in and follow their lead.

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