HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017: Yampa Valley Sustainability Successes

It Takes a Council

Approaching a decade of local sustainability leadership

By Suzie Romig
Photos Courtesy YVSC
           

Scouts have councils. Churches have councils. Local governments and the United Nations do too. A council is a group of people—such as Yampa Valley Sustainability Council— who come together to consult, deliberate and share advice for a common cause.

            Sustainability means living within the resources of the planet without damaging the environment for future generations. That’s a giant job, and it requires a council. Almost as long as HomeLink has been around, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council (YVSC) has been here too, bringing people together in support of sustainability efforts in the community.

            New attendees to a YVSC lunchtime community meeting the first Wednesday of the month often say they come away energized and enlightened about the partnerships and cooperative work happening in the Yampa Valley.

The initial impetus for the sustainability council came through energized community members who attended the collaborative City of Steamboat Springs Green Team meetings from 2005 to 2007. When the city’s Green Team decided to focus internally, that green spirit of local citizens continued to blossom.

“Several of us decided the need was great enough to form a separate organization to carry out the mission for the entire county,” said founding co-chair Angela Ashby, local realtor, EcoBroker and green building advisor. “There was a significant demand for our community to have an organized group, much like many other mountain towns.”

 “I still tell the story of a meeting I was tasked with setting up in our early days of YVSC as part of our outreach efforts,” said founding co-chair Lyn Halliday, an environmental consultant who coaches businesses and writes water conservation plans. “It included bringing together all ‘like-minded’ nonprofits in the valley, more than 35 at the time. It was the first time everyone had sat together in the same room. We went around the table and each iterated their organization’s elevator speech. I recall people coming up to me at the end of the meeting with shock and awe of how they did not know what all was being done toward environmental sustainability.”

Halliday and Ashby worked with seven other locals to define a mission statement, establish core values, and write a strategic plan. YVSC kicked off in 2008 as an all-volunteer organization. The founding board also included environmental consultant Emmanuelle Vital, sustainable business strategist George Danellis, green builder Sarah Fox, solar energy company owner Susan Holland, paperless bookkeeping company owner Kim Hornsby, and Noreen Moore, the former business resource director in Routt County. (One other founding board member Myra Shunny later moved away.)

“My involvement came from the realization that we needed a strong group that could act as environmental leaders for the valley and navigate the politics of various groups and political entities,” Moore recalled. “Creating infrastructure that addressed the needs of the community was something I was keen on and, to that end, I saw what became YVSC would add value to the communities.”

YVSC was conceived as an umbrella and collaborative organization where all valley environmental groups could come together to eliminate duplicated efforts. The volunteers worked hard “not to be redundant with what others were already doing well,” Halliday said. Still “there was plenty of work to do, and we needed to fill existing voids.”

 The group was housed under Yampa Valley Community Foundation until it received official nonprofit status.

“So, to say it took a village would be an understatement,” Ashby said. “Our meetings became a conduit for sharing all of the good works that other nonprofits do in town.”

After everything from bylaws to bookkeeping, the volunteers jumped in to write grant applications, host fundraisers, plan a two-day Sustainability Summit with regional speakers, run a local green building tour, participate in state energy rebate programs, establish a strong adult education program with Talking Green, and spearhead collaboration with organizations, the private sector, and government.

Ashby remembers the notable regional speakers and educators who helped during the first two years of the Sustainability Summit as YVSC launched its own efforts in Routt County. Speakers assisted from state agencies, universities, regional and neighboring state’s nonprofits, regional power co-ops, and the National Park Service.

“We really did, and have done, a lot of work, and I’m grateful for all of the brilliant minds I have met along the way,” Ashby said.

At one point the co-chairs were volunteering up to 40 hours a week. Founding board member Holland remembers spending the first six months really trying to explain sustainability, but now she is proud that likely 90 percent of the population understands the concept.

“We did not have paid staff until a couple years down the road; everything was performed by volunteers and board members,” Ashby said. “We had new board members that came into the fold that brought in fresh ideas and programs such as Zero Waste, thanks to Liz Wahl.”

Many of the founding and early board members remain active in advisory roles for the council and still have strong goals for the community; for example, increased engagement of local youth and schools, stronger participation by city and county leaders in climate change issues, cost-effective management of recycling, sustainability consideration in future growth and land planning issues, adopting newest and energy-efficient building codes, and increased incentives for bicycle ridership.

Going full circle, the current president of the YVSC board of directors, Megan Moore-Kemp, is the daughter of founding board member Noreen Moore, who imparted in Megan the belief that people can make a real impact in their community.

Both of my parents were lead-by-example kind of people. Watching them work so hard, be invested in our communities and their outward focus, certainly impacted me,” Moore-Kemp said. “I hope I’m impacting my children in the same way.”

A seemingly endless scroll down the photos posted on the YVSC Facebook page gives just a taste of the many events the council has hosted or partnered on since its founding.

The original board members say it is gratifying to see progress in bringing together people for environmental stewardship.

“Today sustainability efforts are not only accepted but really an expected way of doing things,” Hornsby said. “I can remember a time asking where a recycling bin was and being told ‘it’s ok, we don’t recycle.’ That didn't work for me, and I’m grateful for the culture change.”

Vital noted of the development of YVSC: “Today, YVSC efforts are much broader, and the results have a greater impact.”

Especially in today’s complex society of science, politics, resource reduction and population growth pressures, no environmental organization can be an island. Even in the beautiful Yampa Valley, it takes a council.

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council mission:

The mission of Yampa Valley Sustainability Council is to provide leadership to advance environmental, economic and social sustainability for current and future generations through education, programs and building collaboration among individuals, organizations, businesses and government.

 

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council encompasses:

1) a way to raise awareness of sustainability issues in the area,

2) an organization that can support and develop projects and tools that enhance and embrace sustainability in the community, and

3) a mechanism to provide collaboration among other entities of like purpose to maximize the efficiency of resources.