SustainaBiz conference draws a crowd in Frisco Wednesday
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FRISCO – Not everyone can agree, exactly, on what’s meant by the term “sustainability.” But speakers at Wednesday’s second annual SustainaBiz conference were willing to give it their best shot – particular as the term relates to Summit County business and economic development. Eric Drummond, who as mayor of Manitou Springs helped lead the town to what he says was a more sustainable place, kicked off the conversation by describing how it took a lot of time and effort to garner the community buy-in for the town’s resurgence.
“Fodor’s (the travel guide) came to Manitou Springs and described us as a funky town full of rubber tomahawk shops,” Drummond told a crowd of more than 100 in attendance Wednesday at the Summit County Senior and Community Center. “That hit the town pretty hard.”
In response, Drummond described how the town pushed to upgrade its image and brand while at the same time creating a more sustainable community with respect to its economic climate and environment. The town worked to clean up its historic district, modernize its infrastructure and incorporate smart growth concepts throughout. The result, Drummond said, was that Manitou Springs was able to weather the recent economic storm in good shape.
“Had we not done what we did, we never would have survived,” he said, adding that the town’s renaissance generated $36 million in private investment.
Drummond set the tone for the morning when he stressed the importance of planning for the future and collaboration. That theme was echoed in subsequent panel sessions as Summit County business owners talked about the things they do to be sustainable both financially and in other ways. As moderator Graham Russell said, it’s not likely a business can do much for a community if the bottom line is not being served, so businesses must first ensure their own viability. Being “green” or otherwise engaging in sustainable practices needn’t mean it’ll cut into your business said Roger Roberts, owner of Ten Mile Cafe in Breckenridge. A recent convert to composting, aggressive recycling and use of environmentally friendly takeout packaging, Roberts said the benefits of doing all that are clear to his staff and customers.
“The waste in the restaurant business is absolutely incredible, so it’s worth it to me to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” Roberts said. With help from the High Country Conservation Center, Roberts said he was able to easily and inexpensively implement a program of recycling and composting that has trimmed his restaurant’s trash down tremendously. For Roberts, composting, recycling and avoiding the use of Styrofoam is simply “part of doing business.”
Where panelists converged most Thursday was in the idea that communities need to get buy-in and do whatever they can to head in the same direction. Roberts said he hoped his own efforts would inspire other restaurants in Summit County to get on board as well.
“I know what some of those big restaurants generate in terms of waste. If we can get them to just compost and do some recycling … it’s not complicated,” he said.
Thad Noll, Summit County’s assistant town manager, said the county is doing its best to imagine what things put in place now will still be sustainable 20, 30 or even 50 years from now. He pointed to the creation of affordable housing for the local workforce as one key element to keeping the county sustainable.
“Another example is the landfill,” Noll said. “That’s all we have, so what kind of programs are we putting in place that, generations from now, will still be taking care of the resources we’ve got?”
Panelist Brad Piehl, a Summit School Board member who’s a partner in an environmental consulting company, pointed to Summit County’s forests as a strong example of sustainability – or lack thereof.
“It’s everyone’s job,” Piehl said of managing the forests. “We need to create more diverse landscapes regarding the species and the age classes, and that’ll go a long way toward sustainability.”
What we’re doing too much of now, he said, is focusing only on the dead trees and not thinking enough about the rest of the forest.
Noll said it’s not always easy to get consensus to move out of the status quo, but that government does react to public pressure.
“Sometimes public pressure and doing the right thing are the same thing, and those are the easy ones,” he said.
The SustainaBiz conference featured other panels on things like green marketing, the economics behind green practices and products and other issues like hiring and managing for the long haul and “greening” your business. It was presented by Our Future Summit and the Summit Independent Business Alliance.
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