High Country Conservation Center has new approach, same goals in conservation effort | SummitDaily.com

High Country Conservation Center has new approach, same goals in conservation effort

A new, two-pronged strategy is the approach for an established environmentally minded nonprofit aiming to raise the bar on local conservation and efficiency efforts.

Summit County's residential areas make up 46 percent of its energy use, so the Dillon-based High Country Conservation Center, better known as HC3, is launching a pledge process for residents to lower their rates of consumption. The goal is for each to cut 10 percent out of their total this year as a method for helping the county reduce 15 percent of its greenhouse emissions by 2020.

Greenhouse gasses are those directly tied to the science of climate change. Although the topic is perceived as one of growing debate, a 2016 study on public opinion within the United States from Yale University shows 70 percent of Americans believe it to be real and having an effect. That number increases to 77 percent in Summit, but still doesn't always translate to visible movement of the needle.

"There's a gap between what people believe and understand and what people will actually do," said Jess Hoover, programs manager for HC3. "Through these programs that we have and we're trying to strengthen and reinforce and redesign, we're trying to bridge that gap, to get from that understanding to greater levels of engagement and action."

While that discussion on human impact on the climate persists at even the highest levels of government around the world, here in Colorado, snowpack levels have declined at 90 percent of the state's monitoring sites during the last 60 years. The average annual temperature has also bumped up 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 30 years, and heat wave days are trending toward rising from 10 to as many as 50 each year by 2050.

In making that personal commitment, HC3 asks that each resident do one of four activities to get to that level of decrease in one fell swoop. Setting the thermostat to 68 degrees when heating is the quickest and simplest method, but there's also replacing all old light bulbs with LEDs, or installing a programmable thermostat. People are also encouraged to schedule an energy audit with HC3 to locate other inefficiencies that can be located and improved.

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But, because homes are far from the only site of energy use — small- and medium-sized businesses make up the bulk of the remaining consumption in Summit — there's also a considerable emphasis placed on local industry. Aside from the county greenhouse target in 2020, there's a parallel objective to reduce the expending of energy by 2 percent.

Since 2012, HC3 has run separate sustainable certification programs for the four towns, each with a different name. In that time, 120 businesses have enrolled and nearly 100 of them have been accredited. This year, aside from maintaining a four-tier sustainability system — from entry-level certification all the way up to gold — HC3 will also expand the program to unincorporated Summit County and Keystone's River Run.

To create even more benefits, however, the organization wanted to streamline the process and create consistent countywide markers for being a member. As a result, starting this May HC3 will rebrand the entire program Resource Wise.

"We needed to improve consumer recognition," said Hoover. "You get businesses that just care about sustainability from the get-go and want to sign up, but in order to make it attractive for other people who it might not be their biggest priority, we need to create a bigger incentive for joining."

Based on just the bottom line, becoming more sustainable can be its own reward for area companies. Businesses that receive an energy assessment from HC3 and follow through on approved upgrades are also eligible for rebates of 50 percent of the project cost, up to $400. And whether curbing greenhouse gases — or even accepting their impact — is the focus of such decisions, the hope is merely for consensus on sound business acumen.

"Ultimately it doesn't matter if people in the community don't believe in climate change," said Hoover, "because if you reduce your energy consumption, you are going to save money. And that's a really beneficial way of taking action to mitigate climate change."

To learn other energy-saving tips for homes or businesses, or to make the pledge to reduce residential energy use, visit: HighCountryConservation.org/energy