Posted: August 01, 2014
Green Colorado 2014: Nonprofit/governmentMaria Martin & Nora Caley
A partnership with local government, academia and industry formed to work toward creating sustainable communities
FortZED proves that teamwork can change the world. Originally designed to transform downtown Fort Collins and the main campus of Colorado State University into a model community for a leading and replicable net Zero Energy District funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the mission has since expanded to turn all of Fort Collins into a paradigm of alternative energy sources through conservation, efficiency, renewable sources and smart technologies.
According to Bruce Hendee, the chief sustainability officer for the City of Fort Collins, it started as a grass-roots movement. Starting small has helped the three collaborating parties — CSU, the City of Fort Collins and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster — to work out glitches and streamline processes. “Then we can scale it up for the larger community,” Hendee said.
Grants and community support have allowed FortZED to test technologies that reduce peak energy use and integrate renewables. An updated climate action plan will help the organization with its goals. “This will give us a strategy to drive our energy reduction goals forward,” Hendee said.
FortZED’s Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration’s (RDSI) industry partners have included Woodward Inc., Spirae, Advanced Energy, New Belgium Brewing, Brendle Group and others.
Goodwill Industries of Denver
Thrift stores and community programs
Goodwill Industries of Denver went green before it was in fashion, starting from the ground-up in 1918. The nonprofit has focused on sustainability by reselling or recycling clothing, household goods, electronics, furniture and books. Last year, more than 80 million pounds of clothing and home goods were donated to Goodwill Denver’s 25 retail stores, 18 donation centers, three outlets and an e-commerce operation. It diverted 62 million pounds of goods from landfills. Goodwill Denver’s Good Electronics program was scheduled for June 1 certification for Responsible Recycling Practices (R2), an EPA-recommended authorization from an accredited, independent third-party that ensures the business meets specific standards to safely recycle and manage electronics.
With the help of Energy Outreach Colorado, Goodwill recently installed $120,000 in energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling equipment at its corporate headquarters and warehouse, and is in the process of implementing similar energy-saving measures at its retail stores.
Ask John Griffith about one of the first ways Alpine Waste & Recycling helped the Denver Zoo compost more, and he has an out-of-the-ordinary answer:
“We found an outlet for animal waste,” says the president of Alpine, a sustainability partner with the Zoo. “We compost the herbivores’ waste.”
Griffith said sustainability reports have helped the Zoo make changes where needed. “We outfitted collection vehicles with scales, so we can log the weight of every container we collect. We know the weight of trash, compost and recycling.”
Coming soon: a “gasification” project, which will generate fuel from trash to power the zoo. The zoo aims to achieve zero waste by 2025.
Among its many awards is the honor of being a LEED Platinum Water reuse customer of the year, as well as recognition as a sustainability champion from the Colorado Department of Public Health.
“The evolution of technology has allowed us to recycle more efficiently,” Griffith says.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Natural history museum
“How can we use our specialty to inform public on climate change?” asks Chief Sustainability Officer Dave Noel, who is responsible for setting the museum’s vision for green responsibility. “Our scientists are here to educate guests on questions like, ‘How did those ice-age bones end up in Snowmass?’ How do those questions help us explain what’s going on today with our world?”
A new five-story wing, which opened in February, is home to the Morgridge Family Exploration Center, intended to instigate conversations among visitors about science and the natural world. Its aim is to reduce energy use by 50 percent compared to a building of similar size. The space houses solar panels and a ground source heat pump that uses recycled water to generate enough hot or cool water to keep the wing comfortable year-round.
The museum’s team has an aggressive recycling and composting program and encourages people to use public transportation to and from the venue.
“We’re passionate about preserving our planet,” Noel said. “If we can’t do it, how can we expect everyone else to do it?”
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Federal energy R&D lab
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the U.S. Department of Energy’s chief lab for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development to address short- and long-term environmental goals.
As of 2012, NREL had agreements in place with 448 industry partners, including: 65 educational partners, 28 nonprofits and 15 government entities. With its public-private-nonprofit collaborative efforts and enhanced entrepreneurial environment, NREL’s commercialization, deployment and funding can accelerate the adoption of new clean energy technology into mainstream markets. NREL is in the process of developing nano-scale materials to convert solar energy into electricity, improve understanding of wind aerodynamics, and tackle cellular structure of plants to make cheaper renewable biofuels.
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Nonprofit research and educational foundation
Rocky Mountain Institute has good news for business owners: There’s money to be made in making choices that are good for our Earth. Transitioning to a cleaner and more efficient energy system can unlock more than $5 trillion in value, according to a 2011 RMI publication, Reinventing Fire.
“Five years ago, people were saying solar was too expensive, and now in many places, solar is cheaper than the grid,” said Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of RMI. “It’s the same with wind. It can be less expensive than coal and gas, so you ignore it all at your own peril.”
The organization’s goals are to cut carbon emissions, tackle climate change and make energy systems clean and secure. Experts in electricity, building and transportation and others help develop insights about how businesses and communities can be more energy efficient.
Kortenhorst said RMI contracts with roughly 50 companies at any given time, but its research touches many more. “We are a think and do tank, because we work with companies and industries to put ideas into practice,” he said.
Eco-Cycle, launched 37 years ago by everyday residents who had a passionate belief in conserving natural resources, has become one of the largest nonprofit recycling processors in the U.S. and maintains an international reputation as a pioneer and innovator in resource conservation. The nonprofit provides business recycling collections to more than 800 Boulder County businesses alone.
Still, it’s a wonder that Marti Matsch, the team’s communications director sounds so upbeat once she shares that U.S. citizens continue to treat our planet as if it had the resources of five. As the global population has doubled in 45 years, we’re only just waking up to the cold realities of using up precious resources, she warns.
“People are realizing now we have to move, and quickly,” Matsch said. And communities are making systematic changes, with new rules and ordinances for every market sector.
“The world is set on default to the old system, so the goal is to make it easier to live a zero-waste lifestyle,” she said. “Eco-Cycle is teaching people to live differently. We’re making it harder to be wasteful.”
Maria Martin and Nora Caley are freelance writers.