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What Is Environmental Sustainability in Aspen?

Elise Thatcher

The City of Aspen wants to know what “environmental sustainability” means to people here. Does it mean cleaner air or making sure there’s enough water to go around? Or maybe there’s another description It’s part of Aspen’s new effort to find out exactly how well the city is meeting its own sustainability goals.  Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher filed this report.

“You know one of the comparisons that came out was, I’m healthy. What we’re not looking for I’m going to exercise to get healthy. But we’re looking at I have good blood pressure, good cholesterol levels and those kind of things.”

CJ Oliver is Aspen’s Environmental Health Director.  Much like thinking about a person’s health, Oliver says it’s about setting up key measurements.  And that, he says involves something called a “dashboard.” That’s shorthand for putting together different measurements to understand how clean the air is, how much energy is being used… and another key resource here.

“We’re looking at a number of factors with water that include aquatic health, adequate water supply, those types of things. And so we want to get the community’s feedback on is this important to you before we make that the final measure, what we don’t want to do is measure something that people just aren’t that interested or passionate about.”

The city will be measuring progress on clean water, air, waste, energy, and an open space category. Oliver and others spoke with experts on how best to do that... including things like tracking ozone levels or counting traffic on Castle Creek Bridge. Now the city wants to know which of those are more important to locals--and whether they’ve left something important out.

“We want to make sure there isn’t something that people really care about that we’re not covering under these categories.”

The survey is eight pages long and asks specific questions about water supplies and healthy streams, clean air and energy use... and then how important each are to locals. It’s all about of clarifying what part of environmental sustainability needs the most attention in Aspen.  It will also rate the city’s performance so far.

“And it’s a good chance for us to find out what environmental health areas people don’t know enough about--and then we can do some education.”

Right now Aspen is lagging behind on renewable energy goals. According to a 2011 report by the city’s own Canary Initiative, Aspen isn’t on track to meet proposed greenhouse gas targets. This new round of pinpointing sustainability could help. Don Knapp is with an international organization called ICLE Local Governments for Sustainability.

“We’re seeing the leading cities and counties around the country recognizing the measuring performance is key. And once you set your goals and targets in different areas, you create a plan for how to get there.”

Knapp says measuring is a good way for communities to figure out just how sustainable they really are. Beyond that, there’s no cookie cutter approach… so the survey Aspen’s doing is also a good idea.

“The goals that are in play in one community may not be the right goals for the other. So I think that, having a conversation, the local government and community having a conversation about what is their vision of a sustainable community. That’s a vital conversation that happens in every community.”

Aspen’s survey runs through next Monday,May 20th. You can find a link to the survey here. The city hopes to have the final measuring plan before city council during July 2013.