Gift from Walmart to help greening of Colorado communities

By Staff

Communities across Colorado are going green, thanks to the Colorado Municipal League (CML) and a second generous gift from the Walmart Foundation to the University of Colorado Denver.

The University of Colorado Denver Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (CSIS) plans to expand its community outreach program to help Colorado's smaller towns and cities understand their energy use and prioritize sustainability actions for their future. The focus is on developing green, efficient and renewable energy infrastructures in communities that bring economic and social benefits. The second $30,000 Walmart gift will help offset the costs of conducting the sustainable infrastructure reviews in Colorado communities. The CML is assisting in connecting these communities with CU Denver.

"Sustainable energy and infrastructure planning can help save money, protect the environment, and build vibrant communities across Colorado," said Anu Ramaswami, Ph.D., professor of Environmental and Sustainability Engineering at CU Denver and director of CSIS. "It is often difficult for a community to know how to get started on developing a sustainability plan; this grant is helping us to conduct outreach so we can help Colorado communities become leaders in sustainability."

The outreach program offers communitywide energy analysis, carbon footprint measurement and sustainable energy benchmarks for individual communities along with future scenario models and customized sustainable infrastructure action matrixes. The carbon footprint baseline helps measure and benchmark how much energy is consumed in various essential sectors such as buildings, industry, transportation, waste management, water treatment, food production and infrastructure materials. The benchmarks allow communities to track progress in energy efficiency, conservation, and use of renewables, while the scenario models allow communities to envision their future with and without sustainable actions. The action matrixes give a variety of options for each community to consider, taking into account public participation, cost, long-term monetary savings and long-term energy savings.

"We are pleased to partner across private industry, government and the nonprofit arena to support Colorado's small and rural communities as they work to create more sustainable infrastructures for their citizens," said CU Denver Chancellor Jerry Wartgow.

This work builds upon the university's research and outreach in sustainable urban infrastructure conducted over the past five years in partnership with other Colorado cities including Denver, Broomfield, Arvada, Aurora, Central City and Durango, and the previous round of communities, Golden, Dillon, Fowler, Eagle and Steamboat Springs/Routt County.

The Walmart Foundation is renewing its support for this program, which already received great reviews in its initial offering in 2010. Feedback from six cities participating last year revealed great benefits to communities. A spokesperson for the town of Eagle said, "The project opened the Town Board, staff, and community's eyes. It showed people that it is not hard to make changes, and the payoffs, both environmental and monetary, can be substantial."

"Walmart is very proud to be partnering with the CML, CU Denver, CSIS and these towns," said Joshua Phair, senior manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Walmart Stores Inc. "Our hope is that this program brings cutting-edge knowledge to all corners of the state to help make Colorado's communities more sustainable."

Five diverse Colorado communities are scheduled to work with CSIS and the university's sustainable infrastructure program in 2011: Vail, Montrose, Lakewood, Eagle County (represented by Valley Home Store Program), and Ouray and San Miguel counties (represented by the New Community Coalition).

The mission of CSIS is to link innovative technologies and infrastructures of the future with people in communities. CSIS research has been funded by prestigious grants like GAANN and IGERT. Partnering with CML and Walmart brings that knowledge to practical use in Colorado communities.

"This program is an excellent example of how public and private entities can work together towards sustainability," said Sam Mamet, executive director of the CML. "I am amazed at the diversity of the communities involved from rural to urban communities. This program can be used as a model for the nation."