There has long been a perception that Coloradans are, almost by birthright, environmentally friendly. If the stereotype holds, we are hybrid-driving, beer can–recycling, backyard-composting outdoorsmen who only buy locally grown, organic foodstuffs at Whole Foods Market (filling our own reusable sacks, of course). While some of the labels are accurate (the state is usually a top producer of organic crops), many of them are not (Denver isn’t even in the top 15 markets for hybrid vehicles).
So are we as green as we could be? Hardly. When it comes to being eco-friendly, too many of us think we’re doing enough by recycling and turning off the lights when we leave a room. But let’s be honest: Those are the easy things, the practices we really shouldn’t even get credit for. It’s adopting habits with bigger impacts—composting, patronizing eco-conscious businesses, watching what we pour down the drain—that would earn us the reputation we may have too easily garnered. Fortunately, doing so doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or tedious. Let us show you how.
We move beyond the obvious to offer significant ways to reduce your environmental impact, no matter where you happen to be. —Kasey Cordell
In Your Single-Family Home
Before you start coming up with energy-saving solutions, you’ve got to know what the problems are, and that’s different for every home. To discover your abode’s energy-eating flaws, sign up for a home energy audit. These look at everything from your appliances to your windows to your home’s insulation. Heat leakage (or in the summer, loss of cold air) is one of the biggest energy sucks in a house. “For homes built before 2000, you can usually cut 20 to 25 percent of heating costs by having better air sealing,” says Paul Kriescher, principal at Denver-based Lightly Treading, which has been doing these audits for 17 years. Upping energy efficiency means more than just weatherizing windows, though. Your goals: installing proper insulation (13 to 16 inches) in the attic and ensuring the cavities between walls are completely filled with four inches of dense-pack insulation. If you do discover a problem with sealing—or, say, an outdated appliance—home energy auditors like Kriescher or Casey Staley at REenergizeCO can help you save money on the fixes by detailing a variety of state and federal rebate programs. Xcel Energy underwrites these audits, paying about 60 percent of the costs (most auditing companies bill them directly), so the two-hour evaluation should only set you back $130 to $170.
In Your Apartment
When you live in an apartment—already a greener home choice—it can be difficult to make changes because many things are out of your control. But you can still adopt a few simple individual habits: Ditch all those incandescent bulbs for LED versions, which, on average, use 75 percent less energy. Unplug appliances and electronics when you’re not using them; even when they’re turned off, they still draw juice. And set your fridge between 34 and 37 degrees and your freezer to five—the temps at which your icebox is most efficient.
On The Road
When it comes to transportation, the single most important change you can make is to, ahem, drive less. But if you must get behind the wheel (and most of us must), consider these three easy ways to improve fuel efficiency and, thus, reduce your carbon footprint. First: Don’t be a pedal pumper (as in, stop flooring it to accelerate and then slamming on the brakes to stop). Keeping a steady speed in traffic can improve fuel efficiency—plus, you won’t annoy your fellow drivers. Second: Avoid turning your car into yet another gear closet. The more your car weighs, the more fuel it burns. By not carrying your bike around when you have no plans to use it, you can improve your fuel efficiency by up to 25 percent. Finally, keep AC use to a minimum; running that cool air on high might feel great on a summer day, but it can reduce your fuel efficiency by as much as 25 percent.
At The Office
Much like living in an apartment building, major opportunities to decrease your footprint at work are not typically an employee’s decision. But you can improve things in your immediate area in small ways, like getting rid of that energy-sucking space heater, screwing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) into your desk lamps, and bringing in a plant or two, which can help provide cleaner air for you and your office mates. Among the top species that aren’t difficult to care for are bamboo palm, Boston and Kimberly queen ferns, dwarf date palm, and English ivy. Another perk: Having a little greenery around has been shown to reduce stress and increase productivity.
’Tis The Season
Caring for the planet is a year-round job. Here, our top picks for every quarter. —Mary Clare Fischer
Artificial Christmas trees (and Hanukkah bushes) may require less effort in the short term, but their nonbiodegradable branches eventually find their ways to landfills. Instead, splurge on the real deal with the root ball still attached (find a standard one for $75 to $250 at Urban Roots in the Golden Triangle). The benefit: You can plant it in your yard once the decorations are back in their boxes. It’ll live about a week before needing to be planted.
Spring cleaning often means the introduction of a barrage of toxic chemicals to your home. Keep your kids safe—and breathe easier yourself—by swapping out your bleach, surface cleaner, and furniture polish for easy-to-find, reasonably priced substitutes, including baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice. Plenty of cleaning hacks can be found online, such as mixing half a cup of white vinegar with a teaspoon of olive oil to add shine to your wood surfaces. (Also see “Product (Re)Placement below”)
Though Centennial Staters don’t have to deal with humidity like our Southern (and Eastern and Midwestern) friends, summer heat waves still send Denverites running to their ACs. Reduce your energy usage (and your bill!) by purchasing a programmable thermostat. This convenient device will shut off the AC when no one’s home or if the house reaches a preset temperature.
Once the leaves start falling, your lawn may pay the price as the detritus blocks the grass from its daily dose of sunlight. Instead of tossing the leaves in the trash, add them to your home compost pile. Include a bucket of grass clippings or food waste for every four or five buckets of leaves to achieve the right recipe of carbon and nitrogen. Turn and water the heap regularly. Don’t know how to compost? Denver Urban Gardens offers free classes from April through October.
Six ways to make your garden more water-friendly—but just as verdant. —Jessica LaRusso
Nothing ticks off the eco-conscious more than seeing a sprinkler running in the rain. Enter Denver startup Rachio, whose irrigation controller ($249 to $299) is primarily designed for residential properties. Launched in May, the device connects to your Wi-Fi and uses historical and current data to automatically adjust your sprinkler settings.
Enjoy your lawn—guilt-free—by trading moisture-craving varieties like Kentucky bluegrass for hardy, drought-resistant species such as buffalograss or blue grama. Once established, says Dan Johnson, curator of native plants for the Denver Botanic Gardens, your yard will only need to be watered about three to four times all summer to stay lush.
Hip To Be Square
Planting in long lines works well for major ag producers, but Urban Farm Company founder Bryant Mason has a different idea for smaller spaces: Plant in square-foot grids or blocks (one crop per square) to eliminate taking up excess real estate—thus reducing unnecessary tilling, fertilizing, and watering in unused areas, which just creates a nice environment for weeds.
Identify “microclimates” within your landscape this winter by documenting where snow melts fastest after a three- to four-inch dump and where it sticks around. The former areas are good candidates for low-maintenance mini “desert gardens”; Johnson suggests wild buckwheat, cactus, lavender, and thyme. In the shadier spots where your H?0 won’t go to waste, try hostas or columbines.
Native plants—species that survive in an area on their own—should be your first choice for adding color. They require little to no extra water and help maintain biodiversity. “Butterflies and pollinators are not as attracted if the plants aren’t native,” Johnson says. Some of our favorites: sunflowers, buckwheat, and gaillardia.
Colorado’s complex water rights laws may prevent you from collecting rainfall, but there’s nothing that says you can’t pick the path it takes from your roof into the soil. Angle your downspouts—or use downspout extensions or splash blocks—to direct water from your gutters into flower beds or other areas of need.
First Person: No More Excuses
I came up with a lot of reasons not to compost—until I realized none of them mattered. —Lindsey B. Koehler
I like to think I do my best when it comes to being a good environmental steward. I drive a low-emission vehicle, use my recycling bin religiously, and wash clothes in cold water—all easy habits to form. Then a more labor-intensive choice landed in my mailbox that forced me to confront my actual commitment to Mother Nature: My Wash Park house was eligible for the city of Denver’s fledgling composting program.
The initiative works much like city-run recycling: Homeowners use the provided green bins for their compostable waste, and once a week the city picks it up and hauls it off to a commercial composter. I was intrigued. But then I saw the $29 quarterly price tag. Nothing staggering, but trash pickup and recycling in Denver County are free. Why would I pay for a similar service? Then I thought about the ick factor; I wasn’t digging the idea of scraping dinner plates into a bag under my sink. And then there was figuring out the complicated sorting process, not to mention fitting another bin in our packed garage. I recycled the flier.
Guilt soon set in. After all, I didn’t really know all that much about composting. Turns out, my choice wasn’t just bad—it was stupid. After talking to Charlotte Pitt, a manager at Solid Waste Management, I discovered that I’d decided to continue sending more than 50 percent of my household’s waste to the landfill instead of helping turn the detritus into soillike material for local farms and landscaping companies. In fact, Coloradans generate nearly two pounds more trash per day than the average American. “Being an environmentalist is about choices,” Pitt says. “I use a lot of paper towels at my house. Composting offsets that for me. You need to think about what it might offset for you.”
A few days later, I visited the city’s website, stopped the lame excuses, and made the smarter choice.
The Great Debate: Beer Cans Versus Bottles
Like any good business owner, Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis was searching for a way to differentiate his beers from the liquor-store competition. The idea he landed on, in 2002, was to distribute the now-Longmont-based brewery’s flagship Dale’s Pale Ale in cans instead of bottles. The marketing gimmick set off a beer revolution: Today, more than 500 craft breweries across the country can their artisan suds.
Proponents of aluminum packaging often cite the containers’ portability as its biggest upside—easy to stack, easy to pack, and no fear of breaking. But the countrywide canning craze got us thinking: Besides the fact that packing out what you pack into the wilderness is much easier with cans than easily shattered bottles, is there anything else that makes a beer can friendlier to the environment than a beer bottle? We pit the classic containers against each other in an eco face-off. —Chris Outcalt
Round 1: To Recycle or Not to Recycle
We all know both beer bottles and beer cans are recyclable, but there’s something about the latter that seems to trigger an innate recycling response in our brains: Aluminum cans are the most recycled container on the planet, at rates of approximately 65 percent in the United States and upward of 90 percent in countries such as China, Germany, and Switzerland, according to canning company Ball. (Glass recycling rates in this country hover around 34 percent.) To wit: The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) says 105,800 cans are recycled domestically every minute.
Round 2: That All-Important Beer Taste
Light is beer’s kryptonite. The sun’s rays can skunk the beverage after only a few days. While there’s nothing wrong with dark-colored glass (it lets in a minimal amount of light), cans let in no light at all. What’s more, aluminum cans create a better seal than bottles, which can let in damaging oxygen over time. On the other hand, though it’s not an environmental factor, we can’t overlook the unquantifiable enjoyment that comes with sipping a brew straight from a bottle.
Winner: Slight edge to cans
Round 3: The Cost of Travel
As opposed to a bottle, the shape (and durability) of a can lends itself to easily being stowed away in a backpack for your latest Colorado adventure. Cans also weigh less than bottles, which is good for keeping a pack light on an overnight trip. But there’s an even broader impact: The smaller size also means more cans fit into a single semitruck, which equates to fewer trucks on the road, thereby reducing fuel use and the amount of harmful toxins emitted into the air.
Round 4: Energy Savings
It’s difficult to estimate the amount of energy used to produce a single glass bottle or aluminum can because factors as far-ranging as where the raw material comes from, the mining process, and how far materials have to travel to the brewery all contribute to environmental impact. Aluminum is made from bauxite, which is mined via an energy-intensive process in parts of Africa, South America, and, most often, Australia. On the other hand, glass is made with high percentages of silica, which can be found in white sand and is much more readily available. So: Bottles take the lead. However, energy use related to cans drops over time. It takes 95 percent less energy to produce a can from recycled material than producing one from scratch, according to the CMI. (There is also a quick turnaround time on recycled cans returning to the shelves—about 60 days. Fun fact: The CMI estimates that approximately 75 percent of all the aluminum ever produced is still in circulation today.) With glass bottles, according to some estimates, energy costs drop only about 30 percent when recycled materials are used.
Winner: It’s complicated, so we’ll call this one a tie
Conclusion: Kudos to the beer community for trending toward cans, which offer plenty of upsides in the save-the-environment department. The overall “winner” label, however, should probably go to ordering a local beer on draft from your neighborhood brewery (and filling a reusable growler to take home). Straight from the source always takes gold.
Sort It In
The Centennial State ranks in the bottom third of the nation in recycling efforts, salvaging a measly 11.4 percent of our waste. We asked Commerce City’s Alpine Waste & Recycling for four easy tips to improve that number. —MCF
1. If you recycle just one item, make it your milk container.
That milk jug’s plastic coat can be processed and reused to make play sets, plastic lumber for decks, picnic tables, or—to fully complete the cycle—new milk cartons. Simply check that it has a number two on the bottom before recycling it.
2. Don’t recycle plastic bags, hazardous materials, or electronics in standard bins.
When single-stream recycling is in place (like in Denver County), recycling plants sort the materials for you. But plastic bags get caught and can shut down an operation for hours, while computers and TVs are too complex for traditional waste management operations.
3. Bale your own recyclables.
If your company produces large quantities (10 tons per month or more) of recyclable material, consider renting balers from Alpine to make it easier to transport the materials to the plant. Bonus: You’ll get a rebate of up to $50 per ton.
4. Don’t get lazy after a party.
When cleanup is extensive, it’s tempting to just toss all those beer cans and bottles in the trash and call it good. But recycling them does a lot more than just save them from the landfill—it also conserves electricity. It takes 0.32 kilowatt hours (kWh) to produce an aluminum can from scratch; recycling that can conserves 0.3 kWh—an energy savings of 95 percent.
At Home: Product (Re)Placement
Sometimes the everyday things we pick up at the store can be more harmful than helpful. Here are five alternatives. —Julie Dugdale
Three examples of utility company services that help preserve the environment—and might save you some dough. —J. Wesley Judd
Denver Water | Rebates for WaterSense-labeled products
More than 60 percent of the water expended in a single-family home in the metro area goes toward toilet use and outdoor irrigation. To ensure those uses don’t hog any more of the precious commodity than necessary, Denver Water offers rebates (for up to $150) on WaterSense products. The addition of just one high-efficiency toilet, for example, will conserve more than 10,000 gallons of water annually.
Xcel Energy | Saver’s Switch
Hot August days in Colorado routinely drive up energy demand and cost—just when we’re all relying on our AC the most. Through the free (for Xcel customers or those within its service areas) Saver’s Switch program, Xcel will install a small device near your outdoor AC unit that automatically switches your unit on or off during peak outdoor heat. You keep cool inside since your furnace continues to circulate the already-chilled air, saving money and energy. In fact, the program saves Xcel enough energy that the company offers $40 rebates to all participating homes at the end of each summer.
We all know organic food waste is compostable—but so are the piles of leaves you collect every fall and your Christmas tree, come December 26 (drop sites and times for both can be found on the city’s website during the appropriate months). This landscape compost creates healthy soil that the Denver Department of Public Works gives back to the community through the annual Mulch Giveaway & Compost Sale in May.
“Green” labels aren’t always as eco-friendly as they appear. With the help of the Environmental Working Group, we compiled a list of chemicals to avoid to help us all become smarter consumers. —Rachel Cernansky
Learn from the eco-friendly practices at these metro-area businesses. —RC
IMA, Inc. | Sustainability Area: Energy
Heating and cooling accounts for about 30 percent or more of the energy expended in a commercial building and about half of the total in a typical U.S. home. So IMA, a retail insurance broker, bought into building owner GLL Inc.’s decision to install a cutting-edge HVAC unit called a smaller variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system in its location next to Union Station—and subsequently reduced its energy consumption by about 35 percent. In comparison to a conventional rooftop arrangement, which has straightforward “on” or “off” options, the VRF system (which costs eight to 10 percent more to purchase) operates in an area in between so that energy use matches need. For instance, if one person is stuck working on Saturday, the single room they’re sitting in can be heated (or cooled) without running the whole system.
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage | Sustainability Area: Waste
At this Lakewood-based grocery chain, there’s no choice between paper and plastic: The retailer has been shopping bag–free since 2008 (long before it was the trend du jour). Customers bring their own bags or can grab any of the used boxes stashed near the registers for free. The retailer estimates the policy has prevented more than 100 million tons of paper and plastic from making its way to landfills—a start to reducing the estimated trillion-plus plastic bags used by consumers worldwide each year.
303 Software | Sustainability Area: Transportation
Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in this country (after the electricity sector), which means getting people out of their cars can have a profound effect. Custom Web and mobile app development firm 303 Software supports employees who bike to its Golden Triangle office by providing bike storage, an on-site bike pump, basic tools, and a soap-equipped shower. And they take things even further by offering additional incentives: a cash bonus for employees who don’t use their allotted spots in a nearby parking lot and a partnership with a local bike shop that includes free maintenance. The company also organizes mountain bike and road rides for employees outside the office and arranges dedicated time off for employees to volunteer at local bike-friendly events.
Certifiably Green Denver, part of the Denver Department of Environmental Health, provides free environmental help to the local business community. Sustainability advisers will stop by your office and offer tips and tricks for improving conservation efforts. Here, the four biggest lessons we learned when they stopped by the 5280 office this fall. –DS
Lesson No. 1: Wholesale Is Your Friend. Instead of single-serve sugars and creamers near the coffee pot—which create a lot of waste for the recycling bin or, worse, the landfill—buy full-size versions. Your co-workers can share, and you’ll throw a whole lot less away.
Lesson No. 2: Bright Lights. Install motion-sensor lighting—an inexpensive and easy change with a big payoff—in lower-traffic areas such as bathrooms, conference rooms, and storage spaces so you’re only using energy when it’s necessary.
Lesson No. 3: Clean Tech. Things like batteries, old laptops, and long-dead iPhones shouldn’t be recycled like everything else because they contain materials that can be harmful to the environment. Plus, many of those parts can be reused in new electronics. Donate aged—but not broken—technology when you can, purchase rechargeable batteries, and look up drop-off locations (try denvergov.org/recycling first) that practice safe disposal.
Lesson No. 4: Be Proactive. Organize an office green team, the goal of which is to push forward sustainability initiatives. Volunteer as a company at an environment-related event. Awareness breeds attention and new ideas.
Technology may be the solution to saving our dwindling forests.
We all know the story of the Truffula trees; as children, we learned about their demise from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Although the book was published in 1971, it has lessons we should still heed today. Case in point: Nearly four billion trees are cut down worldwide annually to make paper, and it’s estimated that commercial printing companies (think Xerox) alone use more than three trillion pieces of paper a year. It’s less surprising—but no less shocking—then that, according to the World Resources Institute, only about 15 percent of the planet’s woodlands have been left untouched by deforestation and degradation. Forty-year-old Jordan Darragh wants to address that problem. Three-year-old, Denver-based PrintReleaf, a for-profit company that helps businesses reduce their impact on the world’s forests while simultaneously repopulating one of the world’s most important resources, is his solution.
The Lafayette resident—who spent years working in the printing and energy industries—hired a team to create software that retroactively tells a company how much paper it used—in tangible terms. They based their work on an industry-wide standard: 8,333 pieces of standard letter-size paper can be made from a 40-foot-tall, seven-inch-diameter tree. After more than a year of planning and coding, the PrintReleaf team finalized a program that allows them to determine the number of trees a client (Western Union and St Julien Hotel & Spa are among PrintReleaf’s local customers) would need to (pay to) plant to neutralize its average yearly paper use. From there, PrintReleaf ensures that exact number of saplings makes it into the ground through a third-party audit.
Since PrintReleaf’s founding, its clients have “releafed” more than 10,000 trees (3,000 have been planted, while others are still being grown in nurseries) at reforestation sites across the globe from Mexico to Madagascar, through partnerships with nonprofits in six countries. The cost for clients to do so? Just .0007 cents, on average, per piece of paper. We think the Lorax would be pleased. —Jerilyn Forsythe
It’s Not Easy Being Green
We often buy certain products specifically because we’re under the impression they help the environment. That’s not always the case. —RC
Motor scooters: Getting around town on a scooter may reduce your carbon emissions compared to a car, but smog-forming emissions such as carbon monoxide, VOCs, and nitrogen oxides are actually higher from both two- and four-stroke-engine scooters than traditional vehicles.
Grass-fed beef: There’s controversy over whether grass- or corn-fed beef is better as they relate to the release of methane, but one thing is for sure: The way grass-fed cows’ food is produced is considered more sustainable than growing lots of corn.
Compostable cups and biodegradable trash bags: If you actually compost, you’ve made a fabulous choice. But when these “eco-friendly” options end up in a landfill, they’re likely to release more harmful emissions than if you’d used the conventional option. When organic materials break down anaerobically (as they do trapped in a landfill), they release methane too quickly to be captured by a landfill’s gas collection system.
Energy-efficient light bulbs and low-flow showerheads: When used efficiently (meaning, you still follow the five-minute-shower rule), these are definitely greener than whatever they replaced. Remember: Just because the lights use less energy doesn’t mean you can leave them on.
Bamboo: Bamboo is considered the epitome of sustainable wood options, but by the time it gets to you—or the local store—the emissions associated with its transport from Asia often counteract any environmental benefit. Instead, look for Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood products.
Clean Plate Club
In the fast-paced world of restaurants, sustainability isn’t always a chief concern. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of restaurateurs around town from committing to lessening their environmental impacts. We got the scoop on some of the challenges local eateries face when it comes to being sustainable—and what they’re achieving despite those difficulties. —DS
The Goal: Invest in energy-saving kitchen equipment
The Challenge: When you’re struggling to secure financing to open a restaurant, buying pricey Energy Star–qualified appliances is difficult. But there are discounts or rebates (check Xcel Energy) for those who make the decision; plus, business owners save on energy use and cost (up to $470 a year in savings for a gas fryer alone) in the long term. “You do see that investment pay for itself threefold,” says Snooze founder Adam Schlegel. “You use less energy. You don’t replace it. You’re not calling the repairman every other day.”
Snooze —Photo by Sarah Boyum
The Goal: Separate trash, recycling, and compost during the dinner rush
The Challenge: According to a 2014 National Restaurant Association survey, only 17 percent of restaurants compost, and just 66 percent recycle cardboard and paper. Part of that could be financially driven, since all businesses must pay for their trash, recycling, and compost bins. The payoff for the environment is huge, though: According to its waste management company, Highland’s Fire on the Mountain diverted 80.2 percent of its waste from the landfill this past September, saving 10,788 gallons of water, 33 trees, and enough electricity to power an average home for 579 days. Precision is another concern. If a recycling load is more than 10 percent contaminated with smelly or wet food scraps, the waste management company has to toss it—and charges the restaurant for the error. (For composting, it has to be nearly 100 percent pure.) Many venues have signs to remind servers what goes where, but it can be difficult when tables are turning quickly. But here’s the bottom line: If a business like the Tavern Hospitality Group, which goes through 500,000 glass bottles a year, can recycle at all eight locations, so can everyone else.
The Goal: Offer good-for-the-environment and effective to-go containers
The Challenge: Compostable products have come a long way in the past few years, but many restaurant owners still prefer to use a recyclable to-go option—for understandable reasons. Most people in Denver don’t compost at home, but many do recycle; compostable utensils can be more expensive; and recyclable containers have proven more effective at preventing leaks when it comes to hot foods.
The Goal: Use CFLs or LEDs for lighting
The Challenge: Besides the food, one of the most important aspects of a restaurant is its aesthetic—and lighting often sets the mood. Certifiably Green Denver says CFLs last up to 10 times longer than regular bulbs, and replacing just one incandescent with a CFL saves up to $34 annually, a small but impactful number for restaurants operating on thin profit margins. At Avenue Grill, the dining room is about 75 percent CFL/LED. General manager Shelly McCandless says it was a tricky process to settle on eco lighting that made the ambience feel right and the food look appetizing. The upside: She hasn’t changed a bulb in years.
Avenue Grill —Photo by Sarah Boyum
When the line cook is done prepping veggies for a mirepoix, the tops, stalks, and peels are usually tossed in the garbage. Not so at these three restaurants, where scraps are used to add flavor to entirely new dishes—making a dent in the approximately 50,000 tons of food waste produced in Denver each year, the city’s single largest contributor to the landfill. —Justin De La Rosa
Beast & Bottle
Executive chef and co-owner Paul Reilly has found creative uses for vegetable parts, including a vinaigrette made with charred leek greens as well as what he calls a nose-to-tail carrot pasta, which incorporates carrot juice into the dough and carrot tops that are blended into the accompanying pesto. 719 E. 17th Ave., 303-623-3223, beastandbottle.com
Vegetable scraps don’t just need to be hidden in sauces or dressings. When the culinary crew at Linger finishes peeling the potatoes used in various dishes, the team chops and fries the skins to use as a garnish for fish tacos, adding a bit of crunch to each bite. 2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120, lingerdenver.com
Using every part of a piece of produce is second nature at the Kitchen, where sustainable practices are part of the restaurant’s mission. Executive chef Kyle Mendenhall makes a mushroom stock—part of his tasty pappardelle dish—from leftover mushroom stems and adds beet tops to side orders of sautéed greens. Multiple locations, thekitchen.com
Think it’s no big deal when you don’t pack out your waste from your camping trip? Think again. —JD
Sustaining Our Wildlife
In the 2013-14 fiscal year, two million outdoorsmen—mainly hunters and anglers, who are often shamed for their “cruel” pastimes—forked over a total of $80 million to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the state agency that oversees our state parks, wildlife, and wildlife areas. Hunting and fishing license fees and habitat stamp sales are critical funding sources for CPW and go toward operating and maintaining wildlife areas, wildlife research and education, habitat improvement, and more. We examine three of the most interesting beneficiaries. —Lindsey R. McKissick
$84,000: Grand Mesa Moose Occupancy Habitat Condition Study
This project (slated to wrap up in 2015) is measuring all things moose in the western half of our state. A herd of moose—10 of which were tagged with radio marker neck collars—were transplanted in the Grand Mesa a decade ago. The goal: Find out where they roam, determine how many travel together, and keep an eye on population growth. Vegetation is also being monitored during the summer months to observe how the animals use their habitat.
$225,000: Survival Monitoring of Mule Deer
The mule deer population in Colorado hovers under 400,000—down by more than 200,000 over the past seven years. Last winter, CPW tracked 450 adult does and fawn mule deer and fit them with radio collars in five locations—White River drainage, Middle Park, the upper Arkansas Valley, Gunnison Basin, and Uncompahgre Plateau—to assess survival rates and, ideally, to help improve their numbers by learning how weather impacts their survival.
$345,000: Aerial Classification to Estimate Age and Sex Ratios
Each spring and fall CPW flies a helicopter (at $700 to $1,000 per hour) around northwest Colorado to observe mule deer and elk; researchers and biologists estimate the animals’ ages and sex ratios within the herds to develop educated guesses regarding population trends and survival rates.
Exploring the great outdoors is practically a Colorado birthright. But even if we take the utmost care, our recreation still leaves a footprint. Subaru (our unofficial state vehicle) recently partnered with Boulder-based nonprofit Leave No Trace to establish a traveling team of educators tasked with teaching Americans around the country how to protect and preserve public lands. You can start with these five ideas. —JWJ
- What’s Left Behind: While we all (should) know to pack out trash when camping, the cumulative effect of food scraps such as crumbs, peels, and cores can also cause damage if left behind. It takes orange and banana peels two years to decompose in nature—in the meantime, they might draw unwanted attention from wildlife.
- Photos As Mementos: Americans logged 1.6 billion visits to both state and national parks last year. If everyone took a memento home—say, an exotic-looking flower or a piece of petrified wood—the landscape would change dramatically. Fill your camera’s memory card rather than your pockets.
- Get Dirty: Winter hiking often includes trudging along unpleasant muddy trails. Rather than forging your own, perhaps tidier path—which could harm the native plants and small trees—lace up some solid boots and get dirty. (Isn’t that part of the fun anyway?)
- Dogma: We know it’s temping to not pick up your dog’s waste—whether you’re in your backyard or miles into the wilderness—but leaving it to decompose can introduce an unnatural amount of nitrogen to the ground (the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks estimates that 30-some tons of pet waste is deposited in their parks every year). Instead, use a biodegradable or compostable bag and pack it out with everything else.
- Bag It: Shoppers in the United States use 100 billion shopping bags every year. It takes a bit of getting used to, but taking your reusable tote bags really does make a huge difference
The executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) explains the impact hiking off-trail is having on one of our most popular fourteeners. —KC
People who hike Mt. Bierstadt’s seven-mile (round-trip) summit trail annually
+ 18 to 24
Trail width, in inches (when CFI restored it in the early 2000s)
Trail width, in feet, in some places today—the result of hikers going off-trail
+ 10 or fewer
Times a fragile tundra plant can be stepped on before it dies and its roots release the soil they were helping hold in place, leading to trail erosion
Percent of the summit trail that has eroded (as of 2013) since 2002.
Years it takes for an inch of alpine tundra soil to be built up
This reality: Walking off-trail on our beautiful mountains damages them. Mt. Bierstadt is, unfortunately, a prime example. It’s arguably one of the easiest fourteeners to summit, drawing a lot of first-timers; it’s tied with Grays and Torreys peaks for its accessibility to Front Rangers; and unlike other peaks that have plenty of sharp talus along their trails’ edges, Bierstadt’s wide-open tundra means there’s little to discourage you from stepping off the path. A (modest) solution is to have hikers visit during the week. Fewer people means a greater chance your boots will stay on the trail and off the fragile tundra.
*** Take an animated tour that outlines the current damage on Bierstadt’s Summit Trail here.
The Hit List
Where Colorado hills landed on the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition’s 2013 lists of U.S. ski resorts with the best and worst environmental impacts.
Top 10 Best
#3 Aspen Highlands
#4 (tie) Aspen Mountain
#4 (tie) Buttermilk
Top 10 Worst
#4 Loveland Ski Area
#6 (tie) Steamboat
#9 Arapahoe Basin
Did You Know?
Resort skiing isn’t the only winter sport impacting Mother Nature.
Snowmobiling and our environment don’t always get along. (Resort skiing has a not-insignificant environmental impact as well, though; see “The Hit List.”) According to the EPA, a standard two-stroke snowmobile can emit as many hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides as 100 cars and create up to 1,000 times more carbon monoxide. (The older the model, the worse the statistics.) Multiply that by the more than 28,000 registered riders in Colorado, and Mother Nature is one frustrated lady. All that isn’t to say we want people to abandon their snow machines. We know how much fun it is to zoom around isolated, snow-covered fields. But you can lessen your footprint by upgrading to a newer model or carefully maintaining your older machine, abstaining from adding aftermarket extras like exhaust pipes that can increase emissions; using a lower polluting four-stroke model instead of a two-stroke; and checking that there’s at least four inches of snow on the ground to preserve the underlying landscape. —LRM
How to dispose of… Pet hair
It may seem gross, but after brushing your pet’s mane, don’t chuck the unwanted fur in the garbage. Hair—yes, even your own—contains nitrogen, which means you can add it to your city (or home) compost bin.
How to dispose of… Paint
Paint left in buckets, in tubes, or on brushes can be flammable and poisonous if ingested. Plus, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in dried paint contribute to global warming. Both GreenSheen Paint and Old Western Paint Co. Inc. will recycle certain types for a small fee.
How to dispose of… Fluorescent light bulbs
These light sources contain mercury, a toxic chemical that is released when the bulbs break in dumpsters. Almost every Home Depot and Lowe’s in Colorado will take your old coiled bulbs free of charge (simply call your nearest location ahead of time to confirm) and properly recycle the glass and metal parts.
How to dispose of… Gear
Green Guru, an outdoor gear company founded in Boulder, upcycles old climbing ropes, wetsuits, tents, and bike inner tubes into new items like backpacks and belts—providing them with a second life while freeing up room in your garage (and the landfill). Find a list of locations that accept these secondhand items at greengurugear.com.
How to dispose of… Car seats
According to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, most car seats should be tossed after five or six years as the materials used to “cushion and absorb force on impact break down over time,” reducing their safety effectiveness; sunlight and heat can also accelerate the process. Colorado Children’s Automobile Safety Foundation recycles the plastic for outdoor furniture and plastic lumber, while the fabrics can be reused to make cleaning rags, quilts, or rugs. Call 303-931-3443 to schedule a drop-off. —Danielle Ennis