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Thursday, March 24,2011

And the winners are...

This year, Boulder Weekly, in cooperation with Eco-Cycle, launches its Boulderganic Awards to recognize the groups, individuals and businesses that have helped make Boulder County a vibrant, innovative and greener place to live. The five categories — innovation in business, sustainability, activism, public service and nurturing community — reflect the many ways Boulder County residents are working to make our community stronger and more sustainable.

The award for business goes to Namaste Solar, for fostering sustainable, conscientious business practices.

Founded in 2004 and officially incorporated in 2005, Namaste Solar has grown from its three initial founders to an iconic company of more than 60. That rapid growth is due in part to their product — solar energy systems are a hot commodity around Boulder County — but it also reflects innovative, successful business practices.

At Namaste, employees own 100 percent of the company, and they recently adopted a “co-op” model where each employee shares in the profits and the decision-making process.

And while a democratic process takes longer than the traditional command-and-control system at most businesses, the results are tangible: lower employee turnover and greater innovation.

“To us, part of our vision is to create a way to pioneer conscientious business practices,” says Heather Leanne Nangle, co-owner and marketing and communications director at Namaste.

For Namaste, conscientious business includes taking care of the community as well as the employees. The company is zero-waste, encourages carpooling and biking among employees and conducts regular educational outreach on renewable energy. One percent of annual revenue goes to its Solar Grant program, which donates solar energy systems to local nonprofit organizations. So far, Namaste has donated more than 100 kW of these systems to local groups, the first in 2005 to the Boulder Homeless Shelter.

And for employees like Nangle, how they do business is just as important as the product they sell.

“Even if we stopped selling solar and opened up a pizza shop, we’d still be doing it in this unique way,” Nangle says.

Citizens for Boulder’s Clean Energy Future receives the Boulderganic Award for activism. The group has its roots in the Boulder Renewable Energy and Energy Efficieny working group, which was founded in 2002 and in 2010 took the lead in efforts to pass City Ballot Issue 2B. The ballot issue, which approved a tax to replace the money Xcel formerly paid the city under its franchise agreement, passed with an overwhelming majority and brought Boulder one step further down the road to a future of renewable energy and green jobs.

Currently the group is focusing on education rather than direct advocacy. In addition to holding community education events, CBCEF also has three academic and expert advisory task forces to research Boulder’s energy load and generation options, investigate the financial elements of switching to renewable energy, and address citizen concerns and questions.

CBCEF is a grassroots group of citizens that supports reliable, reasonably priced renewable energy that is locally governed and generated, and helps our local economy and jobs.

For public service, the award goes to Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor. Toor was first elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2004 and was re-elected to his second four-year term in 2008. His roots in the Boulder community go back much further, though.

Toor moved to Boulder in 1980 and worked as a truck driver, mechanic and yard foreman for Eco-Cycle from 1981 to 1984 and 1986 to 1987.

Toor was also an instructor in the University of Colorado’s Environmental Studies Program and served as director of the CU Environmental Center from 1992 to 2005. Toor was elected to the Boulder City Council in 1997, and was appointed mayor in 1998.

Eric Lombardi, director of Eco-Cycle, says Toor deserves to be recognized not only for what he’s achieved in the past, but for his vision for the future.

“Will is always about five years ahead of everyone else,” Lombardi says. “[He] is the most influential green politician in Boulder.”

As a proponent of alternative transportation, Toor has played a strong role in developing the EcoPass program and in supporting the impressive network of bike paths criss-crossing Boulder.
“Anyone with a bicycle in Boulder should [say] ‘Thank you, Will.’ He’s a local gem. We’re lucky to have him,” Lombardi says.

For sustainability, the award goes to the four original “Green Star” schools — Douglass Elementary, High Peaks, Horizons K-8 and Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies.

The Green Star program, created and run by Eco-Cycle, is the only school-wide composting program in the nation, and involves participation from the principal, teachers, staff and, most importantly, students.
Ghita Carroll, sustainability coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District, says one of the main benefits of the program is that it actively engages students.

“Recycling and composting offer a unique ‘hands-on’ opportunity to make communities and schools more sustainable on a daily basis,” she says. “Unlike, for example, installing more efficient boilers or windows, recycling and composting are activities students can be — and are — actively involved in.

“Watching the students line up after lunch, patiently waiting with their trays to properly dispose of their contents in one of four bins is a reality which, for me, inspires great hope.”

The program was launched in 2005 and now has 26 participating schools. In addition to school-wide composting and recycling efforts, events at these schools are zero-waste, and each school has embraced wider commitment to sustainability efforts. BCSIS and High Peaks recently won the Renew Our Schools Grant, offered through the Center for ReSource Conservation, to install a 10-kW solar array at their schools. Students at Douglass Elementary help coordinate Earth Day activities for the school, and Horizons K-8 did an energy audit of its school in partnership with Xcel Energy.

The Green Star program has proved so popular that there is now a waiting list of schools hoping to participate. Interested schools contact Eco-Cycle, and extensive staff and student training is required. The training and education is provided through Eco-Cycle and is grant-funded.

Boulder County Farmers’ Markets received the Boulderganic Award for Nurturing Community. What started in 1986 as a small gathering of local farmers has grown to include more than 150 participants — including everyone from professional farmers to backyard gardeners — at two locations.

Every year, from April through November, hundreds of visitors flock to the markets at Boulder’s Central Park on 13th Street in Boulder and at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont.

The farmers’ markets do more than bring fresh local produce to Boulder County residents. Over the years, the markets have donated profits to 4H; the County Fair; the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program; and Cultiva!, a youth-operated organic garden.

When the market was first getting off the ground, the city of Boulder agreed to provide staff support, secretarial services, meeting spaces, appropriate permits and a site for the market. In the years since, Boulder and Longmont have continued to provide support for both locations, including grants for improvements and allowing a longer season, which means residents will continue enjoying our local bounty for many seasons to come.
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