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High school climate activist among recipients of Yampa Valley Sustainability Awards

Steamboat Springs High School junior Emi Cooper received the Shining Star award on Wednesday during the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council's annual Sustainability Awards. Cooper was one of eight community partners to be recognized for their environmental activism over the last year.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It has been a year since Steamboat Springs High School junior Emi Cooper started following the Fridays for Future climate strikes, a youth-led protest against what participants saw as a lack of action on a global climate crisis. 

The weekly strikes, which began when then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament during school hours, were proof to Cooper that she and her peers had the power to make a difference. 

As president of her school’s Eco Club, Cooper has since become a local leader in environmental activism, leading protests and speaking before local government to support initiatives like Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs joint climate action plan.

On Wednesday, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council recognized Cooper’s accolades during its annual Sustainability Awards ceremony at the Routt County Courthouse. She received the Shining Star award for being, as board member Catherine Carson described, “an inspiration to all of us on the importance of the climate crisis and having real measurable actions in place.”

Cooper was one of eight award recipients honored at the ceremony. Other recipients include the following:

  • Sarah Jones: volunteer of the decade
  • Gail Carey: volunteer of the year
  • Dr. Nathan Stewart: sustainable educator of the year
  • Thrival Mode: sustainable business of the year
  • Steamboat Springs City Council: government partner of the year
  • Alpine Bank: business partner of the year
  • A house in Oak Creek was name the Routt County Sustainable Home of 2019. 

Jones served as the Sustainability Council’s executive director on a pro bono basis for seven years from 2012 to 2019. In that time, she helped to grow the organization and further many of its initiatives, particularly the ReTree program that plants trees in the community. Jones has since taken a job as Steamboat Resort’s first-ever director of sustainability and community engagement

Carey quit a corporate job 1 1/2 years ago to devote more time to environmental activism. She developed a video series-turned newsletter called Save the Planet that gives people simple tips on how to be more eco-friendly. 

For the last year, Carey has led the local organics recycling task force as part of Routt County’s waste diversion strategic plan. Her goal is to establish a public drop-off location for organic material to be recycled into compost. 

“I truly believe the health of the planet is intrinsically tied to the health and welfare of humanity,” Carey said. 

Stewart, a professor at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, received recognition for his work in growing the college’s sustainability studies program, which partners with environmental groups in the county. He also directs the Rocky Mountain Land Management Internship program, a field-based internship with the U.S. Forest Service. 

Thrival Mode, a local chiropractor, was awarded for implementing eco-friendly business practices, such as an indoor office garden that shows clients how to grow food year-round. 

City Council received an award for its work in adopting environmental policies in 2019, such as the plastic bag ban and climate action plan. 

Alpine Bank has been a longtime partner with the Sustainability Council. It was recognized for its sponsorship of many of the organization’s programs, such as the Yampa Valley Zero Waste Initiative and biannual recycling drop-off days. 

Lastly, a two-bedroom house near downtown Oak Creek won the Sustainable Home award for its practical, comprehensive efficiency features. Project developer John Eastman, a former local, said the house is so well insulated that builders did not have to install a boiler to heat it.

“It needs so little supplemental heat that the heat from the appliances and people living in the house provides the majority of the heat,” he said. 

The second of a proposed 10-unit development, the house will be powered with renewable energy within the year after the development of a solar energy grid, according to Eastman. 

For additional descriptions of the award winners, visit yvsc.org/about-us/sustainability-awards.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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