Sustainability Council’s executive director brings a wealth of experience to her new role
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa Valley Sustainability Council opened a new chapter Monday as Michelle Stewart began work as the organization’s new executive director.
“I have long valued the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council as an important center of sustainability education and action in our community,” Stewart said. “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved in the recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory Assessment process as a reviewer during the fall of 2019, and through that process, I realized that I have skills and insights to offer to our community’s climate action planning process.”
Stewart succeeds Sarah Jones, who took a position as Steamboat Resort’s first director of sustainability and community engagement in October 2019.
“It is such an honor for me to follow Sarah Jones and her exceptional leadership as executive director at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council,” Stewart said. “Her leadership, commitment and vision have brought the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council to where it is today, and I, and all staff and board, continue to value her and her legacy.”
Stewart brings more than 15 years of teaching, research, mentoring and leadership experience in sustainability to the position.
“I saw it as an ideal way to bring my experience and training into the service of our community, and I am honored that I will have this opportunity moving forward,” Stewart said.
Since Jones’ departure, the position of director has been filled on an interim basis by longtime board member Scott Conner.
“We took some time. We were trying to do a mindful plan, thoughtful transition and spent some time talking to the community,” Conner said. “We had the community do a survey for us in terms of where we were as an organization and what we had accomplished and what we wanted to do in the next decade.”
The Sustainability Council started advertising for the executive director position late last year.
“We went through a kind of a monthlong interview process before finally ending up with Michelle,” Conner said. “I’m super happy with the process, and that it kind of brought us full circle back to the valley.”
Stewart has lived in North Routt for several years, but her experience reaches across the country and the world. It includes working as academic director for the School for International Training’s study abroad program in Iceland. She also has worked for Colorado State University’s Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship as a rangeland social scientist and has taught the environmental studies program at Amherst College.
The School for International Training is an educational organization distinguished for its experiential, academically rigorous study abroad programs in over 50 countries with a focus on renewable energy, technology and resource economics. Stewart was responsible for the program’s curriculum, design, implementation and teaching. She also was in charge of student research design and support as well as hiring the staff, financial planning, reporting and grading.
The Iceland program included 20 students, and Stewart takes pride in the fact the 2019 program was one of the first carbon-neutral study abroad programs in the world. The staff members and students worked with the Iceland Forestry Bureau to calculate carbon emissions produced by the program’s flights to and from the U.S., and the program’s bus travels around the island. Stewart said those emissions were offset by planting 220 trees in the summer of 2019.
She believes the connections and experiences she gained through the study abroad program, as well as her experiences with CSU and Amherst College, will be a benefit in her new position. The success there has Stewart excited about the Sustainability Council’s ReTree program.
“This is an exciting and immediate focus for me,” Stewart said. “Reforestation is a component of climate action planning, and it certainly has a promising role here in the Yampa Valley region.
“I look forward to connecting with members of our community to co-create climate actions that capitalize on our rich cultural heritage, natural resource wealth and community innovation,” Stewart added.
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