CMC Vail Valley hosts college’s third sustainability conference, discussing resilience, change | VailDaily.com

CMC Vail Valley hosts college’s third sustainability conference, discussing resilience, change

Carrie Click
Special to the Daily

A panel of environmental and cultural experts from Bhutan and the United States recently discussed Bhutan's economic and preservation efforts during the 2018 Colorado Mountain College Sustainability Conference at the Vail Valley campus. From left, Julie Claussen, research biologist, Fisheries Conservation Foundation; Dowa Sherpa, director of programs and operations, Bhutan Foundation; Indra Prasad Acharja, wildlife biologist, Royal Society for the Protection of Nature; Younten Phuntsho, senior forestry officer, Royal Government of Bhutan; Michael Philipp, board member, World Wildlife Fund and Bhutan Foundation, and lead, Bhutan for Life; Dr. Mercedes Quesada-Embid, professor, sustainability studies, CMC Vail Valley; and Dr. Kathryn Regjo, campus dean and vice president, CMC Vail Valley. Hundreds of CMC students, faculty and staff gathered in Edwards for two days of intense breakout sessions, discussions and activities.

EDWARDS — In Bhutan, a tiny country east of Nepal and surrounded by China and India, the government has implemented a new paradigm. Called Gross National Happiness, the measure of the country's well-being is based not on how much wealth it and its citizens can accumulate but on the principles of contentment.

At Colorado Mountain College's 2018 Sustainability Conference, held Thursday, April 19, and Friday, April 20, at the Vail Valley campus in Edwards, during a keynote discussion, a panel of speakers from Bhutan and the United States talked about Bhutan's unique approach to environmental and cultural health.

"Gross National Happiness is not about smiles and laughter," said Dawa Sherpa, the Bhutan Foundation's director of programs and operations. In terms of GNH, Sherpa explained, happiness is based on contentment and a balance of environmental conservation, cultural preservation, good governance and equitable development.

"From a Western perspective, contentment can be difficult to wrap our minds around," said Michael Philipp, a World Wildlife Fund board member who's one of the founders of Bhutan for Life, which is funding permanent preservation of the country's protected areas.

Vail Valley's turn

Every other year for the past six years, students, faculty and staff from Colorado Mountain College take a couple of days away from their regular class and work schedules to hear and interact with sustainability experts from the United States and around the world.

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The conference was at CMC Steamboat Springs the previous two times. This year, it was time for CMC Vail Valley to host the event. Around 300 students, faculty and staff, plus community members, participated in Edwards' conference, titled "The Sustainable 'We': Embracing Resilience, Inspiring Change." Students from many different disciplines participated.

"We encourage students from all fields to attend," said Dr. Kathryn Regjo, vice president and campus dean at CMC Vail Valley at Edwards. "This year's conference also included students from the business program and our English as a second language students."

In addition to the panel discussion about Bhutan, attendees could choose from more than 50 sessions featuring student capstone presentations, faculty projects and discussions with staff on multiple aspects of sustainability. Topics ranged from "Sustainable transportation and Colorado economics" to "How to make your event a zero-waste one."

Sustainability studies is a popular major at the college. More than 500 students are enrolled in these classes at the five CMC locations where a bachelor's degree in the subject is offered. In addition to the bachelor's degree, students who already have a bachelor's degree can earn a certificate of completion in sustainability leadership.

Striking a balance

Even with concerted efforts and well-educated, concerned people working to create healthy environments, challenges remain.

During the Bhutan discussion at the conference, Phillips mentioned that in spite of the country's commitment to environmental conservation, Bhutan's economy, besides tourism, is now dependent on damming its rivers to sell hydropower to India. This has trickle-down consequences that affect fish, wildlife, added infrastructure and development.

"We have to strike a balance," he said.

Dr. Mercedes Quesada-Embid, a CMC Vail Valley sustainability studies professor, said the discussions need to continue.

"We believe that the presentations and intellectual, interdisciplinary dialogues that took place lived up to the conference theme," she said. "We hope that having provided the space to convene on issues of importance and reflect on our contributions to a more just society has made a memorable, motivating and meaningful imprint on the conference participants."