Sustainable Settings – A Whole Systems Approach


As you wind your way through Glenwood Canyon, along the Colorado River and venture south towards the Crystal River you will find your self on the Thompson Creek Ranch, located in Carbondale, Colorado, home to Sustainable Settings (SS). SS was founded by Brook and Rose Le Van in 2003. After returning from seven months in China, they were moved to look at life in a new inspiring light. They launched an experiment to create a setting in which people could live and learn to create a more sustainable future. The Thompson Creek Ranch is now the epicenter of environmental equality for humanity, other species, and future generations in the Roaring Fork Valley (1).

The whole systems approach SS uses includes:

  1. Intelligently designing, building and operating sustainable development
  2. Experimenting with long-term solution for food, herb, and fiber production
  3. Anchoring our experiential teaching and learning in the surround ecosystem
  4. Investigating how we can incorporate art and aesthetics into our daily lives
  5. Building a more cooperative and just society (1)

As I explored their extensive website, it was clear to me that their programs were in complete alignment with their whole systems approach as well as their core principles. The right for humanity and nature to coexist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition was at the top of the list, which sounded a lot like the NASW values. Cooperation, not competition, community-efficiency not self-sufficiency, and lastly to encourage diversity, not exclusivity; in my opinion SS’s guiding principles challenge the very ideals of what the United States has been built on (1).

This idea of interdependence on other humans, land, animals, and the world as a whole seems so foreign to me and maybe to you? There is not much talk of pulling up each other’s boot straps, or truly leaning on each other for support and guidance in a community. At SS they are breaking these cultural norms and status quos on a daily basis through; workshops on bee keeping (for all ages), bilingual wild food classes, holistic orchard management, SS for kids (hands-on experience with gardening, stacking & pinning straw bales, building chicken coops), adult and university partnerships/internships, and mentor apprenticeships (1). The theory and concepts SS are rooted in believe that experiential education activities stimulate memory and anchors deep learning (2). I am envious of what the youth of the Roaring Fork Valley have access to and I can’t wait to personally get my hands and nose into the rich compost they create for their gardens this summer!

These tangible experiences don’t have to stop when you leave the ranch. SS gives a list of practical ways to continue the connections of sustainability of whole systems into our daily lives. The three R’s – Reduce. Reuse. Recycle (in that order). Using labor and skills to grow a garden that you can eat from. Use renewable resources whenever possible even if the cost appears to be higher (the cheaper routes have an even higher cost to our environment)(1). Avoid discarding technology because it’s not the “state-of-the-art” model. We don’t need to contribute to that golden arrow of consumption to be happy  (perceived obsolescence) (3).

Sustainability starts with modest acts of responsibility according to SS (1). As a social worker, a friend, a daughter, and a human on this earth I agree that each small act we do can add to a culture of sustainability and shared awareness (Service). We have the intelligence and collective power to regenerate the health of both people and ecosystems (SS, 2016). So what are you waiting for? Go get your hands dirty and share the good news that we can make a global impact by living in interdependent relationships with all systems of sustainability! Our futures are interwoven. Answer the call.


Photo credit – sustainable-settings-hay-ride1.jpg – goes to ©2016 Sustainable Settings found on home page.

(1) – Sustainable Settings, “Harvesting Nature’s Intelligence” – VISIT THEIR WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

(2) Kaltman, G. S. (2010). Hands-on learning. Childhood Education, 87(2), S7.

(3) Story of Stuff. (2016). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from








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