Becoming Sustainable…Is it Possible for Western Colorado?

Sustainable Foot

In order to have sustainable communities we have to understand the three E’s: equity, ecological and economic factors. There is also the extra E, education which is critical for change. Western Colorado is primarily rural and has many natural amenities that draw both the urban and rural for the recreational capital. There is also a push for rural areas to become more urban and usually a rate faster than can be planned to be sustainable. With small rural towns in Western Colorado (not speaking directly about the resort towns) there is significantly lower economic means in these towns, there is often a difference of the means of education in these towns as well.

Delta County Boulder County National Average
High School Diploma 88% 94% 86%
College Degree 18.9% 88% 29%
Medium house income $69,407 $42,389 $53,482
Persons in poverty (%) 14.8% 13.3% 15.6%

*Information from U.S. Census Bureau, (2016), Census Info

Becoming a sustainable development is also difficult because it requires changes that are balanced and changed through adaptation. This is not something that is feasible for many rural Western Colorado towns as it is unclear what trades or jobs are available in the area at any given time. When the energy booms happen with coal or natural gas then the population increases radically and quickly. This is not something that can be mitigated with adaptation or planning, especially not in cost effective (Rural Sustainability). The same happens when booms bust and people leave.

Sustainability is also a balance and development of meeting the needs of the populations that basic needs are met and therefore equity can be used in order to plan for the future to ensure that the needs are continuously met (Sustainable Development). This can also be increasingly challenging where the socioeconomic systems (SES) are as diverse and the dichotomies between the classes are so large. This means that it is hard to ensure that the basic needs are being met of those that live in these rural communities. This is also apparent in Western Colorado. There is a not a balance of resources or ability to really invest in planning for the future when the present needs help and intervention.

Becoming sustainable is not just in alignment with environmental justice, it is aligned with human rights. Becoming sustainable allows the environment the ability to remain stable as well as being able to support life.  These issues and goals are on point with social work values and ethics as well.  It is important to help small rural communities the same social justices as the larger metropolitan counterparts. Social workers can help by focusing on the E’s of education and equality.  Social workers are able to gain competency on what it means to be sustainable and the importance and begin to advocate and teach.  By helping these areas social workers are able to serve the communities.

Social Work Value and Ethics

While it is not impossible to become sustainable there are several barriers that must be overcome before we are able to move forward with a greener footprints leading to sustainability. There needs to be more research conducted in order to understand the uniqueness of the Western Slope to understand what the current ecological footprint looks like. It is also imperative to understand the diverse and unique cultures represented in these rural areas and understanding how to education and partner with the inhabitants. If the people are in support of these plans they are more likely going to be effective. There is much work to with balancing how to enact change of the creating an area where there is more balance and ability to focus more on sustainable resources.


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