Let’s RISE to the challenge and become a sustainable community

A message from county commissioner candidate, Christian Beckwith:

JACKSON, Wyo. — What if there were a way to establish Teton County as the epicenter of North American sustainability efforts and address some of our cornerstone issues such as conservation, housing and transportation at the same time?

There is. I call it RISE. And we could use it to develop a regenerative form of visitation rather than the extractive brand of tourism that has wreaked havoc on our ecosystem this summer.

Here’s how it would work.

Teton County’s economic and cultural vitality are directly related to its environmental quality. This phenomenon is not unique.

Throughout North America, some of our most beautiful and well-known communities—places like Nantucket, Moab, Key West, Springdale and Hanalei—enjoy a similar relationship between economy, character and natural capital.

Each of these places shares a fundamental reality: over the long term, their communities can be no healthier than the environments in which they reside.

There are 74 such “GEMS” (Gateways to Environments of Major Significance) around North America, all serving as the entry points to some of the continent’s greatest ecosystems.

Like Teton County, these GEMS are tourist destinations. Like us, they struggle to balance tourism’s demands with the protection of the ecosystems that attract visitors in the first place.

I developed SHIFT in 2013 with a triple-bottom-line approach: to benefit our area’s environment, community and economy while interpreting our conservation legacy in a manner that would be relevant to this and future generations.

In 2014, SHIFT’s first full year, we convened leaders from North American GEMS who were working to preserve and sustain the balance of their built and natural environments.

We developed our program around the winners of SHIFT’s Sustainability Awards, which recognized the most impactful, innovative and replicable programs and initiatives underway in GEMS just like ours.

Our community played a big role in SHIFT’s launch. Jonathan Schechter in particular, with his work on PEAS (Places of Environmental and Aesthetic Significance), provided the inspiration for GEMS. Jonathan also contributed an evaluation matrix that we used to select our Award winners. This matrix has been the basis of our SHIFT Awards ever since.

SHIFT solicited nominations from conservation, housing and transportation initiatives from GEMS from around North America, and then invited community partners such as the Teton County Conservation District, the Community Housing Trust and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to evaluate their work using Jonathan’s matrix.

The nominees deemed to be the most innovative, impactful and replicable received our Sustainability Awards, and were invited to present their work at the festival.

The result was a unique gathering of leaders of GEMS like ours, sharing the practices that were making their communities more sustainable.

For our community, the gathering brought the right kind of tourism to Teton County—a tourism that gave back in the form of ideas and inspiration rather than the kind of industrial tourism that has damaged our ecosystem and our quality of life this summer.

At the same time, it established Teton County as a thought leader in sustainability.

And, by engaging community members in SHIFT’s programmatic development, we were able to disseminate concepts, programs and policies among our elected officials, businesses and nonprofit organizations that contributed directly to our community’s resiliency.

In the years that followed, SHIFT moved away from GEMS to focus on developing a stronger argument for nature itself—something we’ve done by connecting nature to its public health benefits.

The opportunity highlighted by that first SHIFT Festival, however, to create benefits to Teton County’s ecosystem, community and economy is one I believe we can and should continue to pursue.

Using its development of SHIFT as a template, we could encourage The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board to solicit bids to create RISE (Resilient. Inspired. Sustainable. Everyday), an annual summit that looked at sustainability’s future through the prism of GEMS.

Each year, RISE would choose a topic relevant to GEMS. Let’s use workforce housing as an example.

We could invite members of housing initiatives in our community to evaluate the work of affordable housing organizations from other GEMS on the basis of impact, innovation and replicability.

We could honor the work deemed to be the best with The RISE Awards, and then invite representatives from the winning organizations to share their insights and initiatives here in Teton County at the annual summit.

The summit would thus highlight success stories, explore solutions to shared challenges and create networking opportunities among participants, our own community members included.

Summit attendance would contribute to our economy, which is a priority for our business leaders and elected officials.

The networking and sharing of ideas that it fostered would contribute to the protection of the “golden goose” of our ecosystem, which should be a priority for all of us.

Teton County, we can be the center of the most important experiment in human history: the development of a sustainable relationship between the built and natural environments.

Let’s RISE to the challenge and make that vision a reality.

If the long term sustainability of our ecosystem and community matters to you, please vote for me for Teton County Commission on November 3. You may learn more about my candidacy and my positions at www.christianbeckwith.com.

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