The Environment Foundation Celebrates 20 Years

By Catherine Lutz

By the numbers alone, the Environment Foundation’s accomplishments in its 20-year history are impressive. Through this nonprofit organization, Aspen Skiing Company employees have given more than $3 million, in 514 grants, to more than 140 groups and projects, most of them local or regional. Here are some more notable numbers:

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), the most funded organization, has received nearly $253,000 in 20 years, with a strong focus on its far-reaching environmental education program.
The Environment Foundation’s very first funding cycle, in spring 1998, encompassed 12 grants worth over $30,000, helping the Independence Pass Foundation to restore the sensitive tundra around the top cut of Highway 82, the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers to rehabilitate the Marolt wetlands, and the Aspen Elementary School to green their building.
Over the past 20 years, several organizations have received consistent support, allowing major, long-term goals to get accomplished. These include the Thompson Divide Coalition, which, with $67,000 worth of funding from the Environment Foundation over the years, recently achieved a significant victory when the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) decided to rescind a number of gas leases in the area.

Our Mission

The Environment Foundation — a collaboration with the Aspen Community Foundation and the Aspen Skiing Company Family Fund — is a nonprofit employee organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the regional environment.

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But, the Environment Foundation is not just about numbers or even specific environmental projects, according to Executive Director Matt Hamilton, who is also the Sustainability Director for the Aspen Skiing Company.

“What’s really important about the work we do is how it engages employees in philanthropy,” says Hamilton. “It’s the most meaningful aspect of it all.”
“What’s really important about the work we do is how it engages employees in philanthropy,” says Hamilton. “It’s the most meaningful aspect of it all.”
He explains: The Environment Foundation board is made up of 15 company employees, serving three-year terms, who come together twice per year to decide on grants. Beyond that, they periodically do site visits of grantees, spend a lot of time getting to know the grant applications they present, and are often already involved somewhat in their community. Demand to be on the board is high, and by this willingness — even eagerness — to offer one’s time and energy in such an endeavor, board members build even stronger connections to their community.

It’s the idea of social capital, Hamilton says, that “by being involved and getting to know community issues, that leads to — or supports — being civically engaged.”

In other words, it’s more about the people than the numbers. And the more people are civically engaged, the better off the community. So, in that spirit, here are a few more stories about Environment Foundation grantees.

Aspen TREE, a local nonprofit focused on local food and educating the next generation of “Earthkeepers” has received more than $26,000 in the last seven years to support its aforementioned day camp program. Eden Vardy, Aspen TREE’s executive director, “has by sheer force of will created this really impactful organization,” notes Hamilton, and the Environment Foundation’s support includes pushing him to build sustainable sources of funding in order to be able to thrive and accomplish its mission.

Over the past three years, the Environment Foundation has doled out $16,500 to the nonprofit Energetics Education, whose keystone program, Solar Rollers, challenges high school kids to design and build solar-powered cars, which they then race. This “small and scrappy” locally born organization not only brings kids from different backgrounds together in a unique learning setting, but it has consistently grown, having expanded to Denver, Dallas, and even Dubai.

Along similar lines as Aspen TREE, Michael Thompson and his Fat City Farmers seek to create educational opportunities for organic gardening and growing local food economies, based on permaculture principals. But this nonprofit doesn’t just go into local schools and run programs or build gardens in the hopes that they will somehow continue — it works with teachers to build a curriculum around gardening education so that the concepts become a permanent part of the educational approach. The Environment Foundation has granted Fat City Farmers $52,000 since 2009.

Happy 20th anniversary, Environment Foundation!

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