| Madeline Bachner

2014 Environmental Leadership Summit Inspires Action

JWULeadershipGroupFor the fourth year in a row, Cottonwood Institute collaborated with Johnson & Wales University (JWU) and the JWU Student Government Association to host the 2014 Environmental Leadership Summit. Students were able to get out of the classroom for the day and connect with for profit and nonprofit environmental leaders who are making a difference in the Denver community. Throughout the day, packed with speakers and activities, students eyes were opened to a host of new ideas from basic environmental issues, to sustainable business models and inspiring lessons from working entrepreneurs.

Ford Church, Founder and Executive Director of Cottonwood Institute (CI), kicked off the day talking about how CI started, how it has grown over the past 10 years, and how it is empowering students to “change their world.” Ford’s story of changing career paths and navigating through doubt and obstacles to build a small non-profit was an inspiring start to the day and set the tone for the speakers to come. Each speaker shared resources they love and Ford recommended that all students read, “Start Something That Matters,” by Tom’s Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie.

Johnson & Wales

Jeff Aitken, Owner of Fluid Coffee Bar and our Environmental Leadership Summit host, was up next to share his story of success implementing a triple bottom line business model. The triple bottom line, a mainstay of modern sustainable business practice, got lots of attention from the business students in particular. It’s a powerful way to run a business that values people, the planet, and making a profit equally. Not only does Fluid Coffee Bar have the best coffee in Denver, it treats its employees well, builds community, chooses local and sustainable products, and has a sustainability menu that rewards customers for bringing in their own coffee mug while raising money to support local nonprofits and projects.


A brief mid-day reflection was followed by lunch at Pizza Fusion on Colfax and Pearl.  The pizza was delicious, but at the Environmental Leadership Summit, lunch isn’t just about eating!  Students were introduced to Mary Putman, the General Manager at Pizza Fusion, who enlightened them about the unique and innovative social enterprise connection between the restaurant and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.  Mary manages the restaurant that hires, trains and builds job skills for clients of the coalition who were recently homeless. Once folks have a roof over their head and the care they need, it’s just as vital to keep them employed and this program makes sure that can happen through training and ongoing support funded in part by the restaurant.

Johnson & WalesAfter lunch the students launched into the very active and very popular Sustainability Scavenger Hunt, scouring the Uptown area to find and document sustainability in action.  From businesses, to bike racks, active citizens and recycling receptacles, questions were asked, pictures were taken, trash and recycling was picked up off the street and much fun was had by all! Once the points were tallied, Sarah, Sam and Vanessa walked away with the win, Team Sustain to Gain came in second and Brittany, Chopp and Charles got third and honorable mention for picking up the most trash and recycling!

Back at Fluid Coffee Bar, the group heard from Elissa Davis, Education Program Coordinator at GrowHaus, an interactive urban farm and marketplace.  Elissa shared their mission of providing affordable healthy food for the surrounding Elyria-Swansea community, while raising awareness about issues of food justice and sustainability. Through educational workshops, aquaponics and hydroponics, and an affordable market in a neighborhood with no healthy food purchasing options (often known as an urban food desert), GrowHaus accomplishes their mission while also providing produce to local grocers and restaurants to help fund and sustain the organization. Elissa also shared some of the many local native plants that can be used for food and have been for generations to more sustainably meet our nutritional needs.

Johnson & Wales

Our last speaker was the wildly popular Maddy D’Amato, Founder and Chief Love Officer from Love Grown Foods, maker of delicious, healthy, natural granola and hot oats (a.k.a. Love). Students were impressed by her passion and enthusiasm and were riveted by her story of how she and her partner Alex, fresh out of college, grew Love Grown Foods from a small idea to sell granola to a full blown company with their “Love” in thousands of stores nationwide in a few short years.  Maddy is committed to promoting health and nutrition and through educational programs in schools, she is spreading her infectious enthusiasm for good food and sustainability one classroom at a time. Maddy highly recommends the book “Cooking up a Business” by Rachel Hofstetter to anyone interested in starting a business, especially in the food industry, which is a great fit for many Johnson & Wales students.

Finally, to wrap up the day, students reflected about what they had learned and were asked to “Do One Thing” (DOT). They came up with the one small thing they could each do to make a difference everyday.  Held accountable by their peers, these DOTs will go far in changing the world for these students and everyone they reach. And isn’t that what changing the world is all about? As one student said, “The most challenging part [of the day] was realizing that I am just as capable of creating change as our speakers.”

Thank you to all of our wonderful speakers and hosts, especially Fluid Coffee Bar and Pizza Fusion. We are grateful not only for your contributions to the Environmental Leadership Summit but for the amazing work you do everyday and the ideals you are making real in our community.

To check out pictures from the day, Click Here.


Categories: Action Projects, Cottonwood Institute News, Updates

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