Imogen Ainsworth says she couldn’t do her job alone, which is ironic for the only full-time employee in her division.
Ainsworth is in charge of Durango’s sustainability program, one that is tasked with ensuring city employees use resources responsibly and preparing the city for the potential impacts of climate change. Her responsibilities expand to each department in city government, and while she’s not in charge of implementing every sustainability change, she is often the spark that ignites it.
“I’m getting people to think consciously about the way that we use resources and the impact that we have on the surrounding environment,” Ainsworth said. “We depend on the natural environment around us for our economy and our recreation and everything.”
The London native joined the city of Durango in November 2016 as the coordinator of a sustainability program, which has existed for a decade. She got her master’s degree in geography with a concentration in resource management from the University of New Mexico, where she met her husband. Her undergraduate thesis was about climate change modeling.
Ainsworth landed her first job after graduate school working on renewable-energy programs with the city of Bristol in southwest Great Britain. She really wanted to be in the American Southwest, but she didn’t have a visa. So she went to London and coordinated community solar-energy programs while she waited. She lived in Salt Lake for a bit, “then I got my visa, finally could work here, saw the job, applied and we moved,” Ainsworth said.
Part of what was attractive about the job was the long-standing attention Durango has given to sustainability. It is one of four Durango City Council objectives. The city published a Municipal Sustainability Action Plan in 2015, a document Ainsworth said is “robust” and “broad.”
As the city’s sustainability coordinator, Ainsworth said her objective is to get each department to think about how it could use fewer resources, what it could do to encourage sustainable practices and how it can prepare for potential impacts of climate change.
The building department changed its policy to allow residents to get solar panel permits over the counter, she said. She has trained about 30 city employees on the potential impacts of climate change and how it might impact operations. The city is even considering putting solar panels on its buildings.
“Just being involved in these other planning or decision-making processes ... you know, (it’s) like sticking my nose into things that are across the organization,” she said.
And all of these sustainability measures have what Ainsworth calls “co-benefits.” For example, adding solar panels to the roofs of city buildings will reduce the amount of energy needed from an energy company, both saving the city money and reducing its carbon footprint by not purchasing electricity produced from fossil fuels. Adding more sources of water, like building new reservoirs, both creates resilience to gradual loss of water availability because of climate change and prepares the region for droughts.
“A lot of the things that build resilience to the slow changes or the increased frequency in extreme events that are projected for this region by most of the climate models also have other benefits for quality of life or for savings or resilience to other extreme events,” she said.
As for this year, Ainsworth said she is focusing on a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, working to publish a report about a resiliency workshop held late last year and auditing the city’s energy efficiency. The city also received a grant to improve its recycling outreach, which Ainsworth manages.
“I think generally that our community is supportive of sustainability and, I mean, really, sustainability is kind of the conscious and wise use of resources and building resilience to change, which is probably almost universally accepted as a good thing to do,” she said. “I think it becomes bogged down sometimes when the conversations start getting more political, but I try and stay out of that.”