The steps leading to Colorado College's new Cornerstone Arts Center pass native plants chosen for their ability to thrive with little water.
The auditorium is heated and cooled with air pushed through hundreds of vents hidden under comfy seats, one of many energy-saving measures for which the building could receive national certification for environmental design.
Basking in these eco-minded comforts on the evening of June 5, about 130 people hope to carry similar ideals to the broader community. They have gathered for the second "Green City Summit," and their task is creating a path to turn that lofty goal into a regional benefit (the group's Web site is greencoloradosprings.org).
Several speakers hit the core topics: renewable energy, recycling and transportation options. Manitou Springs Mayor Eric Drummond relates his experience as a utilities lawyer in Austin, Texas, before moving to Colorado.
"Now, I'm mayor of a town that's as forward-looking as any," he says.
Though 13 Colorado cities and counties have signed on with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives to promote sustainability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Manitou Springs is the only one in this region of Colorado.
Drummond explains how his Manitou home burned down four years ago, soon after he got moved in, and how he rebuilt with a view toward sustainability. By using high-performance windows, a tiny water heater imported from Europe and other energy-saving technologies, he says it takes minimal energy to heat or cool the home.
Later, the group divides up to talk about specific goals. Jane Ard-Smith, chair of the Pikes Peak chapter of the Sierra Club and a member of the local Green Cities Coalition, leads one discussion about governmental relations.
The conversation is impassioned if sometimes meandering. A Colorado Springs employee talks about the city's multi-department "green team," trying to increase recycling and tackle other sustainability issues.
An El Paso County parks employee explains how recycling efforts at her workplace tend to be more a matter of personal initiative.
State Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, asks the group for suggestions on environmental legislation he might sponsor next year.
The evening concludes with groups presenting goals aimed at encouraging more people to recycle or increasing interest in public transportation.
Later, Ard-Smith explains the coalition is largely about building grassroots support for sustainable ideas that will hopefully begin swaying elected officials.
"One of the things we're looking at is bringing groups together," she says.
Counting carbon in Manitou
Addiction experts often say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
It could also be said the first step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming is knowing how much you emit in the first place.
Manitou Springs joined forces more than a year ago with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, trying to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions, or the size of its "carbon footprint."
Megan Day, chair of the city's climate and air quality committee, has spent several months trying to map how big that footprint is (the graphic shows the different sources of the city's 2005 emissions of carbon dioxide and methane). Converting methane to an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide in terms of the warming that the gas could cause, Manitou was responsible for 56,000 tons of carbon dioxide that year.
City Council members are scheduled Tuesday to start looking at the next step, figuring out a way to decrease those emissions by 10 percent.
Day says it will be a tough task, but laughs thinking about the savings that could come from patching cracked walls in some of the city's historic buildings: "Manitou has a lot of opportunities."