Why Denver? Sustainability Innovation in the Mile High City


Elizabeth Caniglia

In April of last year, I published an article in Solutions entitled “The Path to a Regenerative Future: The Importance of Local Networks and Bioregional Contexts.” Originally conceived, that article was to focus on the special features of the City of Denver that makes it one of the most innovative and collaborative cities in the world.
Denver was the model I had in mind when I laid out the enabling conditions required to transform a place from sustainable to regenerative:

  • Collaborative organizational culture
  • Transparent and participatory governance systems
  • Non-silo behavior—positive and abundant interactions among public, private, non-profits, foundations, and educational institutions
  • Forward-looking, long-term vision
  • Openness to change and creativity
  • Innovative organizational forms— B-Corporations, Co-Working spaces, Social Enterprises, Impact Finance
  • Publicly-Engaged Universities that enthusiastically partner with start-ups, government agencies, and spark innovative approaches to solve community challenges
  • Creative, collaborative, project-based approaches to finance community development, including slow money; impact finance; federal, state and local grants from government agencies, foundations, and NGOs.
  • Information dissemination structures that speak to and reach diverse segments of society

As a resident of Denver, I had the privilege of serving as the Founding Director of the Sustainable Economic & Enterprise Development Institute in the Anderson College of Business at Regis University. In that capacity, I served on the Board of the Alliance Center—a co-work space that brings together sustainability organizations from across the Front Range region and amplifies their work through partnerships with universities, government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits. I also served on the Infrastructure Committee Board of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, where the City’s many innovative infrastructure advances were featured on a monthly basis. Projects like the expansion of the Denver International Airport, the Panasonic Peña Station NEXT solar installation, building miles of bike lanes, the Green Roof legislation, and experimentation with first and last mile transportation solutions consistently put Denver at the forefront of innovative cities. And, as this special issue highlights, there is no end in sight to the lessons we can garner from the leadership Denver provides.

The articles included in this special issue highlight each of the characteristics listed above. Together, they particularly feature the synergies across industries and sectors that have established steady creative momentum toward sustainability innovation. Leadership is, of course, powerfully important, and Mayor Hancock’s editorial about his sustainability vision demonstrates his central role. However, Mayor Hancock also states: “We needed to make sustainability the core business value of every agency of government, regardless of what service it performed.” The contagious commitment to moving the sustain¬ability needle is shared throughout City government, facilitated by university research, profitable for Denver companies, advocated by nonprofits, and supported by funding from foundations and finance institutions across the region.

My deepest thanks go to Denver’s Chief Sustainability Officer Jerry Tinianow, Mayor Hancock, Dean Tim Keane in the Anderson College of Business at Regis University, and all of our contributors for their support of this special issue. Cities hold the key to so many of our greatest global challenges. I hope others are as inspired by the example set by Denver as I have been.