Earlier this year, Nick Kittle left his post as the city’s sustainability and innovation manager to spend more quality time with his family and operate Sustainovation LLC, his training and consulting firm. Kittle said that the company — which he kickstarted in October 2012 — is a good way for him to earn an income and do something he’s passionate about between jobs. The 37-year-old Kittle, who has lived and worked in the Springs for 12 years now, took some time this week to talk to the Business Journal in a live interview about innovation and sustainability and what roles they play in the city’s future.
What brought you to Colorado Springs from your home state of Indiana?
I graduated from the master’s program at University of Colorado at Denver. When I got done with that I got a job working for El Paso Natural Gas, which is Kinder Morgan now. I had a background in oil and gas companies, so I came down here and was working for them in Colorado Springs.
Can you talk about Sustainovation and the work you do?
Essentially, I’m a believer that in order for innovation to work, it has got to be sustainable. So sustainable innovations are where it’s at. Too often, sustainability — in order for it to be effective and do what we need it to do as a community — it has to be innovative. So I feel like those things work really symbiotically together, especially here. For me, the company itself is about being creative and making money between jobs, so this is my way of helping communities understand what the role of innovation and sustainability is and the role it can play in terms of government.
What sparked your interest and motivated you to start Sustainovation?
It was really about trying to find creative ways to bridge the gap on income — necessity is the mother of invention. So when I left the city … I figured I’d do some things that I’m a little more passionate about. So for me, innovation and sustainability are two things that I practiced in my role in government and it is something I’ve recognized in the community. I’ve got a reputation for helping people solve unsolvable problems — it’s what I’m good at. So for me, it was more about continuing the things that were a little more true to my core values.
How are these concepts generally received in Colorado Springs?
I think there is definitely a huge segment of the population that gets it. This isn’t rocket science. Conservation is at the core of conservative principles, so I don’t consider it to be a partisan issue.
Do you think that the Colorado Springs community is a good environment for young professionals?
I think that the network of young professionals that I’ve met here is top-notch: They are great people trying to do amazing things. There is a tremendous pool of talent and it has certainly been my great pleasure to meet these folks. They’re tight, they get it, they know what’s going on — I love the young professional community here. In terms of the environment that this community creates to support professionals, I do not think we know what we’re doing. I believe that the community is somewhat backward in the way that it approaches this. … I don’t think we foster an environment that’s good for young professionals, because I think the leadership has traditionally been so afraid to ask that question. I think the community is ready to invest in itself in a lot of ways, and until we do I think we will continue to bleed talent to other communities.
Do you think that a business like your own has potential to be prosperous here?
The consulting opportunities don’t seem to be here at the moment, and neither do the jobs. The stuff that I’ve had so far is pretty limited. Like I said, I’m being creative and earning an income between jobs. There have been a handful of consulting opportunities in different cities and a handful of speaking engagements is really what I’ve been into at this point. … I think that the location of the business doesn’t necessarily matter as much as whether people can find value in the concept of innovation in general — especially innovation in government. If people are interested in learning and being trained in innovation, there are certainly programs to teach that. … Innovation is a technique that can be taught if you want to learn how to do it, so I don’t think location really matters with that.
What are your goals and aspirations?
Whether it’s working with my company or for someone else, my goals are to go ahead and find something that truly aligns with my core values. I do believe in getting unsolvable problems done; I believe in investing in this community; I believe in innovation and sustainability being guiding principles that will transform a lot of what we do as a city and as a culture. n CSBJ