Christopher Aaby has spent years exploring his passion for the environment, which has found the right outlet in his current role as assistant director of the Catamount Institute. Aaby’s journey of eco-stewardship began in part with his Norwegian heritage, building with each job he took until joining the seven-member Catamount team in 2011. After starting his professional life in retail, the 31-year-old found a love for Catamount’s doctrine while working for a fair-trade coffee company before being hired on to do marketing work for the Colorado Springs nonprofit. Aaby (pronounced Oh-bee) talked about these things and more, and how they all have shaped his hike on the path of life.
Tell us about your background and how you started your career.
I am originally from Norway, but I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life and grew up in Monument. I started my semi-professional career in retail just out of high school and did that for years at GAP and Bed Bath and Beyond. I did a little bit of schooling in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Art, but decided not to finish and came back to do some classes with Pikes Peak Community College … but I was working so much that I didn’t finish that either. Working in retail, I learned a lot about customer service and ended up joining on with a fair-trade coffee roasting company and worked with them for about four and a half years. I traveled the country to food and beverage trade shows, sold the coffee and did their marketing and graphic design. … We ended up joining the Pikes Peak Sustainable Business Network, which is a program of the Catamount Institute.
How did you get hired by Catamount?
They were looking for someone to do marketing and graphic design, and that is what I had been doing. I wore a variety of hats at that small company. … Then this opportunity came up to work for Catamount and do their design and marketing. I really saw it as an opportunity to help an organization that already had a great reputation in the community to build a brand and more brand awareness with what they do.
Do you feel you’ve succeeded in that regard?
Yes, I do. When I came on a lot of the work they did was segmented, and I didn’t even know that they had kids programs. When I was working with the Business Network, we kind of joined things together consistently and began talking about Catamount more as a whole and the fact that Catamount works with kids, adults, businesses, and to kind of bring those things together.
Tell us about being promoted from graphic designer to assistant director.
I worked hard. In any nonprofit, you’re going to end up doing a lot of different things. So I started out just really concentrating on the marketing and design work, but through changes in the organization I took on more roles with day-to-day operations, and then last year I took the lead on planning our annual conference. So through all of those things, while still doing all of the marketing and design work for all of the programs and doing a lot of fundraising, the board offered to raise me up to this position (in March).
Describe your day-to-day work.
My days are adventurous. I will be coordinating things for the conference, talking to Colorado College about the use of facilities, talking to speakers who may potentially be coming to the conference, and then later I might drive to camp … and then the next day come back and maybe go to a meeting with the Regional Business Alliance about clean tech. So it’s very much a wide gamut of stuff, and it kind of shows the range of what Catamount Institute does in not only working with kids but also trying to reach businesses and encourage the community to become more sustainable.
Would you say that the values of Catamount align with your own?
Yes, and I think it’s mostly because I’m very passionate about the environment.
In middle school I was the one who did a report on the Exxon Valdez oil spill or on animal rights or things like that. … Also growing up around Norway, which has always been at the forefront of environmentalism and taking care of the planet, has made me try to get people here as excited about those things. When I left the retail world and was able to go to this fair-trade organic coffee roasting company, that was a perfect fit because it was a for-profit company but we were very serious about doing things in sustainable ways. … Being involved with that, and now being with Catamount helping teach kids to have those same values and teaching kids to take care of our resources and our planet is really exciting to me.
From your own experience, how would you characterize the business environment for young professionals in Colorado Springs?
I think for me it has been good with the opportunities that I’ve had in the environmental circle, which is very open and accepting to young professionals. Environmental groups look to younger generations as the future, because we are the ones who are going to inherit the earth. … I think young professionals think in a very progressive way about the environment.
What are your professional goals? How do you view your own future?
For now it is to help Catamount grow its programs … help those new programs operate in the right way, making sure the team has all the tools they need to succeed and help build all of that up as much as I possibly can.