Colorado State University alumna Betsy Mortensen was working for American Conservation Projects in New York City in 2013, and saw the nonprofit struggle as it tried to reach a broad swath of people about public land conservation efforts, climate change and environmental work. Then she had an epiphany of sorts about how she could help.
Mortensen brainstormed a bit with her musician boyfriend, Harrison Goodale, about how they could combine their talents in a way to educate more people about the environment and conservation. The result is Sustain Music and Nature, a nonprofit that creates partnerships between the music industry and environmental organizations.
Sustain helps to create songscapes, videos with great visuals from public lands presenting brand-new songs.
“Music really has that power to reach people on an emotional level that reports and statistics just can’t,” said Mortensen, who graduated from CSU Warner College of Natural Resources in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. “We started Sustain with the mission of using music to promote and accelerate environmental work.”
The most recent effort features a tune from the Greeley-based band The Burroughs, “Step Into the Music,” which was inspired by and filmed at the Roosevelt National Forest and on CSU’s Mountain Campus.
The greatest time ever
The Burroughs’ music is based in classic soul with a modern flair. Briana Harris, who plays alto saxophone for the band, said when they were approached by Sustain, it was a no-brainer.
“Betsy asked if we wanted to go on a songwriting retreat in a beautiful place, and to help promote public land use and conservation,” Harris explained. “We said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like the greatest time ever.’”
Harris said the retreat allowed the band to truly explore the songwriting process at a leisurely pace.
“It’s very rare in a working band’s life cycle to have multiple days to set aside and just be creative,” she said. “Taking part in this project was hugely helpful for us.”
In addition to “Step Into the Music,” the band wrote a few other songs that Harris said they’ll eventually record.
The “gorgeous setting” at CSU’s Mountain Campus has the band scheming about more ways to spend time in that space, too.
“It’s a really idyllic place,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Music reaching people
To date, the team at Sustain have helped to create five songscapes, with one more in the works. A songscape released in January 2018 was featured on the cover of Southwest Airlines’ inflight magazine, which reached more than 7 million people.
“A lot of people say, ‘Wow, I had no idea this place existed. Thank you for showing these public lands to me,’” said Mortensen.
Sustain Music and Nature donates part of the proceeds of song sales to public land partners; this side of the nonprofit is still in its infancy. You may purchase the songs by clicking through the various songscapes on the organization’s website.
Mortensen has been in contact with some national acts for future songscapes.
“We’d love to boost Sustain’s capacity and be able to reach even more people with songscapes through more genres of music and locations,” she said.
Sustain’s conservation partners include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and the U.S. Forest Service. Sponsors and supporters, past and present, include Southwest Airlines, Kuhl, Clif Bar, Filson, Green River Festival, Great Salt Lake Audubon Society and New Belgium Brewing.