It’s amazing what a simple conversation can do. Just ask Wayne Fahsholtz.

Fahsholtz is president and CEO of the Padlock Ranch, Ranchester, WY. Among the many activities he’s involved in beyond the day-to-day management of a large and diversified ranch, he serves on the advisory board for Sheridan College in Sheridan, WY.

Sheridan College offers ag classes and one day, the college president asked Fahsholtz what they could do to get the word out about their ag curriculum.

“I told him one way to do that is to have some programs that would draw in the agricultural community around the college and get them familiar and acquainted,” Fahsholtz says. “So, of course, he says what would you do and when will you do it?”

From that short conversation grew the First Annual Sheridan College Ranch Sustainability Forum, set for May 12-14 in Sheridan and on the Padlock Ranch.

Fahsholtz chose a sustainability theme for several reasons. “I had been visiting with some of the folks at McDonald’s and Walmart about their questions about sustainability,” he says. “So I came up with this idea of talking about sustainability.”

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It’s remarkable, he says, how many things are now marketed as “sustainable.” Walk into any grocery store and it’s quickly evident that the concept is both widespread and not well understood. “It’s getting a lot of wordplay and it’s something that consumers and the folks we do business with are interested in. So it’s something we don’t want to shy away from. We want our voices in the room talking about it.”

But as a lifetime rancher, Fahsholtz readily admits he has a bias. “People want to talk about the three legs (of sustainability), but it’s important to talk about profit.” The other two legs—environmental and social responsibility—are certainly important, he says, but if a ranch isn’t making a profit and isn’t able to remain in business, the other two legs don’t matter much.

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But if a ranch is profitable and economically sustainable, then the other two legs matter a lot. “It’s important to talk about how we take care of the planet, the environmental aspect, and how we take care of people,” he says.” And if you have any one of those you don’t accomplish, then you’re really not sustainable.”

What’s more, he says sustainability is something ranchers have been doing all along. They just didn’t call it that. But now that it has a name and some momentum, he thinks it’s important that ranchers understand how their day-to-day management of every aspect of the ranch fits into the sustainability discussion.

He also thinks it’s important that ranchers not only understand that everything they do is an effort in sustainability, but that they spread the word. “So I think part of it is being able to communicate with consumers and other interested parties that we are working on sustainability,” he says.

“I’ve tried to design this program with these thoughts in mind,” he says. The program includes Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president of corporate responsibility and sustainability, who will be the keynote speaker; low-stress livestock handling with Whit Hibbard; a two-day range monitoring workshop on the Padlock Ranch; and a symposium featuring BEEF columnist Burke Teichert, who headed up Deseret Ranch before retiring. Other speakers include sustainability consultant Jude Capper; Trey Patterson, COO with the Padlock Ranch; Nancy Labbe with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and Brian Meador, University of Wyoming Extension weed specialist.

In a unique twist, the symposium costs are on the cafeteria plan. Rather than paying one registration fee for the whole event, participants can choose which events they want to attend and pay for them separately.

While there’s a wide range of speakers and topics, the focus all returns to sustainability, Fahsholtz says. “For example, Trey Patterson will be talking about heifer development. If we don’t do a good job and an economical job of developing heifers, and if they don’t stay in the herd, then we’re not profitable and we’re not sustainable,” he says.

As the program has come together, Fahsholtz says he’s been interested in some of the feedback he’s received. After all, it’s not every day that ranchers get the opportunity to visit face-to-face with a senior executive at McDonald’s or someone from the WWF. “Some people have asked me, ‘Why in the world would you have McDonald’s come to the meeting? They’re really not on our side.’ Well, my goodness, they’re a big customer, so why aren’t they on our side?”