When it comes to the environment, Aspen Skiing Company is giving the rest of the ski industry a reason to be green with envy.
Consistently ranked as one of the top environmental leaders in our business, as well as the country, Aspen Ski Company is used to getting honors. Some include being a five-time winner of the NSAA's Golden Eagle Award for overall environmental excellence in the ski industry, winning the 2007 EPA Climate Leader Award, and the 2006 EPA/DOE Green Power Partner of the Year, just to name a few. But what has a ski resort done that's good for the environment? Aren't ski areas known for their harmful snowmaking efforts, destruction of forests, and high emissions from skier travel and electricity use?
Well, yes, says Aspen Skiing Company on their environmental website. But they focus on "leaning into the light," as described by writer Barry Lopez. "How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."
Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) sets a high standard for environmental efforts, focusing not just on using recyclable materials or purchasing wind credits. They come at the war of climate change with five guns blaring; fuel, donations, responsibility, energy, and construction.
"On ASC's four mountains, we burn 260,000 gallons of diesel annually, powering snowcats that turn Aspen's powder into its famously manicured trails," as said in "Improving our World," . But can diesel be green? Certainly. If it's blue.
ASC has switched its entire snowcat fleet to Blue Sun biodiesel, a fuel that snowcat drivers say smells like french fries but makes the machines run smoother. This biodiesel lessens emissions reductions by 10-20% (depending on the particular gas), and at only 20 cents more per gallon, it's literally a small price to pay.
ASC's employees are rallied behind their green efforts as well shockingly through their paychecks. Almost half of Aspen/Snowmass employees contribute $1 a week to the Environment Foundation, a non-profit working to protect the regional environment. So far the $1 million raised (with help from matchings by the Aspen Community Foundation and the Aspen Skiing Company Family Fund) provided a leading grant to the Trust for Public Land to help protect the stunning "High Elk Corridor," which runs from Aspen to Crested Butte and is in danger of being developed.
Auden Schendler, the Director of Environmental Affairs, and the rest of ASC didn't stop at fuel and donations to combat the demise of the sport. They continue to hold themselves accountable for every pound of CO2 emitted, every tree cut down, every harmful business practice decided. ASC earned a rare and coveted ISO 14001 Certification in 2004 for their environmental management system, GREENTRACK, which among other aspects includes an announcement within the industry of their environmental tactics. They also are holding the companies they work with accountable, declaring that their environmental practices and attributes will determine if ASC will continue to buy their products or services. And everyone wants to do what the cool kids do, right? Jackson Hole became certified in April 2006. Snowbird also won a Golden Eagle award this year.
Many resorts have purchased RECs (renewable energy credits) to offset the electricity used to power the lifts, keep kitchens running, etc, but ASC was the first (and one of the biggest) to put their foot down when it came to their energy consumption.. In 2006, they purchased enough RECs to offset 100% of their electricity usage - a landmark purchase both within the industry and for the environment.
"Clearly, the most pressing issue of our time is climate change," said ASC President/ CEO Pat O'Donnell. "and addressing energy use is one of the most important actions we can take on that front." Many large resorts soon followed ASC with Vail Resorts purchasing 152,000 megawatt-hours per year four months later and Powdr Corp. purchasing nearly 50 million kilowatt-hours last week. REC purchases are becoming largely something ski areas have to do to be taken seriously in their environmental efforts.
It's no easy feat to construct a building at 10,000 feet, let alone doing it in a green way. ASC has one LEED certified building (a stringent standard based on how many green "points" a building earned through different environmental efforts) and another on the way. They also have the Snowmass Golf Clubhouse that uses its ponds to heat and cool the building. Plus every other construction project in the works will have strict green guidelines to abide by. And you thought baking cookies at altitude was hard.
Aspen/Snowmass' focus on the environment not only turns their own pollution meter back, it is hacking away at climate change in general. ASC may take huge steps in the energy, donation, responsibility, fuel and construction realms, but it's their commitment to leadership within the industry and the country that really speaks volumes. After all what good is being good unless you are urging others on? That way we can all be green with envy.