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Women Leading Sustainability

Women are championing the green movement by leading businesses to ‘Eco Certification’

»by Kimberly Nicoletti 

Megan Gilman, co-owner of Active Energies, Inc., entered college as an idealistic mechanical engineer, but the job description didn't quite spark her passion. She wanted to make a tangible difference in people's daily lives, while also sharing the excitement of protecting the planet in innovative ways. So, 10 years ago, she and her husband launched the first local company to administer energy audits, consultation and solar design. Now, she's a mom, chairman of the board of Holy Cross Energy, an expert consultant who travels globally to assist in green building, and a board member of Walking Mountains Science Center, which trains and certifies businesses for greater sustainability.

Gilman is just one of Vail Valley's "A" list of women who are leading their companies through Walking Mountains' Actively Green Sustainability Business Certification — and ensuring their companies act responsibly when it comes to environmental impacts.

“NOT THAT THE MEN AREN’T DOING IT, BUT IT SEEMS THE WOMEN ARE LEADING THE WAY AND BEING VERY COLLABORATIVE AND SUPPORTIVE OF EACH OTHER.” KIM LANGMAID, WALKING MOUNTAINS

The Actively Green program

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Walking Mountains based its Actively Green certification on curriculum designed by Sustainable Travel International, a nonprofit that asserts local communities, governments and businesses must proactively plan their growth, lest they "end up becoming victims — rather than beneficiaries — of tourism development."

Walking Mountains' Actively Green training helps companies save money, educate and engage employees and clients, act as role models, increase revenue and take care of the environment.

The local program, tailored for the valley's business community, began in conjunction with the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, to expand the community's sustainability efforts while building on its reputation as a premiere international destination. Since then, it has certified over 50 businesses, and is working with 100 more.

Women nurturing the land

Both Gilman and Kim Langmaid, founder of Walking Mountains, notice more and more women taking charge within the sustainability movement. Of course, plenty of men are involved in the cause as well, but Langmaid thinks women's natural sense of nurturing innately leads them to deeply consider — and take action around — protecting the planet's health for future generations.

"Not that the men aren't doing it, but it seems the women are leading the way and being very collaborative and supportive of each other," Langmaid says.

In keeping with that cooperative approach, Walking Mountains' Actively Green training has become "the missing link to ensure homeowners and businesses have access to experts (teaching) what their impacts are and what measures they can take," Gilman says.

The program bridges the sustainability information gap through its training and 20-criteria action plan, the latter of which includes implementing a sustainability policy, reducing water and energy use, monitoring waste and recycling, purchasing responsibly and initiating a giving back program.

"Kids are learning about the environment," Langmaid says. "Now adults really have a way."

Vail Valley Partnership (VVP) supports local businesses to participate in the program by offering the opportunity for VVP members to send two employees free of charge. Already, two-thirds of their business members are taking advantage of the training, which also gives them additional recognition as "green" in VVP's business directory.

"As Vail becomes a sustainable destination, we felt it was important for us to play a role in that," says Maren Cerimele, VVP membership manager, adding that more and more tourists are seeking green destinations.

Hospitality's environmental care

East West Resorts has certified a few of its properties through Actively Green, knowing both visitors and homeowners appreciate sustainability efforts among premium properties.

Participation in Actively Green "was the start of everything" for East West Resort's Falcon Point, says general manager Lisa Mutz Nelson. It received a $10,000 rebate from Holy Cross Energy for full window and door replacements, and since following a waste management and recycling program, they now recycle 40,000 pounds of material annually. They also educate guests and staff about recycling batteries and old electronics; they've replaced 99 percent of lighting with LED bulbs; and they've installed vacuum tank systems for all toilets to reduce water usage. Through these measures, Falcon Point earned the State of Colorado's gold designation in its Environmental Leadership Program. The designation highlights Falcon Point's strong commitment to sustainability, and without Walking Mountains' straightforward training and criteria, reaching the state's gold designation could have been much more daunting  — after all, the state's application itself is 30 pages long.

Nelson also sits on East West's Eco Care Committee, which considers ways to educate and engage managers and employees. They set annual goals for the upcoming year, such as installing automated thermostat control systems or bathroom light sensors, because so many people leave bathroom lights on.

"I think living in this valley, we want to maintain the pristine environment we have," Nelson says. "Each year, as we grow and grow, we want to protect Mother Nature. To continue educating is really important — people are (often) wasteful. Just because we live in a resort town doesn't mean it's going to stay like this.

"Green is my passion. I really feel that if everybody did a little, it would amount to a whole lot. Everybody can help reduce their carbon footprint."

By placing recycling bins in every room, educational material in guest books, and reminder signs encouraging guests to reuse towels and turn off bathroom lights, Falcon Point gently spreads the word to individuals.

"We don't want to force it down their throat," Nelson says. "We just want to educate them because it's part of our goal."

Annique Frank, Bachelor Gulch's property and association manager, underwent the Actively Green training for East West Resort's Ascent Residences. While she knew a lot about the "low-hanging fruit" of green business, Walking Mountains alerted her to rebates and ways Ascent, being a new building, could benefit from sustainability measures. Like Nelson, she also learned more about what she could do in her own home, and incorporated it.

"Education is the stepping stone for the whole sustainability movement," Frank says. "If people don't know about where they can save money and help the environment, (they won't). You can't do anything about what you don't know about.

"Sometimes there are upfront expenses, but you can do an analysis on return," she says, adding that many Ascent second homeowners were happy their electric and natural gas costs decreased, rather than increased. "The more people and businesses get involved, the better."

Role models

Langmaid aims to create cooperative support systems and role models out of local businesses.

"They can set the tone for the employees and network to share best practices," she says.

Cerimele and other women see not only benefits for the environment, but also for individual health and wellbeing. Cerimele points out how what we use ends up in rivers and oceans if we're not careful; even something as simple as using traditional cleaning products, which contain toxins, end up in our vital water chains. Throwing out old electronics causes toxic metals to pollute landfills.

"There's definitely a lot that we can do," Cerimele says. "The Walking Mountains program is a great start — getting a baseline of knowing where you are and making improvements in homes and businesses."

Gilman continues to push herself to discover better ways to live sustainably and share her enthusiasm with others. In fact, she's obsessed with energy — how we get it, how we use it, and how we can save it.

"I'm an energy dork. I love it," she says. "I can't leave the light on in a room — it hurts."

She drives a Chevy Volt and researched just about every material that went into the new house they built, searching for the most energy-efficient.

"Some of these things people see as a sacrifice are not," she says. "The impacts we can have without sacrificing our way of life are profound. We have an obligation to not leave this place worse than we found it."

And, as women in business continue to channel their nurturing traits toward the environment, they'll make significant changes on a large scale.

Becoming more sustainable

Walking Mountains' Actively Green Sustainable Business Training and Eco Certification helps businesses: save money through rebates and energy-use reduction, engage employees, attract customers and become an environmental steward and community leader.

Any business can participate. Each training consists of two afternoon sessions and costs $100 for the first business employee and $50 for additional employees; however, Vail Valley Partnership members can send two employees for free.

The training is based on curriculum designed by Sustainable Travel International, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the planet. Walking Mountains tailored the program around Eagle Valley businesses.

Participants learn about best green practices and new tools to live sustainably on a daily basis. They assess their current sustainability and develop an action plan related to these 20 criteria:

»  Regulatory Compliance

»  No Regulatory Disputes

»  Business Plan

»  Green Team

»  Sustainability Policy & Plan

»  Fair Labor Practices

»  Monitor Waste & Recycling

»  Water Use

»  Energy Use

»  Greenhouse Gas Emissions

»  Vehicle Pollution

»  Chemical Management

»  Responsible Purchasing

»  Paper Purchasing

»  Good Neighbor Policy

»  Giving Back Program

»  Customer Feedback

»  Sustainability Education

»  Do No Harm/Leave No Trace

»  Local Economic Development

For more information, visit walkingmountains.org