Can Vail become a ‘sustainable’ resort? | VailDaily.com

Can Vail become a ‘sustainable’ resort?

Come out Wednesday

Walking Mountains Science Center and the town of Vail will host an Aug. 17 dialog about the effort to earn a “sustainable destination” designation for the community.

The meeting will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. To learn more, go to http://www.walkingmountains.org/vsd, email Kim Langmaid, kiml@walkingmountains.org, or call 970-827-9725, extension 131.

VAIL — Mountain resorts depend on the natural environment. And there are strong environmental efforts under way in most of those resorts. Vail is trying to leapfrog the rest of the industry by earning the first sustainable destination designation in North America.

That designation is given by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. The group has awarded its sustainability designation to several resorts in Mexico, Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

The project is being coordinated by the town of Vail and Walking Mountains Science Center.

Kim Langmaid is a Vail Town Council member and founded Walking Mountains. Langmaid said the current effort is a second, more ambitious phase of a program that started before the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

That program, Actively Green 2015, eventually included more than 50 businesses in Vail and the surrounding areas. Those businesses worked on projects including recycling, composting and energy use.

Actively Green "gives businesses and employees a way to partner in sustainability," Langmaid said.

Working with the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program, Actively Green participants can earn state certifications.

The sustainable resort is far more wide-reaching.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council sprung from a group of agencies including the United Nations World Tourism Organization. According to the group's website, the purpose is to "foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles."

To do that, the group has organized a certification effort around principles including effective sustainability planning and maximizing social and economic benefits to local communities.

Current efforts

At this point, the town has implemented a wide-ranging recycling program, and is currently at work on a multi-year effort to clean up Gore Creek.

But, Langmaid said, the program has a significant human element, with certification criteria including low-impact transportation and workforce housing.

The housing element includes people living close to where they're working, which reduces automobile use and puts more emphasis on local transit.

On the other hand, the town has heated streets in much of its core resort areas. The energy use required to heat those streets could be a sticking point for certification.

Some of that energy impact could be offset with future investments in alternative energy that might offset the fossil fuels used for the street-heating system, Langmaid said.

Encouraging efficiency and alternative energy use in new facilities, such as the planned neighborhood in the Chamonix Drive area of West Vail is another way to offset that existing use of fossil fuels, she said.

While Langmaid has questioned the environmental impacts of virtually every project she's seen as a town council member, she said the town, overall, "is doing pretty well."

Town of Vail Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia welcomes the effort to expand the community's sustainability efforts.

With the help of Walking Mountains and a task force made up of residents and homeowners, Bertuglia said "We're going to create a new standard for mountain resort communities."

The good thing about the certification criteria from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Bertuglia said, is how wide-ranging the program is.

"It truly is about sustainability, not just environmental action," Bertuglia said.

Good business, too

Bobby Lipnick is a longtime Vail homeowner who these days spends about half his time in town. He's a member of a residents' task force looking at sustainability issues in town.

Lipnick said he sees the certification effort as the start of the long-term process of making Vail a more sustainable place.

"It's extremely important that we plan for sustainable tourism," Lipnick said, adding that benefits include jobs, enhancing the tax base and improving the town's existing infrastructure.

Those efforts can offset some of the town's growth. But, Lipnick added, he believes the town should look toward more sustainable tourism numbers.

"I think a lower volume, and lower impact could bring a higher yield," he said.

Lipnick said his family in the 1970s owned a place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He's seen the effects of high-volume tourism there, and doesn't want to see the same thing happen here.

While the town has programs in place, projects such as energy offsets, or renewable energy installations in town will cost money. In the case of changing current systems, the bill could be substantial.

But in separate interviews, Langmaid and Bertuglia both said the certification is goal worth pursuing.

"It's an additional, third party verification to now just sustainable government but sustainable community," Bertuglia said. "We want the community to be excited about this."

Langmaid agreed, but added there's also a big-picture element to the effort.

"Climate change is here, and it's changing our landscapes," Langmaid said. "Vail depends on that climate for its existence. We need to our part in being a leader, and set an example for other communities."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.