Aspen aims to be environmental leader

Steve Benson
Special to the Daily/Paul ConradAspenite Chris DeLuca plows through the powder on Jackpot.

ASPEN – Just how green is the Aspen Skiing Co.? It’s a question the company is asking itself these days. Despite receiving a host of environmental awards and distinctions in the past year, the company officials say they can do better. The company released its fifth annual “sustainability” report last week, which is a detailed update on the its environmental impacts and what it’s doing to address those issues. In the report, the Skico’s director of environmental affairs, Auden Schendler, suggests the company needs to deepen its environmental policies, not just to boost its own credibility, but to further influence local and global change. “We’re sort of walking our talk,” Schendler said. “Really what we do doesn’t matter … we have to do it to be credible. What matters is the political change we drive.”

The company has been considered to be at the forefront of environmentally friendly practices in the ski industry for years. The energy efficient design of two of its buildings has been certified by an environmental organization, a first in the ski industry. Part of the company’s energy comes from wind power, and all of its snow cats run on environmentally friendly bio-diesel. Aspen/Snowmass was also the first resort to announce a policy to protect the climate. In the past year, Aspen/Snowmass was ranked the top eco-ski resort in North America by Plenty Magazine and received the Mountain Sports Media Golden Eagle Award for environmental excellence in the ski industry (the Skico’s fourth such award).While Schendler said he is proud of the projects that garnered such recognition, he refers to them as “project-level green.” Now, he wants the company to strive for systemic-level green, or “deep green” policies, he said. “We’ve started looking at big-picture change programs,” he said. “Yeah, we built the sundeck and it was green, but we have buildings that are energy hogs.

“If you really cared, wouldn’t you figure out a way to run the buildings more efficiently?” The company sent three of its lead building operators to a weekly, six-month course on resource efficiency to reduce energy consumption. Schendler said the Skico also aims to change corporate practices by awarding contracts to companies with green reputations. By doing so, it sends a message to other company’s aspiring to do business with the company that they need to meet certain green standards in order to be considered. Schendler hopes the approach will create a domino effect, he said. The theory was recently put to use with one of the company’s new buildings. Three companies were bidding to furnish the facility, with Herman Miller Furniture getting the contract because of its practices were considered environmentally friendly. Schendler said one of the other bidders, which is green in its own right, wondered why they were passed over.

“In response, [we] sent them our analysis,” Schendler wrote in the sustainability report. “That business is now motivated to further improve its green credentials, driven by a profit motive.” The Skico’s innovation has apparently caught the attention of ski resorts around the globe. About a year ago, Alta, Utah, completed its first sustainability report, inspired by the Aspen’s model. Schendler said Alta’s general manager, Onno Wieringa, contacted him and said, “We copied a lot of your ideas and were proud to have this report, but we hope you don’t mind.” Schendler was also recently contacted by a collection of ski resorts in Australia, and will be traveling there in April to guide them through a hands-on workshop. “They said, ‘We’d like you to come down and we’ll pay your expenses and consulting fee to teach us,'” Schendler said. “It’s interesting because Australian climate models suggest they’re in trouble … and they’ve been sort of in denial. They’re further behind even than the U.S. ski industry.” Vail, Colorado

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