Vail recognized again for sustainability work |

Vail recognized again for sustainability work

Town recertified under ’Mountain IDEAL’ standard

The town of Vail has been recertified as a sustainable destination.
Jack Affleck/Special to the Vail Daily

Following a rigorous audit process in late 2020, Vail has been recertified as a sustainable destination under the Mountain IDEAL standard.

This achievement builds upon the initial certification in 2017, when Vail become the first certified sustainable destination in the United States. The Mountain IDEAL standard is recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and is a sustainability standard specific to mountain resort communities. The certification was awarded through Green Destinations.

Led by Vail’s Destination Stewardship Council and Steering Committee, the collective efforts of community stakeholders showed continuous improvement on the 44 sustainable destination best practices covering themes including community planning, visitor use, stakeholder engagement, emergency response, cultural and natural heritage preservation, and environmental conservation. Some highlights include the creation of an attraction protection plan and a monitoring plan for the top attractions in Vail, development of a register of risks for the Vail destination, and the creation of the cultural heritage committee to preserve, enrich and sustain the cultural and historic legacy of Vail. Melissa Kirr, senior programs director of sustainability at Walking Mountains Science Center, shared, “It has been wonderful to see how much progress the destination has made in sustainable initiatives since starting this journey of global certification in 2015.”

Where it began

The journey to certification began in 1966 when protection of open space was written into the Vail Town Charter. Building on the charter, the creation of the Vail Nature Center and Preserve in the 1970s, and the 1% real estate transfer tax in the 1980s improved parks and open space for recreation opportunities that further supported environmental sustainability practices. The conversation around sustainable tourism started in earnest in 2013 while planning to host the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Local stakeholders, led by Walking Mountains Science Center and town of Vail, worked to implement the Actively Green Business Training and Recognition Program designed by Sustainable Travel International.

Hundreds of businesses participated in the training and dozens were certified. The next step was to focus on destination planning, development, and management best practices. This led to the creation of the Mountain IDEAL Standard, an internationally recognized set of destination stewardship best practices for resort, rural, recreation, and gateway communities.

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Certification requires continuous collaboration between diverse stakeholders including town of Vail, Vail Resorts, the U.S. Forest Service, Walking Mountains Science Center, Vail Recreation District, Holy Cross Energy, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and other entities including Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail Valley Mountain Trails Association, Vail Chamber and Business Association and Vail Valley Partnership.

The collection of stewardship policies, programs, and activities from all stakeholders were rigorously audited by an independent third party and certification was awarded by Green Destinations.

Another certification

The recertification focused heavily on Vail’s COVID-19 response. In light of the challenges faced, the Vail destination quickly responded to the pandemic and began recovery efforts to adapt, support local community members, and reboot Vail’s business economy, bringing vitality, tourism, and economic drivers back to the valley with public health and safety at the forefront.

It was clear Vail’s earlier commitment to sustainability management systems better prepared it to respond to impacts of the pandemic.

Other recent achievements include the town’s commitment to restoring the water quality of Gore Creek, implementation of the Actively Green Sustainable Business Certification Program, which has over 220 businesses engaged and 64 certified, implementation of Vail Valley Mountain Trails Association Trail Ambassador and town of Vail Trail Host programs, Holy Cross Energy’s 100X30 plan to provide 100% renewable energy by 2030, and Vail Resorts’ ambitious commitment to a zero net operating footprint by 2030. In 2020, Vail was also awarded the Best in Americas designation through Green Destinations and ITB Berlin for its continued improvements in waste reduction, now with a 29% recycling rate. Through support of Green Destinations, Vail also developed a Good Travel Guide to provide sustainability information to visitors interested in traveling to sustainable destinations around the globe.

For more information on Vail’s Sustainable Destination certification and other sustainability initiatives, contact Beth Markham, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator at 970-479-2333 or For more information on the Mountain IDEAL standard, visit Walking Mountains Science Center’s Sustainability webpage.

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