Report blasts ski industry’s environmental efforts
DENVER (AP) ” The U.S. ski industry’s efforts to improve its environmental image and follow strict principles that value land, water and air are largely hollow and little more than a marketing ploy, according to a new study.
Professors Jorge Rivera of George Washington University and Peter de Leon of the University of Colorado at Denver say the National Ski Areas Association’s 4-year-old Sustainable Slopes Program is ineffective.
The two say the program lacks outside oversight and does not require its 175 ski resort operators to follow any specific environmental policies. They concluded resorts that follow the program actually have worse environmental records than resorts that don’t participate.
“This finding suggests that SSP members appear to be displaying free-riding behavior expecting to improve their ‘green’ reputation without actually implementing it,” Rivera and de Leon wrote in the study, published in the August issue of Policy Studies Journal.
The ski areas association launched the program in 2000 as a voluntary charter outlining environmental principles and guidelines ski resorts could use to save energy and natural resources, protect wildlife and habitat and educate guests on environmental stewardship.
Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association, said the organization considers the program a success.
“Regulations only help you avoid the worst, and a voluntary program like this can only bring out the best in terms of environmental compliance,” she told The Denver Post. She said 25 resorts in the program are purchasing “green” energy at an additional cost “because it’s the right thing to do.”
The study says specific environmental standards would gauge success. It also called for third-party oversight and sanctions for poor performance.
“It’s kind of like telling teenage boys: ‘OK, you have to be home by 11, but we won’t be checking,”‘ said de Leon, a professor of public policy.
The professors also say publicly traded companies that own the resorts are beholden to stockholders more concerned with short-term gains than environmental stewardship. And they said support from the Forest Service and Environmental Protection Agency lends unwarranted legitimacy to the program.
Auden Schendler, environmental affairs director for the privately owned Aspen Skiing Co., said there is a lack of incentives for the ski industry to elevate environmental stewardship.
“Voluntary initiatives really don’t work,” Schendler said. “Federal regulations work. When this program came out, we said, ‘Let’s at least give this the benefit of the doubt.”‘