Sustainability program nears ambitious goals
EAGLE COUNTY — Casey Zwaan travels a lot. His company, Beaver Divers, often takes groups to some of the most environmentally-sensitive places on earth. That’s why he’s trying to help the oceans by making some changes at his business in the mountains.
Beaver Divers is a participant in Actively Green 2015, a joint effort between the Vail Valley Foundation, the Walking Mountain Science Center and other partners to boost environmentally sustainable programs and projects in time for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. The program launched in 2013 with an ambitious goal — getting 100 local businesses trained and certified by the time the world comes to visit in February.
That goal was admittedly ambitious. And the effort may fall short, but not by much. At the moment, there are 27 certified businesses, with another 60 awaiting their certificates and window stickers. Walking Mountain’s Kim Langmaid said she’s thrilled with the results so far.
“I’m so inspired by the results so far — the community has really stepped up,” Langmaid said.
At first glance, Actively Green seems focused on improving recycling and energy use — fairly standard first steps. But, Langmaid said, there’s a lot more to the program. Beyond recycling and energy, Actively Green, which includes Sustainable Travel International as a partner, looks at what’s called the “three-legged stool of sustainability,” which includes economic, environmental and social elements.
Beyond looking at lighting, the program also includes social responsibility elements including volunteerism and philanthropy. And, of course, businesses have to turn a profit to be sustainable, too. That’s where energy savings can help the bottom line.
West Vail Liquor Mart is an Actively Green partner. There, owners Laurie and Tom Mullen have switched all of that store’s interior lighting to energy-efficient LED bulbs. Ronny Basak-Smith, the store manager who has helped coordinate the program, said much of the expense of the lighting switchover was covered by grants. The result is a big savings on the electric bill, Basak-Smith said. Further savings came from working to make the store’s many coolers more efficient.
Beyond the cost savings, a more energy-efficient store is a better place to work. Basak-Smith said the LED lights make the store noticeably cooler in the summer, too. And, he said, many store employees are paying more attention to things like being able to recycle their take-out lunch containers or even bringing reusable water bottles to work.
And there’s a noticeable effect on costs.
“Businesses can see that sustainability can be cost-effective,” Basak-Smith said.
Other, bigger participants are seeing even bigger cost savings. Hotels and condo complexes that change lighting and their laundry procedures can save thousands over time.
Beyond the savings, though, there’s the social element. Kristen Bertuglia, the town of Vail’s environmental sustainability director, said participating businesses have started forming a community, sharing ideas and practices. Veterans can help those who are new to sustainability practices.
Steammaster Vail already had several programs in place to monitor energy and chemical use. General manager Raj Manickam said that Actively Green training has helped focus those efforts.
Through monitoring and training, Manickam said the company is looking at new cleaning chemicals and has new procedures to better control what’s being used now.
“The business case is easy,” Manickam said. Reducing costs helps the business. “It will all pay off for us in the long run,” he said.
And Actively Green is focused beyond just the Championships.
The current program is part of a broader effort to have the entire valley recognized as a certified destination, Bertuglia said.
Zwaan said that’s something he looks for when planning and booking trips for Beaver Divers. It’s also affected how those groups traveled.
Not long ago, Zwaan learned that the highest point above sea level in Grand Cayman was the top of that island’s landfill. To help, groups now travel with their own reusable shopping bags.
For Zwaan, the ideas that small efforts can add up goes back to learning about the law of thermodynamics in college.
“Everything affects everything else,” he said. “We need to understand that.”
In Vail, Basak-Smith said he’s glad to see the Actively Green effort and how it’s affecting businesses, employees and customers.
“I’m glad Vail has jump-started this,” Basak-Smith said. “It’s about being more conscious of what you’re doing.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.