Vail green forum: Employees the key to sustainability |

Vail green forum: Employees the key to sustainability

Scott N. Miller

VAIL, Colorado – Environmental initiatives may come from the top of the corporate ladder, but it takes rank-and-file employees to make them work.

That was one of the top messages from “The Big Green Think,” an Oct. 14 lunchtime panel discussion at Manor Vail lodge hosted by the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and the Vail Valley Partnership. The panel represented big and small businesses, as well as the academic world.

Luke Cartin, senior mountain environmental affairs manager for Vail Resorts, kicked off the discussion about getting employees to embrace environmental initiatives. Talking about a program to cut environmental impacts by 10 percent across the company, Cartin said employees were the key to hitting the company’s goals. People who make the lifts run and snow guns blow have been particularly important, Cartin said.

Another team used construction trash from the Ritz Carlton Residences to build much of the furniture at the Blue Sky Basin restaurant.

“If you can get the people on your teams to use their expertise, you’re going to knock efficiency out of the park,” Cartin said.

Vail restaurateur Kelly Liken said sometimes green projects have come from her staff. And, after several years in business in Vail, the restaurant’s staff now understands and agrees with the owners’ ideas about sustainability, she said. That means those people are going to come up with ideas and carry them through.

Like most fine restaurants, Liken’s place goes through a lot of wine, which mostly comes in bottles. That’s a lot of glass potentially going to waste, especially since there’s no room for a recycling Dumpster outside her Vail restaurant.

Employees essentially started their own “green team,” Liken said, so now people at the restaurant take turns taking the empty bottles to the community recycling center. The team was also instrumental in getting all bottled beer out of the restaurant – if a customer orders a beer these days, it comes from a keg.

Mercedes Quesada-Embid, professor of sustainable studies at Colorado Mountain College said it’s important for businesses to provide incentives to get, and keep, people involved in green programs.

“You need to show them when they’ve achieved,” said Janet Burgesser, environmental business assistance coordinator for the city and county of Denver.

Jason Yeash, the general manager of the Holiday Inn in West Vail, was in the audience for the event. Yeash has led an energy efficiency program at the lodge that’s resulted in some big savings on utility bills – more than $500 in September alone. He agreed that it’s essential to get employees’ help with green programs. But, he said, the commitment has to start at the top.

“Without an owner or manager on board, you can’t achieve any of this,” he said.

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