Valley aims for environmental alliances
EAGLE COUNTY – Aspen made a splash recently when it announced it was jumping into the global warming fray with its so-called “Canary Initiative” (see sidebar), but in Eagle County, the effort is a bit more localized. Even so, as in Aspen, officials here charged with environmental protection are beginning to eye a more comprehensive approach that encourages cooperation and sharing of ideas and resources.Currently, environmental initiatives in the Vail Valley – where they exist at all – are a hodge-podge of different projects and programs undertaken with varying levels of commitment and success. There’s no shortage of environmentally oriented groups, but they’re all over the map in terms of what their priorities are. While some are nature-oriented, others are more focused on a particular resource, like water. The valley lags in recycling efforts as well. In contrast to Summit County, whose recycling program successfully serves the whole county, local programs are broken up among different entities, with results varying from place to place.There are signs, though, that some coalescing is on the horizon. Experts may disagree on whether recent warm winters with lower snowpacks are due to global warming or natural climate change, but it may well be that green hills in February and 50-degree days in March are driving a push to make local environmental efforts more meaningful.”There’s a shift in that it’s become the new story,” said Matt Scherr, who heads the nonprofit Eagle County Alliance for Sustainability. “The story had been about the people who blow things up and burn things down, but now that we’re facing the end of cheap oil, when we’re walking out the front door and feel the impacts of global warming … everyone’s looking at it now, although it’s always been there.”
While the county commissioners have recently directed the community development department to start looking at how Eagle County addresses environmental issues, the town of Vail and Vail Resorts are talking about sharing information and, in some cases, resources. Luke Cartin, the environmental coordinator for Vail Resorts, has been working with Bill Carlson, environmental health officer for the town.”Aspen’s Canary Initiative is interesting,” said Cartin. “But what Bill and I are trying to do are more tangible, hands-on things. Right now, we’re in the preliminary stages of getting things up and running.”Not much is definite yet, but Cartin said one example of how the town and the resort are working together in green fashion is at the upcoming Teva Mountain Games in June. Just for starters, the games generate a great many empty plastic water bottles, all of which can be recycled.”We’re donating recycling containers and the town will empty them,” Cartin said. “I think people will start to see a lot of good coming from this.”Formalized trackingAt the town of Vail, Carlson says the next big step is being able to measure what they’re doing. To that end, the town is exploring ways to create an environmental management system – known familiarly as an “EMS.” The town is also looking to get certified under the International Organization for Standardization’s so-called “14001 protocol” (ISO 14001), which provides a series of environmental benchmarks as well as third-party certification and auditing.”The EMS process is continuous, not a one-time thing,” Carlson said. “It’s all aimed at tightening up management and stewardship of the environment.”Carlson said Aspen Ski Co. and Vail Resorts’ Grand Teton Lodge are both examples of organizations that are ISO 14001 certified. He said it’s important because it gives the town one set of rules to go by.
“It allows us to take all these programs done by various departments and bring it under one structured system,” he said. “It’s also a good way to formalize employee participation.”That participation – as well as from the public – he said, is critical because without it the effort cannot succeed. As both Carlson and Cartin note, the old model of environmentalism – doing it simply because it’s the right thing to do – is ineffective. Green initiatives need to make sense in an economic fashion as well, and it helps even more when there are tangible benefits for all to see. That’s where the tracking comes in. “We have our own EMS that tracks everything,” Cartin said. “We recycle about 70 tons per month on the mountain and save over 7 million gallons of water each year. “You can’t get those numbers if you don’t track,” he said. Collaboration & perspectiveWhile the town and the mountain work at their own joint approaches, Scherr at the Eagle County Alliance for Sustainability is looking at an even bigger picture for the county, as well as a more workable model for environmentalism.”If you try to talk to a rancher or a developer and say ‘I’m an environmentalist,’ they slam the door,” Scherr said. “You have to talk about ranching from another perspective, about changing some practices so they’re sustainable.”Scherr said the argument over what’s causing global warming is largely irrelevant.”It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s happening and it’s going to greatly impact us. What are you going to do about it?”
Beyond the big thinking on global issues, Scherr is in line with what Carlson and Cartin are saying about more tangible steps to take locally with buy-in from various parties.”The valley is at a particular point in its evolution and growth that it makes sense to look at valleywide functioning,” he said. “We’ve got a big, gooey ball of stuff to think about. I think the time is right to see which direction we should take. “The mission at some point is having sustainability inculcated in our culture – something that takes this tremendously complex subject of environmentalism and makes it mean something to each person,” he said. His mandate at the Alliance is not to look at things from a traditional, charity-driven environmental standpoint, Scherr said, but from one of business and entrepreneurialism. Having the Alliance be the countywide coordinator for recycling would be one example of that.”Environmentalism is not a religion, it’s an economic necessity,” he said. “I think most people around here are environmentalists, but they need leadership and initiative. The support is there; people are just looking for a wave to ride.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado