Building Mountain Sustainability Awareness: A Ski Area Example

by Eric Smith

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Creating awareness of the importance of sustainable practices involving mountain communities, and of the importance of mountains to our world and to climate change is a huge task. Because we are located in mountain communities (AIMF in Aspen, Colorado and the Telluride Institute in Telluride, Colorado) we are always looking for close-to-home examples of good sustainability practices. While eco-tourism is one topic that merits consideration in the quest for best sustainability practices, it is but a small part of what must be a broad mission in building sustainability awareness.

The Aspen Skiing Company released its 10th Sustainability Report. It is a good example of what a commercial company can do to contribute to sustainable practices and to be part of an overall effort to make us aware of what the corporate sector can contribute. This company has been at the forefront of ski areas’ developing strategies to contribute to sustainability generally, and to battling climate change. Its efforts also assist in making opinion makers more aware of what individual companies can do and still maintain a successful business.

Some highlights of the company’s efforts include:

  • It has reduced its in-house carbon footprint from emitting an estimated 31,605 tons of carbon in 2000 to 28,805 tons in 2013 despite considerable growth of its business. Its carbon footprint was down 3% between 2012 and 2013.

  • The company has invested in renewable energy projects, not all of which directly reduce its in-house emissions, but which contribute significantly to an overall reduction in carbon emissions. It has built a small solar array producing 200,000kilowatts annually. The array powers a local school and the excess is sold back to the grid. It has built a micro hydro plant at one of its ski areas and has invested in a coal-mine methane plant that converts methane which would otherwise leak from the mine into electricity. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas producing 86 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide over 20 years, It then sells that electricity back to the grid producing a small profit for the company. Together, it estimates that these projects have prevented emissions of about 22,675 tons of carbon. This has reduced the carbon emissions of the local energy company by about 4%. It hopes to reduce its in-house emissions by 7 or 8% in 2014 most of which will be due to significant investments in more efficient snowmaking equipment.

  • The company has made major efforts to lobby the national government on the importance of reducing carbon emissions and on other matters that adversely affect the winter sports industry. It has made 8 visits to Washington DC since 2012. It helped pass the first air quality rule in a state (Colorado) that would regulate methane leakage from fracking. In its view, such leakage has the potential to more than counter the carbon benefits of using natural gas. It hopes this legislation will be a model for other states.

  • Its new buildings have all been built to LEED Gold specifications which are far above local codes. It also has developed strict energy codes for buildings it remodels. It has installed an energy monitoring dashboard and software in one of its hotels.

  • The company is increasing its purchase of local produce, contributes some of its employees to help run local schools more efficiently and provides funding for many local non-profits. It has established an Environment Foundation which collects contributions from employees, from the company itself and other local businesses to fund 425 projects protecting the local environment.

We plan to work with the company and with other ski areas in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere to duplicate and expand these kinds of efforts and to use this work to continue to raise awareness and share best practices within our community.