Aspen Times Weekly: Six movers & shakers in the environmental world
When it comes to protecting the environment, clichés are everywhere: “Earth Day, Every Day,” “Think Globally, Act Locally,” “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” … the list goes on and on. But for many Roaring Fork Valley residents, the desire to save the land they love drives their every move. So, as another Earth Day comes and goes, we decided to honor a half-dozen locals making a difference. We hope you’ll find their passion for the environment contagious and their calls to action inspirational.
MATT HAMILTON & AUDEN SCHENDLER
Aspen Skiing Co. has pulled off some noteworthy environmental feats to become a leader of its industry.
It worked with partners to build a plant that produces electricity from methane emitted from a coal plant.
It nurtured scores of ecological projects and organizations with grants through its employee environment fund.
It reduced its carbon footprint through vigilance in energy efficiency.
All those efforts are important to build the company’s credibility, acknowledged the company’s two-person environmental team — Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler and Manager of Sustainability and Corporate Contributions Matt Hamilton. But they aren’t overly impressed with what they have helped the company accomplish.
Climate change is “the issue of our time” so the company must add its voice to try to change policy in Washington, D.C., said Schendler.
“You’re not a green company if you’re not doing climate advocacy, period,” he said.
Skico is trying to use snow sports as a lever to drive change. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about as appealing as Spam in the eyes of many people in their 20s and 30s. So how can the company help make it at least slightly more visible and popular? By inviting EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during the Winter X Games and having her take pictures and record messages with many top athletes to demonstrate that the agency and activist athletes are on the same page.
Skico works extremely close with a nonprofit called Protect Our Winters on lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. POW harnesses the appeal of winter sports athletes like Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler and Chris Davenport to open doors of members of Congress that otherwise would remain closed.
Schendler is realistic about what the lobby efforts can accomplish. “You’re not convincing Scott Tipton to change,” he said of Aspen’s Republican Congressman. But getting immersed in environmental education fires up the athletes working on the issue and inspires them to find other avenues to spread the message, he said.
Hamilton and Schendler also spend a fair amount of time themselves traveling to Washington, D.C., on lobbying efforts. Aspen’s name draws attention, they said.
What frames the company’s work, Schendler said, is conservative estimates that the current path will result in the Earth’s temperature rising 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. “That ends Aspen,” Schendler said.
Dorothea Farris doesn’t consider herself an “environmentalist” despite following earth-friendly practices all her life.
Growing up in New Jersey during World War II made reuse, recycle and reduce a way of life, not a catchy slogan.
“Recycling was not a word,” said Farris, 79. “You used everything until it fell apart.
“The idea of recycling was an idea we lived with not something we had to be taught,” she added.
The former 12-year Pitkin County Commissioner, Aspen School District Board of Education member, and member of the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s governing commission has followed the same earth-friendly ethic as a 50-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley. She recalls protesting the first stop sign installed on Aspen’s Main Street. She traveled to Rulison, Colo., in 1969 to protest underground nuclear explosions in an experiment to loosen oil and gas reserves; the effort was organized by the late artist and activist Tom Benton.
During her 25 years in Woody Creek and 25 years in Carbondale, where she now resides with her husband Doug, Farris never advocated for preventing more people from moving to the Roaring Fork Valley. She’s advocated for them to live in a manner compatible with the valley’s environmental ethic and small-town way of living. Farris said her philosophy is simple — we need to protect this place where we all love to live. The concept can be applied on a larger scale.
“We better do it right because it’s the world we’re going to live in,” she said.
Farris was a founder of the Thompson Divide Coalition, a coalition of ranchers, hunters, anglers, wilderness advocates and people who partake in all types of outdoor recreation who wanted to prevent oil and gas extraction from expanding in an area southwest of Carbondale.
“In my time, it had been the first of its kind,” she said of the broad coalition. She remains on its board of directors.
Farris continues working various causes, prime among them is advocating for the federal government’s wild and scenic status for an upper stretch of the Crystal River, from the headwaters high in wilderness to the Sweet Jessup diversion between Redstone and Carbondale. It would ensure the Crystal would keep its unique status as one of the few rivers without a dam or trans-mountain diversion.
On the one hand, Nina Beidleman is like so many Aspen teenagers — she loves to ski and climb and explore the outdoors; she does well in school, keeps busy with extracurricular activities and is making plans for life after high school.
On the other hand, Beidleman is one-of-a-kind. As president of Aspen High’s Earth Club, Beidleman works tirelessly to protect the planet. She marches to her own drummer, which means sticking to her guns when it comes to the environment.
“Well, I think every day should be Earth Day,” said the 17-year-old Beidleman, who was born and raised in Aspen. “I think we should always be thinking about how what we are doing is affecting the world around us.”
Of course that’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to influencing her peers and the school system. But that’s exactly what Beidleman did when the Earth Club – under her leadership — was able to get the school cafeteria to switch from throw-away plates and silverware to reusables.
“It was a really big deal. It took a lot of work, and some people still don’t like it or get it,” she explained. “But it’s a great step forward.”
For her part, Beidleman has plenty of ideas for improving her school’s environmental report card. And she has plenty of ideas for ways to affect change beyond school walls.
“I’d love to save the world,” she said with a slight laugh. “But I know that all I can do is keep trying to do my part.”
Toward that end, Beidleman said she will continue working with the Earth Club; next on her to-do list is the creation of a sustainable garden outside the school.
And when her high school career comes to an end (Beidleman will graduate in 2016), this outdoorswoman sees herself remaining an outdoorswoman.
“I’d like to be a mountaineering guide — not just because I love the outdoors, but because I love teaching people about the outdoors and how important it is to us all,” she said. “I don’t see myself as an environmentalist, but I guess I am in some ways.
“I can’t imagine not being involved in outdoor pursuits and sharing that with others.”
Chris Lane is closing in on three years as chief executive officer of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. It would be tough enough to take the helm of a revered organization in a place like Aspen, where expectations are as high as the mountains. It was even tougher succeeding the highly respected Tom Cardamone.
Lane, the embodiment of frenetic energy, was up to the task. “When I was hired the board said, ‘We want you to make ACES even better than it is,’” he said.
Lane believes he and his staff have steered the environmental nonprofit in new directions. Rock Bottom Ranch in Emma is evolving into a model of sustainable agriculture in a way that is replicable by other organizations or people. There’s more to come. ACES secured a $240,000 grant to construct trails into the ranch and wildlife refuge from the Rio Grande Trail, add interpretative stations and restore wetlands. The ranch staff is also on a rapid growth kick in raising livestock — pigs and chickens in particular — and growing vegetables in greenhouses and gardens.
“We brought life back to that place,” Lane said.
ACES has also ramped up environmental education. It has 10 environmental educators operating programs in the schools of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. Lane labels the effort the “heart and soul” of ACES’ efforts. The program reaches 4,600 students, including a high number of Latinos.
Lane said the intent is clear — get them “hooked on environmental science.”
During his tenure, the organization has also integrated For the Forests, an independent environmental group working to maintain and restore forest health in the Aspen area. Under the ACES umbrella, the focus has included establishing an annual Forest Health Index, which uses scientific data such as snowpack levels and annual temperatures to gauge the state of the upper valley forest.
In essence, it measures the effects of climate change, Lane said.
In the near future, he said, the organization’s goal is to do what it does better. The top priority is to add quality to all of its programming. That’s saying something. Charity Navigator, a top analyst of nonprofits, rated ACES No. 1 in its class of environmental nonprofits.
On the world stage, Gretchen Bleiler might be best know for her snowboarding career. Rightly so — the Aspen native is an Olympic silver medalist and four-time X Games gold medalist.
But after years of chasing snow around the globe, Bleiler began to see the world with new eyes. She saw, first-hand, the effects of climate change.
“The outdoors has always been a big part of my life, so when I had the opportunity to travel the world, it became very apparent to me that winter was changing,” Bleiler said. “And it became very apparent to me that we had to talk about it — now.”
So with the same competitive spirit that landed her on so many podiums, Bleiler joined the environmental movement as an advocate for change. It is not a role she ever thought she’d fill.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be doing something like this,” said Bleiler, who currently sits on the board of Protect Our Winters (POW), where she joins other like-minded snow sport athletes and activists in lobbying those on Capitol Hill about the importance of a clean environmental future. “It was never something I was interested in; I never considered myself an environmentalist.
“But I realized that, as an athlete, I had a platform and could possibly affect change.”
In addition to her work with POW, Bleiler has used her influence to reach people on a grassroots level. She is host of the well-received “Hot Planet/Cool Athletes” educational video series, she speaks publicly often, and is an entrepreneur. With her husband, Chris Hotell, Bleiler launched ALEX bottle in 2010. A stainless steel reusable bottle, these bottles are unlike others on the market as they open in the middle for easier cleaning, retract for easy travel and storage, and are designed to work for people on the go.
“We saw a problem and wanted to create a product that supported a sustainable lifestyle,” Bleiler explained, noting that ALEX stand for Always Live Extraordinarly. “None of this was part of some greater plan for my life, but I think that’s the cool thing about my story – it’s all just unfolded based on my deep passion for the outdoors.”
In fact, Bleiler believes an organic approach to environmentalism might be the way to face what is currently an uphill battle: “If we follow where the energy takes us —keeping in mind the world we want for our children and their children and their children’s children — positive change is not just possible, it’s inevitable.”
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