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Gaining the trust of greens

The Aspen Skiing Co. is slowly earning the trust of some of the biggest names in the valley’s environmental community after years of often strained relations.

The Skico established a Community Environmental Advisory Committee earlier this year to get an independent assessment of its “green” efforts. The committee is comprised of 13 experts, ranging from local growth-control architect and Rocky Mountain Institute consultant Michael Kinsley to Aspen Wilderness Workshop executive director and frequent Skico critic Beverly Compton.

“I have to say it’s time to put my guard down about the Ski Company,” said Compton.

Other members of the green committee include Randy Udall, executive director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency; the Aspen Wilderness Workshop’s Sloan Shoemaker; Pitkin County Landfill director Miles Stott; Aspen/Pitkin environmental health officer Lee Cassin; U.S. Forest Service Ranger Jim Stark; and Bob Schultz, a midvalley consultant and master activist.

Like Compton, Schultz said he didn’t view the Skico committee as an effort at corporate “greenwashing.” Instead, he thinks it’s a legitimate attempt on the company’s part to solicit opinions from the outside.

“I wouldn’t spend my time there if I didn’t think it was,” said Schultz.

He acknowledged he was skeptical when the bimonthly meetings began. He said “half of the people” probably attended the first meeting because of their high regard for Chris Lane, who resigned as the Skico director of environmental affairs last week after 3 1/2 years on the job.

“I thought I’d take my free lunch and that would be it,” Schultz said of the first green committee meeting.

But he’s been impressed by the quality of participants, the issues being discussed and Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell’s direct involvement.

The committee narrowed its focus on three issues: snowmaking and its effects on Snowmass Creek; development of the massive Base Village; and on-mountain ecology.

The Skico treats the committee’s advice “as part of what they’re trying to do rather than damage control,” said Schultz.

He reserved final assessment of the committee’s value for later in the process.

O’Donnell said he created the committee to tap into the members’ expertise and give them direct information from the company and as a way to introduce himself to leading enviros.

He acknowledged the committee could be a way to “roll the ball forward quicker by working together.” But he bristled at a suggestion it could be a masterful way for the Skico to neutralize criticism from environmentalists. It is no corporate “gyration” at greenwashing, he said.

Compton agreed. The people on the committee wouldn’t hesitate to speak out against the Skico in public if they disagreed with an environmental stand, she said.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to change Michael Kinsley’s mind. Certainly nobody’s going to change mine,” she said.

For example, a key issue for Aspen Wilderness Workshop is preventing the Skico from sucking Snowmass Creek dry for snowmaking during the critical months of October and November. AWW won’t back off that position, but Compton hopes the green committee can make progress on the issue.

Compton believes the Skico is taking legitimate steps to improve its environmental practices, despite a widespread community bias or suspicion.

“We’re convinced they can’t be different, but they can be,” she said. “This way of thinking will be there as long as Pat O’Donnell’s around.”


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