Skico settles actions with its ‘green’ reputation | AspenTimes.com

Skico settles actions with its ‘green’ reputation

The Aspen Skiing Co. launched an aggressive campaign Wednesday to reconcile its growth and development with its efforts to be an environmental leader.In the company’s latest “Sustainability Report” – an assessment of its environmental record and production of greenhouse gases – Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell confronted some critics’ claims that the company is hypocritical.The company has been making a splash with various environmental programs for years. This year is stepped up a notch: joining national litigation to reduce carbon emissions and undertaking an advertising campaign to direct attention to global warming.But at home, critics have questioned how a company can be a leader on global warming while building a huge new base village at Snowmass and expanding the ski area onto Burnt Mountain.The debate turned into a wordsmithing duel in the last week between Aspen Times columnist Roger Marolt and Skico Senior Vice President David Perry.Auden Schendler, Skico director of environmental affairs, said O’Donnell’s letter obviously wasn’t a response to Marolt’s criticism since the Sustainability Report has been in the production process for four months.

Schendler said he welcomes the scrutiny because it’s a product of the Skico’s accomplishments as an environmental leader. He wants to face questions about whether the Skico can do more for the environment rather than questions about can it do something.He noted that the Sustainability Report includes newspaper articles and letters to the editor that raise questions about some of its environmental policies. To avoid those topics, he said, would be like “ignoring the elephant in the room.”The criticism is almost entirely local, he noted. “Nationally we’re extremely well-regarded,” Schendler said.In O’Donnell’s introduction to the Sustainability Report, he tackles what he labeled “contentious” issues. He picked the Skico’s proposed expansion onto Burnt Mountain, construction of Base Village and its top executives’ use of some of the biggest gas-guzzling SUVs on the planet.O’Donnell said he and his staff concluded that the 2004-06 Sustainability Report couldn’t discuss accomplishments and ignore issues that the community and the Skico’s own employees were raising. “We said, ‘Why don’t we include some of these thorny issues and not duck them?'” he said.The report discloses that the Skico explained to Nissan this year that four of its executives could no longer drive the hulking SUVs, such as the Armada. O’Donnell said Skico officials were using 12 Audis in a prior sponsorship deal. Audi decided not to renew a contract two years ago, so Nissan stepped in.Nissan provided 12 vehicles, requiring exposure for several models. Four senior executives ended up with the largest SUVs, including O’Donnell: “It was a bad judgment call on our part,” he said.

O’Donnell acknowledged the choice in vehicles hurt the Skico’s image as an environmental leader.”We heard a buzz in the community and heard a buzz in our own employees,” he said.The Skico decided roughly five months ago to inform Nissan that its executives could no longer drive the biggest SUVs, contract or not. The automaker had no problem swapping them out, according to O’Donnell. So far, the company has exchanged three of the SUVs for Pathfinders, a smaller SUV. A fourth will be exchanged soon.Skico hotels will still use the SUVs because it doesn’t make sense to make more trips with smaller vehicles while shuttling passengers, O’Donnell explained.In another section of the letter in the Sustainability Report, O’Donnell defended the Skico’s plan to expand onto Burnt Mountain, on the east edge of Snowmass Ski Area.He claimed that the project is one of the most thoroughly studied in the history of the ski industry. As such, he wrote, it will have a negligible effect on the environment.

O’Donnell admitted there is “some merit” to questioning its expansion plan but that the argument is “reductionist – take it to its endpoint, and we would shut down. He added, “Aspen Skiing Co. is a business trying to minimize its enormous impacts, operating in a way that enables us to be sustainable. But we are still a business.”That’s the same theme Schendler has preached for years.”We’re not trying to be an environmental group,” Schendler said. “We’re trying to run our business in the least damaging way possible.”Base Village received less attention from O’Donnell. After describing the “sprawl posing as a mountain town,” he said something had to be done. “We had to fix it if we wanted to stay in business,” O’Donnell wrote. To read more about O’Donnell’s justification for Burnt Mountain and Base Village and more on the monster SUVs, visit http://www.aspensnowmass.com/environment and click on the Sustainability Report link.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.