He went to Paris — and we’re glad

Mike Kaplan and Auden Schendler
Aspen Skking Co.

A couple of Wednesdays ago, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron popped into an Aspen Skiing Co. gift-wrapping event at the Limelight Hotel. Skico employees have been buying presents for needy families in the Roaring Fork Valley for the past eight years. We wrap them as a group in lieu of an annual holiday party.

The first thing Steve said when he glanced around the room was, “All of these people work for Skico?” Then we talked about his recent trip to Paris, where he had been at the invitation of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The pair hosted the Climate Summit for Local Leaders as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

At both events, some of those leaders, almost all of whom run cities many times Aspen’s size (some of them run countries), gave presentations and participated in panel discussions. Our mayor sat on some of the panels, talking about Aspen’s efforts to be a leader on environmentalism and climate. (At least one of the authors of this piece was deeply jealous of Steve’s opportunity to learn and share climate hacks on a global stage.) He explained how the city’s electric utility reached its goal of 100 percent renewable, how the Roaring Fork Valley built the largest rural mass-transit system in the United States and how our community is committed to reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Steve said that when the presentations wrapped up, a funny thing happened: A lot of people wanted to talk to him — and not to get a selfie in man fur with the king of Aspen. These leaders wanted to hear more about how we did it — how we achieved such environmental progress over the years. They were looking to Steve for advice and inspiration.

Recounting the experience, he sounded proud. It made us feel proud, too: Aspen is a small town with big values and ambitions, and it’s nice to hear that leaders from municipalities around the world recognize our accomplishments, particularly in the context of what was being attempted in Paris. Yande Dai, a main driver of environmental policy inside the Chinese government, chatting with our mayor about Aspen’s climate initiatives? That’s awesome.

When Steve came back home, a not-so-funny thing happened: He was promptly subjected to criticism for using some small amount of public funds — a “junket,” some called it — to attend what may go down as one of the most important conferences in history. Sadly, that kvetching has become a predictable refrain from a vocal minority in our town.

At Skico, we understand what it’s like to have values-driven efforts at progress and sustainability scrutinized for any potential hypocrisy. It’s unpleasant — and we’re well aware of the inherent contradictions in waving a green flag from the perch of an excessively resource-consumptive town. But it doesn’t diminish our desire or our responsibility to work toward a more sustainable version of our business, community and world.

We support the type of outreach and forward-thinking Skadron’s trip represents. We believe that Aspen can have a bigger impact than many much larger cities, thanks to our tremendous brand equity and recognition, not to mention the influence of our guests. Steve had the opportunity to share Aspen’s work as a sustainability lab on an international stage. It was perhaps his and Aspen’s greatest opportunity to drive change outside city limits on an issue that’s mission-critical to our future in the snow business. His trip can be seen as the culmination of the Canary Initiative’s goal of making Aspen an international leader and model on climate and Aspen’s long-term role as a shining city on a hill. Aspen as an agent for global progress is an idea that dates back to the Paepckes.

So to our mayor, we say, “Great job, thank you, keep up the good work, and don’t let the naysayers bring you down. We’ll keep trying, too.”

Mike Kaplan is CEO and Auden Schendler is vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co.