Learn from Vail? You’re kidding
August 21, 2006
I am surprised to see how misinformed The Aspen Times is regarding the differences between Aspen Skiing Co. and City of Aspen’s environmental efforts in comparison to that of Vail Resorts and the Town of Vail (“Aspen could learn a thing or two from Vail,” Aug. 11,) suggesting that ASC needs to “up the ante” to keep up with Vail.As an environmental engineer in the tourism industry for more than ten years, I can assure you that Vail Resorts and the Town of Vail continue to lag far behind Skico and the City of Aspen in their “green” initiatives.Let me explain.In years past Vail Resorts has received several significant fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for destroying wetlands, among other things. Skico has never received an environment-related fine.A few years ago Vail laid off its senior environmental affairs director. During this same period Skico hired yet more staff to its environmental affairs department.For years Vail Resorts has claimed it would actually build wind turbines on its mountains. It appears that was all marketing hyperbole, or as environmentalists like to call it, “greenwash.” I can only imagine that the recent wind power purchases of renewable energy certificates by Vail Resorts is their attempt to buy their way out of past environmental marketing claims. Skico has used wind power and renewable energy for almost a decade. It was the first in its industry to purchase 100 percent wind power for all of its operations and three years ago developed on-site renewable energy systems like micro hydroturbines and solar photovoltaic systems (the largest in the industry). Skico also uses clean-burning and renewable biodiesel in its operations.Vail has continued to expand its ski area terrain into sensitive forest habitats, while Skico voluntarily reduced its ski area permit boundary several times and also donated hundreds of acres of land in the valley for conservation.Buildings are responsible for close to half of this country’s greenhouse gas emissions. If a company or a town is not addressing that issue, then it is, for all practical purposes, doing virtually nothing. Vail Resorts and the Town of Vail both have yet to integrate significant sustainable design practices into their building codes. Has Vail Resorts constructed a US Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building yet? No.Aspen Skico has completed two LEED certified buildings so far, has integrated green design into its operations, and has retrofitted inefficient building systems and lighting with the most efficient technologies on the market.Additionally, Skico’s environmental affairs department publishes articles continuously in leading publications on the environmental issues facing mountain towns, from the Harvard Business Review, Urban Land Institute, and Journal of Industrial Ecology to ski publications and trade journals. When was the last time Vail Resorts authored a paper on “Climate Change in the Ski Industry” or “Industrial Ecology in the Tourism Sector” or “The Challenges of Green Design” as did Skico’s environmental department?Aspen Skico’s environmental affairs department is even the company’s own best environmental critic, admitting to mistakes made along the path toward more sustainable operations. Does Vail Resorts allow that transparency?Skico has a written environmental management system (EMS) that defines procedures that make its operations as environmentally sensitive as possible. This EMS is certified by an external third party to prove that it actually works. ASC has a grass-roots employee-run Environment Foundation that has donated close to $1 million specifically for local environmental projects. Do the Vail employees have any kind of say in environmental protection in their valley?Despite all the trophy homes, the City of Aspen has one of the most progressive energy codes in the country. It launched its Canary Initiative to address greenhouse gas emissions. It has a “no idling policy” for vehicles, its fleet vehicles includes hybrid cars. It funds the second highest ridership mass transit system in the state. It gives preferred parking for carpools and hybrid vehicles. And the list just goes on and on.Unlike Aspen Skico, Vail Resorts is owned by its shareholders who demand simply one thing – a return on profit. Sadly, protection of the environment is often an afterthought when a company is run by executives uneducated on corporate sustainability principles and whose bonuses are based merely on increased profit margins.I hope that in the future you don’t put Vail – either its ski company or the town – in the same league as the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. The “environmental cultures” of the two resorts and towns are just too disparate.While clearly Skico and the City have a long and bumpy road ahead of them on the road toward sustainability, they are hardly “resting on their laurels.”Chris Lane is a Basalt resident and former environmental affairs director for the Aspen Skiing Co. and current environmental affairs director in the tourism industry. Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page as a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624 or email email@example.com.
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