Aspen Skiing Company: A Multifaceted Approach to Sustainability

Perhaps the most significant long-term impact on the natural environment was the decision by SkiCo to support Alternative D in the White River Forest Management Plan. Alternative D emphasized biodiversity over development and extractive uses, and would have significantly constrained any expansion of SkiCo activities in the National Forest. SkiCo was the only ski resort in Colorado to support this course of action. This alternative would clearly limit SkiCo’s development opportunities, but the company took a position unique in the industry in order to protect the resource base upon which its long-term health depends.

Being Green is Complicated
The impressive steps made by the Aspen Skiing Company indicate that substantial progress towards sustainability can be made quickly by a dedicated management team and committed workforce. At the same time, SkiCo’s experience also demonstrates that companies face a number of challenges in implementing such programs, including:
· Measuring Performance and Impacts. The company initially overestimated its solid waste generation by a factor of almost three. The company initially thought that it had reduced electricity usage in 2001 by several hundred thousand kilowatts. Once their accounting system became further refined, it turned out that energy use had not dropped as much as initially conceived. It will take another year to get an accurate measure.

· Organizational Inertia. Even in cases such as replacing inefficient light bulbs, which have a very high return on investment, managers may resist. For example, managers in the five-star Little Nell Hotel resisted replacing light bulbs in rooms because the light was not as flattering to guests. It took outside seed funding and careful applications in areas that would not adversely affect guest experience (such as lighting in the garage) to get management buy-in of the replacements.

· Difficult Tradeoffs. The construction of the earthworks in lieu of building a snow mountain for the half-pipe clearly impacts the natural landscape. It is much less resource intensive over the long run, but some observers object to any modification of the natural landscape. Similarly, their exotic weed control program requires the judicious use of herbicides. Again, there is a net gain for native habitat, but some complain about any herbicide use. In short, much environmental progress falls in the “three steps forward, two steps back” category.

· Cost. Not every environmental measure can be implemented at a profit. Some programs – such as environmental education, wind-power purchases, and use of recycled paper – simply cost more. It is difficult to create the political will for such programs in a challenging economic climate.

· The Broader Economic and Social Context. SkiCo has significantly improved its environmental performance. Yet many of its impacts are essentially beyond its control. As a destination resort, most of its guests fly in from afar, consuming large amounts of jet fuel. By making Aspen a more attractive place to live and visit, the company indirectly adds to pressures on housing prices and congestion. A fundamental question, therefore, is how SkiCo’s impacts would compare with alternative growth strategies, and how companies might mitigate some of these indirect impacts.

The Benefits the company sees are:

To Aspen Skiing Company:
· Enhanced reputation among environmentally-aware customers.
· Improved profitability from cost-effective measures.
· Higher staff morale by providing ways to improve their environment.
· Improved ability to attract and retain quality staff in a competitive industry
· Expanded media coverage.
· “License to operate,” in the form of improved relationship with the community, local government, and regulatory agencies.
· Reduced risk of fines through violations of environmental regulations.

To Local Communities:
· Improved local environmental conditions.
· Opportunities to participate in decisions through the advisory group.
· Reduced traffic congestions from private vehicles by providing bus passes to employees.
· Reduced impacts on local real estate prices via the provision employee housing.
· A potentially powerful partner in community sustainable development (i.e., SkiCo supports local affordable housing, mass transit, rail planning, etc.).
· An environmental resource for the community. (The Environmental Department gets many calls on a broad range of issues from the community.)

To Customers of Aspen Skiing Company:
· Better prospects for long-term sustainability of the resort as a desirable vacation destination
· A good feeling about the company they are patronizing and a sense that they are doing the right thing themselves by coming to a green resort.

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For more information about Aspen Skiing Company or for copies of their Sustainability Reports, please contact:

Auden Schendler, Director of Environmental Affairs
Aschendler@aspensmowmass.com
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Ed Sanders is a consultant with the Center for Sustainable Tourism.
The Center for Sustainable Tourism in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado/ Boulder advances the state of academic research on how to make tourism sustainable. It focuses and communicates the results of that research to make it as relevant as possible to businesses, planners, and communities in Colorado, the nation and the world. It also helps st
udents in the Leeds School of Business to better understand the challenges facing the tourism business in the context of broader sustainability issues, trains them for careers in tourism business management, and helps them find internships and jobs in the industry.




This article is from the Best Practices database of Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel (BEST) , a SustainableBusiness.com Content Partner. BEST is a program of the Conference Board.

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