Aspen Skiing Co. reduced the amount of carbon emissions it produced in 2020 compared with the prior two years but the company’s environmental guru isn’t crowing about the accomplishment.
Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement, said reducing the carbon footprint is a worthy goal but not one Skico or any other company should be focused on.
Instead, he believes that companies must prioritise taking political action to influence government policy on global warming issues and get energy providers to commit more to renewable energy sources.
Schendler stated that sustainability reports such as the one Skico produces regularly are often a distraction from the larger issue. Skico attempted to Change thingsThis year’s report. It calls out the oil and gas industry for its role in global warming and features a section called “Hypocrites Unite!”
“The notion that a business like ours that has a large carbon footprint and operates luxury hotels can’t speak out on climate is precisely what the fossil fuel industry wants the public to believe,” the sustainability report says. “And they have been successful. The primary attack we receive when we speak out: You’re hypocrites. You use energy, too.”
In an interview this week, Schendler said calling ski resort operators hypocrites and trying to shame them into specific actions equates to “totally letting them off the hook.”
“We could respond to that criticism with efficiency, renewable energy credits and carbon offsets and not change any system — not change our utilities and not change our global systems,” Schendler said. “We’re calling that out, saying if you want to attack a ski resort then ask them to do the things that will solve the climate problem, not pretend to solve it.”
He hopes to bring unity to the larger environmental movement, so that there is a more cohesive approach to global warming than the divisiveness he feels is being used by oil and gas companies.
“There is a cluelessness, frankly, to the environmental community around climate where they are essentially giving resorts this easy way out,” he continued. “It’s easy as pie to buy cheap carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates and then they’d be like, ‘Oh, OK, I guess you’re not a hypocrite.’”
But there is “plenty of documentation” that carbon offsets — actions such as planting trees to make up for emissions — are useless, according to Schendler. The carbon is still being released into the atmosphere. The majority of electricity generated still comes from coal-fired power plants.
“We’re way past that,” Schendler said.
Skico’s 2021 Sustainability Report goes into detail about its lobbying efforts and political activism on climate. “Business as usual is putting us out of business,” the report declares.
Schendler points to Skico’s work with Holy Cross Energy, a cooperative that is a major supplier of electricity in the Aspen and Vail regions, as moving away from business as usual. Skico has been working since 2008 to get candidates electedFor the board of directors who support renewable energy initiatives.
Skico has also worked with the utility to develop renewable energy projects. This includes capturing methane in a former coalmine near Paonia, creating electricity, and feeding it to the grid. Holy Cross was at 44% of renewable energy at the beginning of 2021. It rose to 49% in November. It has experienced a Goal to achieve 100%By 2030
Skico has switched all the light bulbs in its facilities to LEDs and earned the environmental LEED-certification. It also retrofitted existing buildings to make them more efficient.
“We’ve done great stuff on the ground but it’s just not close to enough,” Schendler said. “The only thing that really mattered is that our utility got off coal.”
That has reduced Skico’s carbon footprint and will continue to do so.
Skico produced 24,686 tonnes of CO2 in 2020. This was partly due to the fact that the ski season was cut by approximately one month due to the lockdown at start of the coronavirus epidemic. The emissions were lower that the 25,557 tons and 24,593 tons produced by the company in 2019, respectively.
In 2020, nearly 48% of Skico’s carbon emissions were from electricity use and another 36% from burning natural gas. While electricity consumption is increasing each year, it is decreasing because Holy Cross is increasing its renewable resources.
Over time, Schendler hopes to drastically cut Skico’s natural gas use.
“We’re going to move to electrification,” he said. “When you heat buildings by natural gas, the way we do, they emit CO2 for their entire lifecycle. But if you go electric, they are going to get greener and greener every year.”
While Schendler is a proponent of political action — lobbying in Washington, joining litigation aimed to force policy change, staging events to engage the public — he is still proud of Skico accomplishments to reduce its carbon footprint.
Skico spent $30,000 on an electric pizza oven at Merry-Go-Round Restaurant, Aspen Highlands. It spent another $20,000 to change the building’s wiring to handle the load.
Another front is the conversion of its snowcat fleet for grooming and other tasks into high-efficiency models. Tier IV is the U.S.’s highest level for equipment that burns diesel fuel. But 17 of Skico’s 29 Prinoth snowcats achieve Stage V, a European standard that exceeds the highest U.S. level of efficiency. Next ski season, 25 of the snowcats will be in the high efficiency category, according to Skico’s sustainability report.
Despite such advancements, Aspen as a town and Skico in its role as operator of the ski areas will continue to face doubts about the environment due to the power-sucking mansions and private jets that dominate the area.
Schendler said that the skepticism was misplaced.
“It’s not Aspen’s role to self-flagellate,” he said. “We have private jets. This is part the global economy.
“It’s Aspen’s role to fix the whole enchilada because potentially we have power to do that,” he said. “So if we’re going to have private jets and (commercial) jets, we’re obligated to lobby for the big systemic fix — which would be a carbon tax, it would be more regulation of pollution from airlines,” he continued.
“You pick your policy path, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, pick it. We have to be putting our finger on that scale and if we’re not, then all the criticism is worthy.”