Skiing and snowboarding season is definitely here! There's even more excitement around the slopes than a typical January, what with all the snow and cold weather so much of the northern hemisphere has been having, and with the Winter Olympics just weeks away in Whistler -- sorry, Vancouver. As an avid snowboarder myself, I'm proud to say that the industry has come a long way toward decreasing its impact on the planet, even in the past few years since I last covered this topic. This is a very good thing, because global warming can mean less of the white stuff.
I've long been a fan of the green ethics espoused by pro snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones, in the pages of Snowboarder Magazine and elsewhere. Yesterday I got to hear more from a sustainable ski industry expert who is working on some pretty exciting projects with Jones. The small "Gotham Goes Green" event brought together reps from eco-conscious movers and shakers in the ski and outdoor gear worlds, together with journalists, on the (enclosed) rooftop of the Empire Hotel in NYC. We watched a brief excerpt from the advocacy film Generations: A Skiers' and Snowboarders' Perspective on Climate Change, made by Teton Gravity Research and Protect Our Winters (POW, the climate change advocacy group statrted by Jeremy Jones -- dig that iconic photo on their homepage sad right?). According to Generations, in 2003, the world's highest ski area was permanently closed due to loss of its glacier. A whopping 47 Alpine resorts didn't open in 2007 due to climate change, with average temperatures up.
"In the West, especially in California, snow is the most important resource, because it provides water," one of the experts in the film said. So it's not just about sliding down mountains as fast as you can. Ski resorts might not be the world's most inherently green destinations, but they also could be a lot worse (mining, logging, suburban development, etc.). The issues that effect ski towns intersect with other land use problems, including water use, and spending time outdoors can be a transformative way to reconnect people with our planet.
"The ski industry recognizes that climate change is a major threat," Christina Thomure told the crowd after the film ended. Thomure is the director of sustainable operations for Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming and serves on the Yellowstone Business Partnership's Framework for Sustainable Development and Transportation committees. She is also on the Protect Our Winters board as the liaison to ski resorts. Thomure, a former ski bum who has spent a decade working in sustainability issues, pointed to the latest science, which predicts warmer winters, reduced snow pack and, in many areas, less water (which makes it harder for resorts to make snow). Aspen could rise by 14 degrees by the end of this century, she said, and by 2075 Park City could loose a third of its snow days.
In response, the ski industry set up the Sustainable Slopes project in 2002, through the National Ski Areas Association, "and it has really evolved from there," said Thomure. More recently, the Keep Winter Cool campaign was launched by the industry, in partnership with NRDC. As a result, many resorts have installed renewable energy projects and taken other practical steps to address climate change (see a detailed list of green projects). Thomure pointed to Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, where the wind turbine they recently installed now provides a third of the resort's energy needs. Park City has a Save Our Snow action plan. Whistler is reducing emissions by 5% a year, "helped by the weight of the Olympics." As part of the renovations the epic ski area is setting up microhydro generators.
Thomure's own Grand Targhee Resort was honored with the 2009 Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence, for becoming the first business in North America to become Climate Registered through the nonprofit Climate Registry (for reporting and third-party verifying of a yearly greenhouse gas inventory). The resort's goal is to reduce emissions 19% below 2007 emissions by 2020. According to Thomure, the ski industry now buys 300 gigawatts of emissions credits, and has implemented other measures to reduce waste and curtail idling. The sector has built and retrofitted green buildings, provided incentives for public transportation and carpooling, used alternative fuels for vehicle fleets, and wrote a joint letter in support of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill.
Thomure added that POW is representing the winter sports industry in addressing climate change on a grassroots level. The group has given $150,000 in grants to local initiatives that have immediate impact. She said that the outdoor gear industry is also working hard to reduce environmental impact and waste (more on this soon in this space).
"Climate change, like poverty, job loss and many other issues, is rooted in a deeper problem, which is the way business has been run the past few decades," said Thomure. "All of these can be addressed by greater sustainability." Thomure outlined her vision for a "new, new economy, our only option if we want to sustain life on this planet." She briefly talked about the triple bottom line -- people, profit, planet -- and said, "If every business can pull this off we could save the world. The best part is, this is a conservative idea. Instead of being regulated by government, it is the free market that drives change," she said. Thomure pointed to innovation happening in the areas of cradle to cradle thinking (using compost and bioheat at ski resorts), biomimicry (such as generating color through butterfly-style reflectance instead of paints), systems thinking and organizational knowledge.
"The ski and outdoor industries are uniquely positioned to lead in sustainability. We operate with nature, and are inspired by it," concluded Thomure.
Chris Dickey, on hand to do public relations for Teton Gravity Research (the Jackson, Wyoming-based action sports film company that made Generations), explained that the film is available free online, including as free downloads on iTunes and elsewhere. "Climate change has lost a lot of momentum with the economy, so this movie is germane because it talks about climate change from a cultural perspective, not a numbers perspective," Dickey told The Daily Green. "It brings it close to home. It shows the threat of loosing winter, of people not being able to make snowmen, and ski and snowboard and do the things they love." Dickey said the film is being shown on Capitol Hill on Jan 27th.
So if you are a rider or a skier, make sure you do your part to reduce the environmental impact, so we can all have winters to enjoy for the future (and so we have enough clean water and wildlife habitat, too). Shred on!
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