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Flexing new political muscle, the outdoor industry unites for a historic push against climate change

In Denver, an alliance of ski and outdoor organizations resolves to tackle “the most pressing environmental issue of our time”

A panel at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show on Wednesday led by Matthew Banks, left, the associate director of energy and sustainability for Navigant, included, l-r, Cam Brensinger, founder of NEMO Equipment, Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, Patricia Campbell, president of Vail Resorts, and Phil Weiser, newly elected Attorney General for Colorado. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The outdoor industry blared a first-ever unified battlecry against climate change on Wednesday.

Kicking off the annual Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in downtown Denver, three of the industry’s largest trade groups announced the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership. The alliance of Boulder’s Outdoor Industry Association, SnowSports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association will not only encourage their thousands of members to embrace a lighter carbon footprint but will use its surging political clout to encourage policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy at state and utility levels.

“Without a doubt, climate change is something that needs attention from all of us,” said Nick Sargent, the head of SIA, the non-profit, member-owned trade association that represents thousands of snow sports suppliers and retailers. “It is truly the most pressing environmental issue of our time.”

Wednesday’s call to arms urged the thousands of businesses that feed the country’s $887 billion outdoor recreation economy to lead a movement against a warming climate that threatens livelihoods and lifestyles.

OIA, which represents 1,300 outdoor manufacturers, suppliers and retailers, has spent the last decade assembling tools to help its members reduce their environmental impacts. By partnering with NSAA and SIA, the group now hopes to begin pushing for state and federal climate legislation. It’s a confident step into the political realm for an industry that is relishing its political muscle as one of the country’s most vibrant economic engines.

“Now is the time to offer action and every one of us to figure out how we are going to make a difference,” said Kelly Pawlak, the head of Lakewood’s NSAA, which represents more than 300 ski resorts and 400 businesses that supply those resorts. “Warming is happening faster than we expected, and the impacts are going to be greater. The time for climate action is now.”

Patricia Campbell, the president of the 18-property Vail Resorts, said: “Climate change is the biggest threat facing our community today.”

She pointed to her company’s 2017 commitment to have zero net carbon emissions, send zero waste to landfills and have a zero net operating impact on forests by 2030 as her company’s industry-leading strategy to protect the environment.

“We have a unique and special obligation to do the right thing by the environment,” she said.

MORE: Read more environmental coverage from The Colorado Sun.

State ski resort trade groups across the country joined the national groups on Wednesday with a promise to advocate for climate solutions.

“Pursuit of climate change solutions is a defining issue for ski areas across the United States,” reads a first-of-its-kind statement on Wednesday from Colorado Ski Country, Ski Utah, Ski California, Ski Vermont, Ski Areas of New York, Ski New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. “Many meaningful solutions are possible with action at the state and regional level. As economic drivers in our respective states we urge policy makers to understand that we can’t wait for lasting, bipartisan action to reduce carbon emissions, promote energy innovation and support a rapid, responsible transition to a clean energy economy.”

The groundswell from snowy states and businesses comes as the federal government backs away from legislative support to limit carbon impacts on the climate.  Jon Goldin-Dubois, the president of Colorado’s Western Resource Advocates, works across seven states to encourage state-level action on climate change. His focus is on air quality commissions and public utilities like Xcel Energy, which is closing two coal-fired plants in Colorado and aims to provide carbon-free energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and hydropower by 2050.

“The industry is coming together on strategic advocacy,” Goldin-Dubois said of the push to persuade utilities and air quality commissions to embrace carbon-free policies in light of  federal inaction. “That is the next frontier. We know what the goal is. We know exactly what we need to do.”

Colorado’s new attorney general, Phil Weiser, a Democrat who replaced Republican Cynthia Coffman, received rousing applause as he outlined his intention to withdraw Colorado from a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Obama Adminstration’s Clean Power Plan.

“Instead, we’ll be on the side supporting it,” said Weiser, adding that he would join two other multistate lawsuits — one blocking the Trump Administration’s plan to roll back car mileage standards and another protecting the right of individual states to impose higher-than-federal mileage standards.

“The rule of law requires a response to climate change. I will fight for that,” Weiser said.

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s pioneering vice president of sustainability, has spent years lambasting the ski resort industry for its lukewarm support for climate change legislation. On Tuesday, speaking on a panel in Denver, he said it was “outrageous” that resort tradegroup NSAA had never advocated for climate legislation.

On Wednesday, he applauded the alignment of the national and state trade organizations, noting that the diverse interests of trade groups have long prevented strong political action on climate.

“I can guarantee you there are people who are not happy but it’s time. At some point you have to lead the industry; you can’t let the industry lead you,” Schendler said. “The question now is what kind of resources and staffing these trade groups will put behind these efforts.”

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