I have been an avid skier and environmental engineer for the past 40 years here in Colorado. Skiing was one of the reasons why I moved to Colorado. In a Jan. 5 guest column in the Colorado Sun, I was initially happy to see the ski resorts recognize the importance of addressing climate change. It appears that a collective of ski areas (Alterra, Boyne Resorts, POWDR and Vail Resorts) have established the Mountain collaborative for Climate Action, which they are calling the Mountain Collab.
After reading the column, it feels more like a slanted public relations stunt without any real substance. I have questions and concerns about the collaborative and the vague climate action strategy:
The Aspen Skiing Company has been a national leader in establishing a strong ski area climate-change and sustainability program. Why hasn’t the Aspen Ski Company joined Mountain Collab? I am sure they would have some climate change insight and lessons learned to share.
The collaborative mentions a commitment to protecting and preserving our environment and has defined three pillars of action: energy, waste, and ecosystems. The collaborative fails to mention a specific plan to address these “pillars” that could be developed and open to public review.
The collaborative fails to mention any specifics on the magnitude of reductions of their individual and collective carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emission. The reductions should be aggressive, open to accountability to the public and customers, and consistent with the State of Colorado carbon emission reduction requirements.
Regarding energy, does the collaborative pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030? Is there an agreement that all collaborative members will use 100% renewable energy? Are there plans for energy conservation at the ski areas? Will the collaborative members purchase electric buses and maintenance vehicles? There needs to be specifics on what the collaborative proposes to do about energy usage and reducing the carbon footprint.
It is not clear how waste management fits into the climate change action. The collaborative supports reduction, recapture, reuse, and recycling; again, it does not mention specific targets for waste reduction.
The collaborative mentions the Bottle Loop program to recycle plastic. First, the recycling of plastic drink bottles back into other plastic drink bottles is not practical and not feasible under existing recycling and waste management practices. Extensive plastic collection, segregation, transportation, and recycling technology would be needed and is not available at mountain areas or other places in the country.
It is important to realize that recycling will not solve the plastic management problem; significant reduction of plastic usage is the key. It is interesting to note that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are partners with many of the collaborative members and that these beverage companies are the most plastic polluting companies on the planet. It is not clear how the Bottle Loop program really mitigates climate change.
Starting in 2023 the collaborative members say they will advocate federal, state, and local levels for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is not clear exactly what legislation they are focusing upon and how they propose to advocate. Most of the collaborative members have been silent when greenhouse gas emissions were legislated in Colorado over the past few years. Is the collaborative proposing new state and federal legislation?
The collaboration claims it will also advocate for policies to update current recycling infrastructure. The recycling rate in Colorado is only between 15% to 16%, which is far below the national average of 32%. No advocacy-based plan is mentioned by the collaborative to improve recycling rates. The best approach is not to purchase and sell less plastic bottles and packaging at the ski resort in the first place. The collaborative needs to recognize that recycling will not solve their plastic management problem. Ski customers need to be directed and provided reusable materials such as coffee cups and water containers and eating utensils. Does the collaborative propose to give local municipalities funding to improve recycling?
Finally, the collaborative says it will work together with elected officials and community leaders to protect our natural ecosystems. I assume that this means financially supporting local, state, and federal programs to reduce the impacts from climate change. What protection action the collaborative is proposing or currently supporting? Do they support the 30×30 Initiative, which is a national goal to protect 30 percent of America’s land and oceans by 2030 as proposed by Sen. Michael Bennet? Are there plans to conserve water at the resorts and/or give additional water rights for increased instream flows?
I really want to believe that the collaborative is sincere about its climate change concerns and how the operations of its members will be improved to reduce their carbon footprint. The information and opinion provided by POWDR, Boyne Resorts, Alterra, and Vail is so vague it feels like a public relations stunt or worse, greenwashing to the unknowing public.
We as the Colorado ski community need to make the collaborative accountable for their stated climate actions.
Art Hirsch, of Boulder, is an environmental engineer.
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