Aspen Skiing Companys Vision

The restaurant lighting story might lead you to believe that Aspen Skiing Company isn't all that progressive or may not really care very much about the environment and climate. But that's not true.

Aspen Skiing Company's environmental mandate is ingrained in the culture. We have a unique set of guiding principles that steer the company, and one of those principles is "stewardship of our mountain environment." This may sound froofy (so Aspen!), but employees can and do slap the principles down on the CEO's desk if we don't follow them. Our core purpose isn't selling lift tickets and hotel rooms, but "renewing the spirit." You can't renew people's spirit if you're destroying the environment, so that gives me, the environmental guy, a seemingly unlimited mandate. (At least that's how I interpret it.)

Many years ago I was at a cocktail party, and one of the owners of the company asked how our toilet retrofit program was going. At the time I wasn't even sure if he knew my name. Most toilets in Snowmass Village had been installed in the 1960s and used five gallons per flush. Swapping them out with 1.6-gallon models could not only save huge amounts of water but also protect Snowmass Creek, the town's water source. And yes, it was true: We had implemented a modest program to do just that.

As fascinating as that may be to the extreme fringe of the environmental community, it's perhaps surprising that ownership would care about it. Our owners either run or sit on the boards of multiple corporations with billions of dollars in market capitalization. They have other things to worry about. But not that night.

Support comes not just from ownership but from senior management and staff. Our CEO, Mike Kaplan, integrates environmental factors into every decision we make on our four ski mountains, two hotels, and golf course. (Recently he banged his fists on the table in front of senior managers and said that he was "extremely anxious" to move aggressively on energy efficiency.) Meanwhile, our company is built around appreciating the natural world. After big snowstorms, I have come to the office only to find an e-mail from Mike saying: "You are a loser if you don't go skiing today." My job— executive director of sustainability—is a senior position in the company. Our CFO, Matt Jones, is my friend; he and I drink bourbon together, and he's almost conspiratorial about protecting the environment, which is good, because he's the one who ultimately finances green projects. Meanwhile, on most days I get calls from some of our 3,800 winter staffers who offer suggestions, attaboys, gentle critiques, and ambitious proposals, from banning smoking in the lift lines to eliminating the toxic perfluorocarbons in ski waxes.5

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