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Whistler's example leads to greening of new corporate parent

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 8/4/2017 10:27:00 AM

Inspired by the environmental policies of its most recent acquisition, mountain resort operator Vail Resorts has committed to reducing its effective net environmental footprint to zero by 2030.

Colorado-based Vail, which acquired British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb resort in October 2016 for $1.4 billion, says it will follow and expand upon Whistler Blackcomb’s example by reducing net carbon emissions to zero by 2030, waste-to-landfill to zero by 2030, and net operating impact to forests and habitat to zero.

That’s a tall order for a company that operates resorts, winter and summer, cut into mountainsides around the world, but the company promises to report on progress in its annual sustainability report, beginning with its report for the fiscal year ending July 2018. It is also working with several third-parties — Ceres, Rocky Mountain Institute, RE100, the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service — to track its progress.

Since 2000, Whistler Blackcomb has reduced its waste by more than 70%. In 2010, it installed a run-of-the-river micro hydro plant in Fitzsimmons Creek, beneath the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, that returns to the grid the equivalent of Whistler Blackcomb's annual electricity demand.

Vail intends to take Whistler Blackcomb’s success and improve upon it at its 14 resorts in Canada, the United States and Australia. It calls its plan “Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint,” and its elements include:

  • reducing the company's electricity and natural gas use by another 15% (it’s already down by 19%), in part by investing $25 million in energy-saving projects, such as low-energy snowmaking equipment, green building design and construction, and more efficient grooming practices and equipment
  • offsetting its electrical energy use with the purchase of 100% renewable energy
  • investing in programs such as tree planting to offset the use of other types of energy (e.g., gasoline and diesel)
  • improving recycling and composting
  • minimizing or eliminating the impact of any future resort development
  • planting or restoring an acre of forest for every acre of forest displaced by the company's operations.

In addition to the very ambitious zero-footprint target for 2030, Vail Resorts is also setting interim goals: a 50% reduction in its emissions by 2025, based on 2016 levels, and diverting 50% of waste by 2020.

Vail Resorts’ promise may provide a competitive advantage. Via e-mail, Martha Honey, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), tells EcoLog News “CREST sees the consumer and industry market for sustainable tourism, including reducing the carbon footprint, growing.” According to CREST’s 2016 annual report, travellers are coming to expect sustainable practices at tourism businesses in the same way as they expect free Wi-Fi.

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