Turning the Ski Slopes Green

  • Ski resorts are one of a growing number of businesses trying to be more sustainable (Photo by Baileypalblue, source: Wikimedia Commons)

Back in February, President Obama proposed $150 billion to employ people in “green collar jobs.” The idea was to create jobs that benefited the environment. But he also wanted to boost the economy. A ski resort wanted to be one step ahead. So it hired a new employee to help its 2,500 acres “go green.” Irene Noguchi reports:

Transcript

Back in February, President Obama proposed $150 billion to employ people in “green collar jobs.” The idea was to create jobs that benefited the environment. But he also wanted to boost the economy. A ski resort wanted to be one step ahead. So it hired a new employee to help its 2,500 acres “go green.” Irene Noguchi reports:

(sound of rustling cans)

Ross Freeman crawls into a giant recycling container. His legs are sticking out.

He holds a long rake and shuffles the cans inside.

“We actually fill this thing up to the brim with recycling. Ends up being 2,000 or 2,500 pounds of recycling we send off the mountain every 10 to 12 days.”

(sound of mixing cans around)

This is part of his job. Ross Freeman is the eco-steward at Stevens Pass. It’s a ski resort tucked in the Cascade Mountains in Washington state.

His official title is “Environment and Sustainability Manager.” Stevens Pass created that position last year, when it wanted to make itself more eco-friendly.

John Meriwether is director of planning and environmental services at the resort. He’s worked here for 16 years.

“The ski industry has changed a lot. And really, the biggest change I think is them realizing how much global warming is affecting their business. The industry as a whole makes a lot of snow and one degree difference in the climate can change that.”

Meriwether says ski resorts are pushing more money into fighting global warming.

Stevens Pass pledged to offset all its emissions with energy credits. It’s the only resort in the Pacific Northwest that does this.

Ross Freeman’s work is on the ground. He drags out furniture that can’t go in the landfill. He recycles rubber wheels from the ski lifts.

“Then the next moment I’m up in the office designing a policy for vehicle idling, then I’m applying for grants, applying for industry awards, then I’m out in the food and beverage world, talking to cooks and chefs in the kitchens to figure out how we can be more efficient and waste less food.”

All this is part of the resort’s efforts to meet the national “green” standards. The National Ski Areas Association has 21 environmental guidelines it wants resorts to follow. It’s called Sustainable Slopes. The Ski Association says 190 resorts endorse it, including Stevens Pass.

Ryan Bidwell is the executive director of Colorado Wild. It’s an environmental group that grades ski resorts. He says endorsing the Ski Association’s Sustainable Slopes guidelines is different than actually following them.

“To be a part of the Sustainable Slopes program, a resort just has to say, ‘Yeah, we agree with these principles.’ They don’t actually have to take any action. Sustainable Slopes contains a whole laundry list of fantastic ideas that
resorts can and should be doing, but there’s no accountability in the program.”

Bidwell’s group grades ski resorts on everything from recycling to the effect on old growth forests. So how “green” was Stevens Pass on the environmental score card?

“Stevens received a ‘C’ because it has some expansion plans that would extend the resort into currently undeveloped areas and would impact those sensitive areas. So they lose a few points on that side.”

But Bidwell says hiring an eco-steward like Ross Freeman is a step in the right direction.

(sound of feet crunching the snow)

Freeman says there are only a few jobs like his. But he hopes more ski resorts will start hiring folks like him when they go green.

For The Environment Report, I’m Irene Noguchi.

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Green Buildings Mean Retail Greenbacks

  • This retail store in Ottawa, Ontario cost 10% more to build than a conventional building would have. Owners believe they'll ultimately make up for the extra cost in energy savings. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

Green building experts have known how to make buildings more energy efficient for a long time, but the building industry is slow to change – especially in retail. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one company that’s challenging the status quo:

Transcript

Green building experts have known how to make buildings more energy efficient for a long time, but the building industry is slow to change, especially in retail. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one company that’s challenging the status quo:


At first glance, the Mountain Equipment Co-op looks like your
typical outdoor retailer. You’ve got the
rows of protein bars and the freeze dried camping
food. Forest green backpacks hang from the wall and candy-colored kayaks hang from the ceiling,
but what makes this Canadian company unique is what you can’t see. Almost everything, the displays, the floors, even the concrete, is
environmentally friendly.


Architect Linda Chapman designed the store, which is in Ottawa – Canada’s capital. She says part of her assignment was to reuse as much as she possibly could.


“A lot of the steel structure that you see, the steel beams and the steel joists here are all from the old building that was on site here. It actually saved us time because there was a real backlog and delay from ordering steel at the time we were building.”


Being environmentally responsible is part of Mountain Equipment Co-op’s mission. It’s a non-profit cooperative. It’s million and a half members pay a small fee and have a say in how the company is run. Mountain Equipment’s Mark VanKooy says their members want the company to reflect their own environmental values.


“They’re the ones really out there hiking, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, and it’s in their interest, I mean… most people realize the connection to environmental stewardship and the outdoors – that if you aren’t an environmental steward, you’re going to lose your wilderness and the outdoors and the places you like to do those things.”


That mission resonates with customers such as Trevor. He’s been a member of Mountain Equipment Co-op for almost 20 years.


“It shows me they’re forward looking, they’ve got a keen sense of awareness about the environment they’re in here… good corporate citizenry if you will. I’m very comfortable here.”


(sound of store)


Mountain Equipment Co-op has built eight stores – each greener than the last. When the Ottawa store was finished in 2000, it became the greenest retail building in Canada. In fact, there are too many features to mention. They seem to permeate every section of the building. It ranges from the wood floors salvaged from local barns to the high tech meters that control the intake of fresh air.


Mark VanKooy says it cost an extra 10 percent to construct the building, but they’ll get that back in energy savings over the next decade, and he says that’s a key point in trying to persuade others to follow their lead.


“Obviously, if it was twice as much to build the same building with the green building practices as it would be through standard construction practices, it wouldn’t be worth it, because even as a demonstration building, no one in their right mind is going to look at it and say oh, it’s a nice idea but its cost twice as much, yeah I’m going to do it.”


VanKooy gives lots of tours to architects and business people, but the building industry has been slow to adopt the idea. One of the biggest challenges is the way that buildings are typically constructed. Architects often come up with a plan without consulting the engineer or the construction manager, but in this case, they all sat down together from day one. They discussed each step in the process. The approach is called integrated design, and architect Linda Chapman says it ensured the environment was considered at every step along the way. She describes how the group chose materials to use in the walls.


“In terms of which one would have the highest recycled content, which one would have the best price, which one would be easiest to build…so that’s how decisions were made as a group.”


(sound in store)


The Mountain Equipment Co-op did receive a grant from the Canadian government, but funding for this kind of project has mostly dried up. Still, proponents say interest in green buildings is growing. According to the US Green Building Council, 5% of new commercial buildings last year met its strict environmental standards.


Retail stores such as Starbucks, Williams-Sonoma and the Gap have already built, or plan to build, green stores. In Canada, the Mountain Equipment Co-op has added two more, that are even more energy efficient, and were built without government help. They say if a nonprofit outdoor retailer can do it, a lot of other companies can as well.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.