The mainstream ski industry, true to character, is very good at taking your money. And if being green helps them take your green, that’s what they will do. You’ve seen the little card in hotels: “Re-use this towel to help stop global warming!” Right. Like if I reuse the towel then the impact of my flight across the country is forgiven? Hey, maybe I should recycle this plastic water bottle and go heliskiing! There’s a term for this clever repackaging of polluting ways: greenwashing.
Skiing and Consumption
Let’s face it: skiing is consumption. From the carbon-titanium-who-knows-what in my skis, to the 5,000 acre manicured mountainsides, getting your carcass down some 12,000-foot mountain produces some carbon. And let’s not forget the Ritz-Carlton-walk-to-the-lift hotel or the non-stop flight from New York. While it’s out of the question that I’d ever give up skiing (don’t get me started), I realize that I have some responsibility in this situation. After all, I’m paying the bills. I’m using the resources. Maybe that’s why ski resort greenwashing works so well: it takes some of our guilt away.
The good news is that skiing consumers have a huge power to change how resorts operate. Why? Because skier numbers have been flat for nearly 20 years. Resorts are competing for a relatively small population of skiers. So, if skiers vote with their dollars and support truly green resorts (versus those tending towards greenwash), the other resorts will follow suit.
What Does the Socially Responsible Skier to Do?
Being socially responsible is more than adopting one or even several “green” practices, but changing the way resorts (and you) think about the our limited resources and the mountain environment.
As guest, we have the right to ask questions. Is there a way you can get to the resort without driving and parking? And how about ski culture? Is there a honest-to-goodness ski bum working here or is every job filled by a “guest worker” expected to work 50+ hours a week? Is there employee transportation? Is there an environmental policy at the resort with real outcome measures that demonstrate the policy’s impact? Learn about your favorite resort and how they support conservation, what kinds of policies they’ve put into place to conserve energy or water or manage waste, and how they educate their visitors about conservation.
There are organizations that can help. Like Green Building Initiative which markets a rating system called Green Globes to validate a resort’s commitment to everything from greenhouse gas emissions to land-use planning. The National Ski Area Association has the Sustainable Slopes Program. (Interestingly, a 2004 study appearing in Policy Studies Journal found that participation of western ski areas in the Sustainable Slopes Program was related to demands by state agencies, local environmental groups and public opinion. In addition, participation was correlated with lower environmental performance ratings.) The Ski Area Citizens Coalition, independent the ski industry, helps differentiate between those ski areas that truly engage in environmentally sound practices versus those that merely claim to do so.
Skiing “green” is not impossible. As long as you pay attention to what other people are saying about the resort’s sustainability efforts, have a critical eye of your own and ask the right questions, you can avoid being scammed by the ski industry’s greenwashers.
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