Economic Summit 2007 continues today at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center with a Sustainable Expo featuring the goods and services of local businesses, and a full schedule of speakers and panel discussions.
Steamboat Springs Auden Schendler managed a minor miracle at the Steamboat Grand on Wednesday night.
He didn't succeed in reversing global climate change. But he did keep a Steamboat Springs audience chuckling while speaking on the subject of "Implementing Sustainable Business Practices in the Real World."
"What a cool time to be alive," Schendler told an audience attending Economic Summit 2007. "The challenges are remarkable. The solutions are believable. We should at least have fun."
Schendler is the director of environmental affairs at the Aspen Skiing Co.
He entertained his audience by explaining how he won over the mechanics at the Aspen Ski Co. by getting them more money in the budget to build the ultimate melon launcher. It was an effort to avenge a defeat at the hands of the Breckenridge mechanics in an annual contest. More significantly, the melon launcher broke down resistance and won the mechanics' blessing for introducing biodiesel fuels to the snowcat fleet.
Schendler went on to compare himself to Pee Wee Herman and he even dissed the manager of the swank Little Nell Hotel.
But in the end, Schendler's message was a serious one: We have about 10 years to reverse climate change and "keep winter cool" for future ski seasons.
The economic motivation for ski areas to advocate on behalf of sustainable business practices would seem self-evident. But Schendler said it has been difficult for companies that market vacation escapes to publicly confront the threat posed by shorter, warmer winters.
"I think that's beginning to change," he said.
Schendler said he met considerable resistance from Aspen Ski Co. executives when he first began attempting to get them to adapt their ways. However, he had the ultimate executive on his side.
Former Aspen CEO and President Pat O'Donnell, who retired last fall, introduced a set of guiding principles to the company that included environmental stewardship.
"He said, 'We're not here just to sell tickets so you can slide on snow,'" Schendler said. "There's another mission. We're going to be stewards of our mountains."
Aspen has undertaken a wide array of initiatives that have reduced its carbon footprint while achieving some substantial returns on investment, Schendler said. The company broke ground among ski areas by buying wind power energy credits. It also is building bigger solar panels and has begun shredding the waste from building demolition projects on site to reduce trips to the landfill.
Predictably, Aspen is replacing thousands of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents - even at the Little Nell, where management balked at first because it was worried it would make the five-star property seem a little bit like Motel 6.
Today, the snowmelt systems on the roof and decks of Little Nell have been turned down to lower temperatures and automated systems ensure they don't run all day long.
Aspen Ski Co. even has reverted to the town's historical roots by building a micro hydroelectric power plant where, right now, snowmelt is gushing down creek beds at the base of the ski area with enough force to generate renewable energy.
However, Aspen's determination to build green buildings, use alternative fuels and reduce wasteful energy consumption isn't the company's most significant contribution to "keeping winter cool," Schendler said.
"We can reduce emission all we want," Schendler said. "What we really have to offer is advocacy. We can influence millions of people."