Steamboat Springs It's a dicey fact of the eco tourism business that anyone who jumps on a plane for the long flight to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos Islands has just contributed a few tons of greenhouse gases to global climate change. Eco tourism, anyone?
The conundrum might be even more pronounced for ski vacationers who fly across the continent for a March ski trip and find the slopes covered with "spring conditions."
"In Boulder, we have all these programs to ride our bikes and become carbon neutral, but then people fly to Nepal two or three times a year, completely blowing out of the water all of those other efforts," Peter Krahenbuhl told an audience at the Steamboat Grand this week.
Krahenbuhl is a principal in Sustainable Tourism International, a nonprofit that offers businesses education strategies for managing and offsetting their impacts on the global environment. He said tour operators, resorts and major lodging companies are feeling an increasing urgency to respond to consumers' concerns about global warming. More than ever, he said, consumers are basing spending decisions on how green a company is. They are even demonstrating a willingness to pay more for a trip if they can be reassured that the extra money would go to offsetting the carbon emissions their trip would generate.
"Transportation contributes up to one-third of greenhouse gas emission," Krahenbuhl said. "The average American who makes one or two long-haul flights abroad in a year (generates) 10 tons of CO2. That's more than (they would in) one year of driving an automobile. Travel is arguably the most damaging industry in terms of greenhouse gas emissions."
Krahenbuhl was an adventure tour operator before he was a consultant on sustainable business. One of his favorite destinations was Glacier National Park, and he's sensitive to the way the glaciers in the park have receded during the past 10 or 15 years.
Translate the same trend to destination ski areas, and you'll see parallels with inconsistent ski seasons, he said. Shorter winters are bracketed by longer, wetter, colder shoulder seasons that make it more difficult for winter resorts to transition into their summer seasons.
"It's a situation that won't work out too well for Colorado mountain communities," he said.
Krahenbuhl and a partner started Sustainable Travel International initially to help eco tourism companies overcome their issues with sustainability - it's hard to justify eco travel to the Arctic to view polar bears when the carbon emission from airline flights is threatening the survival of those polar bears.
Gradually, their client base has expanded to include a variety of travel, resort and lodging clients.
Among the large companies striving to reduce their carbon emissions, Krahenbuhl said, is Marriott International. Marriott has managed to reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent in the past 10 years. It's an achievement that has saved the company large
amounts of money in reduced energy costs and represents the equivalent of taking 140,000 cars off the road.
However, even that noteworthy accomplishment won't reverse global climate change. Krahenbuhl's company is helping Marriott to leverage its sustainable programs by pitching them to the giant hotel company's guests.
We asked, "Why not get our customers involved through voluntary carbon offset programs?" he said.
STI has developed customized online calculators that allow companies and consumers to calculate "carbon offsets."
Essentially, travelers can purchased credits that are applied by third-party organizations in a position to reduce the world's carbon emissions - the credits could be applied toward wind-generated power, or they could support a program that converts cooking stoves in developing nations to fuels that are less polluting.
Marriot now offers a program that allows its guests to voluntarily purchase "Green Tags" that offset the "carbon footprint" of their visit for a few dollars.
In response to skeptics, Krahenbuhl points to the growing LOHA movement. The acronym stands for "Lifestyle of Health and Sustainable Market." He says research suggests there are 63 million LOHAs in the U.S. representing 30 percent of the U.S. market. They are consumers who are willing to switch brands if they know one company achieves higher marks in sustainability than another.
"LOHAs are typically women from affluent families," Krahenbuhl said. "My guess is they are all of your people who come to Steamboat."