Unless we act decisively now, climate change poses an existential threat to life as we know it. For people who love the outdoors or whose livelihood relies on good snowfall or a healthy environment – the skiing and outdoor industries – there is an added incentive to be engaged and active.

No person, business or sector can solve the problem on their own, but that’s kind of the point: we need all hands of deck to deal decisively with this looming threat.

It’s good to remember that many in the community are taking action. Around the world there is a growing willingness to be actively involved in responding to climate change – through mitigation (reducing the production of greenhouse gases), supporting behaviour change, engaging in advocacy, and developing cleaner production methods.

Here are two good news stories from the USA.

Outdoor brands

We all know the story of Patagonia, the outdoor brand that pours huge volumes of money into grassroots activism, seeks to reduce its own carbon footprint and engages in activism and lobbying in its own right.

With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, they are taking their activism to a new level. As noted recently in Outside magazine,

“The iconic brand has long been the conscience of the outdoor industry, forsaking hefty profits to do the right thing. Now the company is going to war against the Trump administration over protections for public land in a bid to become a serious political player.”

Trump’s agenda to roll back protections for federally managed public land in the USA — specifically, ­a threat to President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, a huge area of high desert in Utah, prompted Patagonia to ramp up their efforts to influence the national debate on the environment. Republican controlled Utah backed the efforts to overturn protection of the Bears Ears, resulting in Patagonia threatening to boycott the semi annual trade show, Outdoor Retailer (OR), which had been held in the state since the mid-1990s.  It brings around US$45 million to the state each year. Arc’teryx, Polartec, North Face, and REI followed Patagonia’s lead. When Utah governor Gary Herbert refused to stop lobbying for Bears Ears to be returned to the state, these companies decided to move the OR show to another state. It ended up in Colorado.

Hopefully this marks a turning point for the massive outdoor industry in the USA. This industry is estimated to be collectively worth US $887 billion.

Ski resorts

In a press release issued today, Vail Resorts, Inc. has announced an initiative ‘committing to zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat by the year 2030. This sets an important precedent regarding how ski resorts, both large and small, will be expected to operate moving forward.

According to a story in Freeskier:

‘Investing $25 million toward energy-saving projects such as low-energy snowmaking equipment, green building design and construction and more efficient grooming practices will help guide Vail’s bigger-picture objective. Diverting waste sent to landfills will be mainly influenced by improved recycling and composting programs at individual resorts, as well as collaboration with local vendors to reduce packaging and source more sustainable materials for their goods.’

Vail has been responsible for some terrible habitat destruction over the years as they pursued an aggressive expansion program, and there are ongoing issues around management of species such as the endangered Lynx and elk. So their commitment to have ‘zero net impact’ on forests and habitat is significant. Meanwhile Mt Hotham is keeping the option of developing new lifted terrain in Avalanche Gully and the Eagle Rudge area in its master plan. Vail’s commitment to climate change is also significant given their previous political support for climate deniers through their Political Action Committee (PAC), which has donated to climate change deniers and supported climate polluters. As with Patagonia, the election of Donald Trump has helped propel Vail into a more active position on climate change.

The following comes from Powder Magazine:

Vail Resorts announced July 25 they will “aggressively pursue” a company-wide sustainability commitment to zero net emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfill by 2030, and zero net operating impact to forests and habitats.

“Everything we do at Vail Resorts is driven by the spectacular natural surroundings where our employees, guests, and communities live, work, and play. The environment is our business, and we have a special obligation to protect it,” Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, said in a press release. “As a growing global company so deeply connected to the outdoors, we are making a commitment to address our most pressing global environmental challenge and protect our local communities and natural resources.”

The announcement is especially significant because it marks the first time Vail Resorts has made serious moves toward addressing climate change. The publicly traded company has long been known for its aggressive pursuit of expanding its resort portfolio as well as its strict corporate ethos. Placing an ambitious mandate, and becoming a ski industry leader, in environmental stewardship, is a shift for a company that previously hasn’t made this responsibility a top priority.

In recent years, “Vail Resorts PAC” has sent thousands of dollars to the campaigns of stalwart climate change deniers. Katz personally donated $10,000 to the PAC in 2015 and 2016.

Last July, the Park Record reported that Vail Resorts Management Company spent money to re-elect Utah Governor Gary Herbert—who claims the science of climate change “is not necessarily conclusive” and blocked former President Obama’s plan to clean up Utah’s coal-fired power plants.

However, after President Trump announced his recent decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, Vail Resorts, like many corporate leaders, released a statement supporting action on climate: “Climate change is a global challenge that requires global cooperation, and it is disheartening to see the United States pull away from working with the other 194 countries that were part of the Agreement. Vail Resorts will redouble our efforts to find significant ways to minimize our carbon footprint through reducing our energy use to help address one of the most serious challenges facing our worldwide community.”

Vail Resorts, which purchased Whistler-Blackcomb last year, said they are motivated by the environmental commitments made by the British Columbia resort toward reducing their operating footprint, but that the company aims to go beyond setting goals for partial emissions reductions. Instead, Vail Resorts will pursue a more ambitious plan that promises a zero net operating footprint t.

Having tallied 11.6 million visitors across all of its ski areas in the 2016/17 winter, Vail Resorts recognizes that it holds significant influence as one of the biggest faces in the industry.

“We acknowledge that this is a global environmental issue, and it is our role as leaders in the industry to take a strong position on this. It’s our responsibility.”

“It’s our size and scale that allows us to have such a positive impact,” said Rob Whittier, director of environmental sustainability for Vail Resorts. “We acknowledge that this is a global environmental issue, and it is our role as leaders in the industry to take a strong position on this. It’s our responsibility.”

Luke Cartin, the environmental sustainability manager for Park City Municipal and a former 15-year employee working for Vail’s sustainability team, called the goal groundbreaking.

“This is a monumental decision in both the goals and timeline they set. With a ‘zero’ goal there’s nowhere to hide,” Cartin said, referencing the company’s improved transparency on measuring sustainability practices.

To reduce emissions, the company will limit electricity and natural gas use by 15 percent by investing $25 million in energy-saving projects, from low-energy snowmaking equipment to green building design and construction.

Vail Resorts also plans to purchase a renewable energy equivalent to their total electricity use and to work alongside local utilities and governments to bring more renewables to the grids from which Vail operates their resorts.

“You could look at this as Vail making a not-too-subtle statement to Trump that climate change is real and we must act.”

An additional goal for 2030 is to divert 100 percent of the waste from its operations to more sustainable paths, creating zero waste to landfills through improved recycling and composting programs and improved education for visitors and staff. The company is currently at a 40 percent waste diversion rate across all 15 of their resorts and plans to reach 50 percent by 2020.

Vail’s plan also includes planting an acre of trees for every acre displaced by the company’s operations and a continued expansion of Vail’s partnerships with local and national organizations focused on protecting the environment.

“This is to be applauded,” said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co. “By far the most important part of it is that Vail appears ready to wield political power around climate by joining the BICEP [Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy] coalition. You could look at this as Vail making a not-too-subtle statement to Trump that climate change is real and we must act.”

Schendler sees the move as an important step to persuade others to take action in the ski industry, which collectively has been slow to tackle the issue of climate change.

“I hope it inspires other people in the industry to set ambitious goals,” he said. “Setting goals is exciting, getting there is the hard work.”