It’s About More Than Business

by: Posted on: August 05, 2012

Photo: Lauren Owens

Editor’s Note: Lauren Owens, a student at Fairhaven College and aspiring visual journalist, tells us a story about a ski resort and its glaciers, both struggling to survive.


The North Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State, which extends from Snoqualmie Pass to the Canadian border, has lost 53 glaciers over the past 50 years, according to the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project. Nestled in the southern end of the North Cascades is a ski resort threatened by loss of snowpack. Stevens Pass is the only ski resort in the Pacific Northwest to offset all of their carbon emissions using wind power.  By purchasing carbon credits through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) the Pass now offsets 6,950,000 pounds of carbon from being released into the atmosphere annually.

“We look at the amount of pollution that could be generated by the amount of power we use, and then ask, what’s a clean source of energy that would generate the same amount of power?” said Ross Freeman, Sustainability Director at Stevens Pass.

However, this environmental business decision comes at a cost to the resort. By purchasing wind power offsets through the BEF, Stevens Pass doubles its energy bill.                          While the strategy doesn’t save money, Stevens Pass is committed to investing in the future of clean energy and the sustenance of its own industry.

Stevens Pass finds that there are other benefits to being environmentally conscious. Buying carbon credit builds cultural capital, as is seen by Stevens Pass’ growing reputation as a green enterprise. “The whole idea of it makes you feel good about being here,” said Zack Jessel, a skier at Stevens Pass.

Unlike a ski resort on private land, Stevens Pass is a leaseholder on federal land, which comes with restrictions on energy infrastructure development.  “If there is anything large done here that may effect the environment, we have to consult with them first,” said Freeman, “if construction is small and within our footprint its ok, but if its large there will be a lot of permitting involved because its federal land.” Purchasing carbon credits is the best immediate option for using a clean source of energy for the Pass, even if it is more expensive and less direct.

The Pass is in the process of taking smaller actions; within the next two years solar panels will be installed on top of already existing lift stations and open mountain ridgelines.  In the mean time, purchasing carbon credits is all the pass can do to offset its energy usage and support clean energy consumption.

By supporting the BEF, Stevens Pass enhances the construction and economic development of wind farms across the Nation, helping to mitigate global climate change.  “We as a company believe that climate change is happening,” said Freeman. “We have seen the scientific evidence. As a lower elevation ski area, that’s a big deal. We have to take it seriously; we have to do the right thing by taking action.”

Freeman’s ‘big deal’ is no joke: with snow levels decreasing with warmer temperatures, climate change could turn a snowy destination like Stevens Pass into a rainy meadow. In addition to offsetting their energy use with clean wind power, Stevens Pass is working towards educating and motivating mountain visitors to cut down on transportation emissions to and from the resort. Mountain visitors in traditional cars can act to reduce their personal carbon footprint by participating in the “ski green carbon offset” program.  Two extra dollars on a lift ticket will go to BEF to offset the drive from Seattle and back and twenty dollars annually covers roughly 20 trips.

“They are doing something about tail pipe emissions…their money is going into wind farms and other clean energy,” said Freeman.  And with the 100th electric car charging station in the state of Washington in the parking lot of the resort, cars can gather energy as you use up all of yours on the mountain.

By supporting the movement to mitigate fossil fuels Stevens Pass is setting a great example.  They know that their success over the past seventy-five years has been dependent on consistent snowpack.  “We want to give back and we think that the biggest thing that we can do is to address climate change,” said Freeman. “We feel like other business should be doing the same thing.”

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