Sunday, February 14, 2016

Keeping Whistler Wild

 Stan Rey at Whistler Blackcomb - Photo by Paul Morrison
Since 1998, Whistler Blackcomb's sustainability programs have won 30 awards and its Environmental Fund has sponsored 46 local projects. Through its employee carpooling program it has reduced its emissions by 200 tons per year. It has saved 18 per cent of fuel per hour by purchasing new snow grooming fleets. And 4.5 million kilowatt hours of power is saved annually through its Power Smart partnership with BC Hydro. Around the resort 11,000 light bulbs have been changed to energy-efficient models.

Arthur de Jong
All of these eco projects have been spearheaded by Arthur de Jong who heads up Whistler Blackcomb’s Environment Team. A team player, de Jong says he is only as good as the people surrounding him: “Allana Williams our Energy manager has been integral on many of these initiatives as she leads our energy conservation programs as well as the many staff at WB who help drive these initiatives. I am privileged to work with so many staff that are committed to driving our conservation culture.”    

Over more than 30 years at the British Columbia resort, his various roles have included Ski Patrol Manager and Mountain Operations Manager for Blackcomb, leading to a close rapport with the mountain terrain and a profound understanding of the mountain ecosystem. Pioneering work in environmental planning led to de Jong’s current position as Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager. “On climate change, we have considerable resilience here in Whistler but ultimately we will go as the global economy goes,” says de Jong. “That is why we must demonstrate what a conservation culture is and compel the general economy to do the same.” His everyday job is to develop sustainable planning techniques in order to improve guest experiences without compromising the natural environment.

In de Jong’s introduction to his annual operating footprint report 2015, he said that Whistler Blackcomb’s primary sustainability goal for mountain operations was as close to zero footprint as possible. “The business imperative is we become more cost efficient by operating with fewer inputs and outputs of fuel, hydroelectricity, and waste,” he explained. A direct benefit to the bottom-line.” But there was also a moral imperative, he added: “Our general economy and society critically need examples of economic models that demonstrate sustainable growth especially targeted on the reduction of fossil fuels thereby addressing climate change.”

Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
He also explained that companies with the strongest brands place emphasis on actions that align with both imperatives, thereby adding value to the bottom line and also society in general. “Reducing our operating footprint clearly aligns with this,” he concluded. An example of this is The Fitzsimmons Creek Renewable Energy Project which will return back to the power grid what Whistler Blackcomb consumes from the grid, leaving a zero footprint. This run-of-river project produces 33 gigawatt hours of hydro electricity per year – enough to power the resort’s winter and summer operations, including the 38 lifts, 270 snowguns and 17 restaurants. Involving more than six years of studies and planning, the Project is owned by Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Limited Partnership in which Whistler Blackcomb is a strategic partner. This work led to the resort being awarded the Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence at the 2010 National Ski Areas Association National Convention and Tradeshow.

Another underlying theme of de Jong’s philosophy is that building partnerships - with the community, NGOs and Government - is essential for sustainability success. As an active member of the Whistler community for three decades, de Jong believes that the key to effective planning is openness and community involvement. As well as belonging to numerous community social and environmental groups, he also dedicates volunteer time to crisis line counseling and international aid programs.

Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
In respect to on-mountain development, he has learned not to change ecosystems for human use, but to build recreational experiences inside ecosystems. “That was vision with the Symphony chair expansion,” he explained. This high-speed chairlift opened on December 16, 2006, bringing access to 1,000 acres of skiable terrain in the Symphony Amphitheatre, previous only accessed only by arduous hiking. The design team included a black bear researcher and a professional forester along with planners and engineers, who had to manage a lift with 2,400-hour capacity, while preserving the natural wildlife and fish ecosystems.

One of the ways the footprint was minimized included only moving trees that were between tree islands or presented a disease threat. Trees were removed via helicopter and all lift towers and assemblies were placed via helicopter. The selective forestry approach - called a “silviculture prescription” – actually enhanced lichen production for deer and berry production for black bears. And denning and wetlands areas were kept exempt from development. All lift foundations were built over the snow during April and May 2006, ensuring ground disturbance was reduced to the foundation site only. By utilizing many other environmental safeguards, the overall footprint – originally estimated at 40 per cent - was reduced to less than five per cent.

Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
During de Jong’s stewardship, Whistler Blackcomb has also developed programs for widescale recycling, organic waste composting, reduction of single use cups, and garbage reduction in public and staff areas with signage to increase awareness. Through reduction, reuse and recycling, particularly in food and beverage, levels of waste have reduced 60 per cent since 1998. And building retrofits have saved more than 860 tons of emissions.

The Whistler Blackcomb staff culture helps perpetuate the resort’s environmental goals. Involved in programs such as the Habitat Improvement Team, Operation Green Up and an annual Mountain Clean Up Day at the end of the ski season, employees are partners in environmental stewardship. As a result of all these eco efforts, Whistler Blackcomb was named by Maclean’s Magazine in 2009 as one of Canada’s 30 Greenest Employers.
Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb

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