Jan 30, 2017

How Aspen Skiing Company is Approaching Sustainability

By Katrina Goulden T’18

Climate change is in the spotlight now more than ever, and several companies have started taking steps towards becoming more environmentally friendly. For the most part, these initial steps involve switching out traditional incandescent lightbulbs for LED alternatives or getting the latest high efficiency hand-dryer model. These small steps on a large scale can make a substantial difference.  However, it is time for businesses to play a larger role in protecting and conserving the planet. The public and private sector will need to work together to address these global priorities.

Some businesses, like The North Face, are directly affected by the impacts of climate change and are taking a stance. Last week I had the chance to attend a one-of-a-kind Tuck experience, a fireside chat with Auden Schendler, the vice president of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. In a relaxed conversational setting with Tuck students and faculty, Auden shared his perspectives on influencing organizations to move towards sustainability, and the specific steps Aspen Skiing Company is taking to preserve the future of their business model. Auden advocates for looking at the big picture threats and opportunities associated with sustainability, a step that is crucial for his industry, which can lose roughly $1B in revenue in years with low snowfall. As a result, Auden and his team are helping the Aspen Skiing Company take a public stand against climate change. The company is actively lobbying for sustainability, setting aggressive goals for reducing emissions, partnering with elite winter athletes to advocate for change, developing the Environment Foundation, and supporting Protect Our Winters.

If you were to ask Auden which element of this multi-faceted approach to sustainability is most important to driving large-scale change, he’d say that it’s the vocal role Aspen Skiing Company leadership is playing. In a world where our governments are influenced by lobbyists on a wide range of issues, Auden advocates that now is the time for business leaders to speak out against climate change. In fact, Auden would say that companies are at risk by not taking a stand on something they are passionate about. Consumers, after all, have started to spend their dollars more in parallel with the causes they support. While there are more components to the risk Auden is referencing, I still think he has a point. Business leaders influence our society in so many ways. They should use this platform for good.

Auden’s hope, and admittedly mine too, is that the influence of these senior leaders will cause the ears of our government leaders to perk up a bit and recognize that the sustainability movement is not just a trend—but a movement needed to ensure our continued livelihood on this planet.  This recognition is necessary to drive progress towards protecting the environment and will also hopefully create a few additional jobs for aspiring MBAs in the sustainability sector.

Katrina is a first-year student originally from Concord, MA with a background in strategy consulting and a passion for sustainability.

The Center for Business, Government & Society is focused on meeting the evolving complexities facing business leaders in today’s global economy. In the context of globalization and technological advancement, business success increasingly depends on reconciling the interests of its immediate stakeholders with the broader, deeply intertwined interests of both governments and society. Business leaders adept at navigating these many interests will be better equipped and empowered to help build a more sustainable global economy.