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In advocacy, the two companies look very different, as well. Through Schendler, Aspen has adopted the tone of an evangelist full of fire and brimstone. The apocalypse is near. But Aspen also sees itself having a powerful voice. It paints skiing as a looming victim to climate change and insists that ski areas, through their prominence, have a responsibility to make the case for energy changes.
This strategy was manifest in the case of Massachusetts vs. EPA. Massachusetts argued that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a responsibility under the powerful Clean Air Act, to regulate carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Aspen filed a brief in support of Massachusetts, and a Harvard Business School case study two years ago suggested — but without supporting evidence — that Aspen's brief helped cause the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favour of Massachusetts. Aspen probably has hosted Supreme Court justices, but whether the experience changed their mind when ruling in this matter is speculative. But Schendler was absolutely correct in predicting that it would instantly create a climate policy in the Untied States. The vise of the EPA is slowly squeezing coal-burning power plants.
More recently, Aspen Skiing led the charge for the local business chamber to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the latter group's resistance to climate change policy.
Aspen's position is laid out even more clearly in this passage from the company's latest sustainability report: "Most businesses trying to be sustainable focus on greening their operations and products. But that's not nearly enough to stop climate change, and therefore doesn't achieve true sustainability. That's why corporations must become climate activists, pushing for big-scale solutions."
Vail has been willing to speak out about climate change on occasion. In 2007, Katz was a prime speaker when then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter laid out his Colorado Climate Action Plan. But the company has generally resisted the grab-the-bullhorn approach of Aspen.
The approach of Vail has been to control what it can and save the sermon. "This stance sums up my feeling about climate change and the ski industry," wrote Luke Cartin, the company's sustainability director, in a Linked-in statement that directed readers to the Katz op-ed.
At the end of the day, neither ski company should be confused with an order of Benedictine monks. Destination resorts are not in the business of austerity. Travel remains a carbon-intensive activity. In this, Aspen and Vail are so much alike.
More of Allen Best's reporting and essays can be found at http://mountaintownnews.net.
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