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Whistler 2020 on the ground

The "s-word"

RMOW Environmental Coordinator

"Touch base." "Low hanging fruit." "Think outside the box." Do these phrases sound familiar? Of course they do; they are the "jargoniest" of jargon buzzing around the English language right now.

These words are everywhere and have been joined by "sustainable" over the past decade or so. A good word gone bad - lost meaning through overuse and misuse. It pesters rather than impresses and evokes an equivocal shrug rather than enthusiastic nod.

This troubling trend has been the subject of discussion for iShift Citizen groups; a Whistler2020 take action program designed to support citizens making positive values-based change in our community. How can we practice sustainability if we lack the language to talk about it? If the words we wield turn people off, or worse yet, turns their stomach with hollow meaning, how meaningful will our shared journey toward sustainability be? Does the state of confusion around the concept of sustainability create an identity crisis for Whistler2020 - our community's sustainability plan? (NOTE: The "S-word" appeared in this paragraph four times).

Determined to get to the bottom of this quandary and discover the true essence of the "S-word," I will be talking to, and sharing the stories of, Whistler people to find out how they talk about this subject and what it means to them in the context of their work and in the community at large. This fall, I will be profiling the individuals that provided me with insight into this contentious concept.

Let's talk Tony.

"You have to take the word with a grain of salt. The true meaning of sustainability is about trying to do the right thing for yourself and the community," said Tony Horn, owner of Whistler's Slopeside Supply.

Fresh out of university, Horn was determined to bring so-called "sustainable" values to his business before they were called that. Horn and crew purchased products based on their lifecycle and tested their claims, converted his entire vehicle fleet to biodiesel and rarely turned the lights and heat on in his office. Horn has endeavoured to operate Slopeside Supply in a conscious manner right from the start.

For Horn, building good relationships with his customers and treating them like they are going to be customers for life is "probably his number one sustainable action."

It's not hard to see how a focus on quality products, great service and employee satisfaction makes good business sense and in essence is a sustainable model. His business practices are underscored by personal beliefs, making them all the more appealing. Outside of work, he contributes to the vibrancy of our community by organizing mountain bike events like the recent Betty vs. Veronica ride.

"Everything is connected. Whistler is a micro version of everywhere else, so making a difference here can have an impact on the world," Horn said. When asked what he feels is the most pressing issue facing our community, he did not hesitate to say economic viability, stating that "individually and as a community we need to get creative if we're going to do well."

While Horn cautions spending too much on sustainability measures, he says more needs to be done on the frontlines of sustainability: "It's criminal that we don't have compost bins in the village. Let's just try it, it may take a couple of years to get it right, but if you don't try it's never going to work."

Connection to nature, relationship-building, long-term thinking, giving back to the community; these are the values that Horn believes are at the heart of sustainability. Even Horn's five-year-old daughter gets it. Speaking with the crystal clarity that children are particularly adept at, she said; "Today we learned that in life there are bucket-fillers and bucket-dippers. Daddy, I want to be a bucket-filler."

Got an "S-word" story you would like to share with Whistler. E-mail