The CEO of the high-end ski resort Aspen Skiing Co. wanted to align his business with the needs of the mountains, streams and trees upon which its existence depended, but he wasn't thinking of improving the company's bottom line when he hired a vice president of sustainability.
It took Auden Schendler from the Rocky Mountain Institute to show Aspen Skiing that environmental conscience wasn't divorced from critical business need.
"The CEO felt that a ski resort takes from the environment and ought to give back. But I flipped the rationale to make the case that our work was a business necessity in the modern world for competitiveness, leanness, PR and to best serve customer wants. And that, arguably, is why I'm still employed," said Schendler, vice president of sustainability.
Schendler started out with what he calls "the low hanging" fruit, or those projects that are such obvious money savers it almost seemed wasteful not to implement them.
His plan was to swap out all the incandescent light bulbs throughout the ski resort's buildings and replace them with compact fluorescents or light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and to replace all the T12 linear fluorescent lights with T8s, all of which would help reduce energy usage and costs.
The project started with the two-story garage and backhouse of one of the resort's five-star hotels. It cost $23,000 to implement and has been saving the company $10,000 annually since Schendler joined the company in 1999.
Next on the agenda was replacing the bulbs in the hotel's many guestrooms, lobbies and restaurants. Initially, Schendler met with some unexpected pushback. The glow of the florescent lights, some in management felt, would not be flattering to the guests, which could negatively affect their high-end resort experience.
Schendler carried on with various other lighting retrofit projects around the resort.
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"Each time it was a process of pitching the project, showing the return on investment (ROI), and seeking approval," said Schendler. Then two years ago, during a management meeting, the company's CFO Matt Jones, had a "eureka" moment.
"'Wait a second,'" Schendler recalls the CFO saying. "'The return on investment for lighting retrofits ranges from 30 percent to 200 percent? How can we afford not to do all of them?'" Jones asked.
From that day forward CEO Mike Kaplan declared a ban on incandescent lights throughout the resort. It helped that energy efficient light bulbs have improved in quality and become even more efficient, while also offering more attractive lighting options.