NASA, NOAA, and the World Meteorological Organization have all stated that 2016 was the warmest year on record, beating 2015, which took the title from 2014. 2017 is off to a warm start as well: Despite above average snowfall in the Cascades, February was the second warmest February in the last 137 years. The warmest was in 2016. The debate over how much our actions as humans drives climate change is not going to end anytime soon, but the trend is clear, and the facts are undeniable. 53 glaciers have disappeared from the North Cascades since 1950. Ice in the Arctic is melting at a rate of 13.3% per decade, causing the sea levels to rise 3.4mm per year.
NOAA predicts that by 2100 the average global temperature will increase by 2 to 9.7 degrees depending on both natural variability and human driven greenhouse gas emissions. If you think about how much of our snow falls when the temperature is right around freezing, you can see that this is a problem. Statewide the spring snowpack is predicted to decrease 37-44% by the 2040’s.
As a business, what we do with this knowledge is up to us. It would be easy to say that we’re too small to make a difference in what is certainly a major global issue. That’s probably pretty close to the truth, and plenty of organizations have decided to go that route. We’ve decided to handle it differently though. For over a decade, we’ve worked hard to minimize our environmental impact while still achieving our goals as a company, and in the process have served as an example of environmental responsibility in our industry.
Like most mountain resorts around the world, most of our environmental impact comes from energy use and transportation: It takes a lot of electricity to power 10 chairlifts and three lodges, and it takes a lot of cars on the highway to get all of our guests and employees up here. We’ve taken several steps to offset these impacts. For years we’ve been partnering with MTR Western to provide the Stevens Pass Snowbus from Seattle on peak days. The Stevens Pass Shuttle goes to the mountain every day. We list a variety of other bus and rideshare options on our website in hopes of meeting as many people’s needs as possible. We also encourage carpooling by offering up our best parking spaces to vehicles with four or more riders in them on peak days. Employees have the option to ride transit vans and buses that go up and down the mountain 2-5 times per day depending on the hours that we’re open. Reducing the number of cars on the road just makes sense: less pollution, less traffic, and more spaces available in our parking lots.
As far as energy usage goes, we are currently the only mountain resort in the PNW that offsets 100% of its electricity use with energy credits from wind power. We’ve partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to purchase enough third party carbon offset credits to offset 1,174 tons of CO2 per year. This investment helps develop more renewable energy sources across the west. You can learn more about this, and find out how to purchase your own carbon offsets on our website.
Thanks to our region’s culture of sustainability, we’ve managed to keep over 55% of our waste out of the landfill for the last couple of seasons (58% this season!). Considering the thousands of people who dine in our restaurants during most winter weekends, the lodges and heavy equipment that must be maintained, the building projects that happen every summer, and all of the electronic infrastructure that goes into running a modern business, the fact that over half of our waste materials are recycled, repurposed, or composted is pretty awesome. If you make a habit out of putting your cans or bottles into the proper bin when you’re out on the mountain, or make sure that you separate your recyclable and compostable materials when you take a break in one of the lodges, you’re doing your part, and we thank you for it.
Getting all of this done from the crest of the Cascades takes a lot of leg work and heavy lifting. We collect, haul, and sell about 10,000 pounds of cardboard every month during the busy season. Old light bulbs, batteries, tires, scrap metals, and electronics must be delivered to the proper facilities, and leftover building materials are either repurposed or given to employees. Furniture and appliances are often donated to local groups. Old rental ski and snowboard equipment is sold, donated, or repurposed.
Zero waste in our restaurants is a goal that could soon be realized. All of our paper towels and napkins, as well as disposable cups, plates and utensils are made of compostable material. A waste grinder and dewatering machine in the Granite Peaks Lodge shrinks the volume of kitchen food scraps by up to 90% prior to the composting process. This January alone, we hauled 15 tons of compost down to a commercial facility to be converted into topsoil within 60 days. Last season we collected and recycled 372 pounds of disposable gloves used by the kitchen staff. Even plastic wrappers and bottle lids can now be recycled: Look for the repurposed salad dressing containers that we use to collect them. We’ve recycled over 10,000 wrappers this season, and 240 55 gallon bags of miscellaneous plastic.
Thanks to the efforts of our employees and guests, we’ve managed to cut our total carbon footprint by about 60%. In the grand scheme of things though, we’re a fairly small organization, and our actions alone won’t slow climate change in any meaningful way. But if we can help show that environmental responsibility isn’t that difficult, and can even be profitable, maybe others will follow our lead. At Stevens Pass we’ve been helping people experience the wonders of winter for almost 80 years now, and we’d like to pass that legacy on for generations to come.