ASPEN, Colo. – By the measure of most environmental activists, Auden Schendler has a dream job. He’s the executive director for community and environmental responsibility at the Aspen Skiing Co. He seems to have the strong support of the company’s owners, the Crown family of Chicago, and corporate executives, who have been frequently honored in recent years for Aspen’s work in confronting energy use.
In fact, largely because of Schendler’s efforts as a crusader confronting greenhouse gas emissions, Aspen has become known in the ski industry as the leading advocate for change.
But a profile of Schendler in a cover story by Business Week, headlined “Little Green Lies”, paints a picture of deep dissatisfaction. “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do,” he told the magazine. “How do you really green your company? It’s almost… impossible.”
He has done lots of interesting, cutting-edge things. Eight years ago, when he took the job, he got the incandescent light bulbs in hotel parking garages swapped out with compact fluorescents. It was a struggle, because of the higher initial cost, despite the substantially lower long-term operating costs. He notes he needed to get a $5,000 grant from a local non-profit — this in a company that does $200 million in revenues.
In 2003, he got a micro-hydro plant installed at Snowmass, to create electricity using snowmaking equipment during the months of high runoff. That electricity gained eliminates the need for some electricity produced by burning coal.
More recently, he got Aspen to buy wind-energy credits, one of the first in the ski industry to do so. Dozens of ski area operators have since followed in the steps of Aspen’s claim being 100 per cent wind-powered.
But lately, he’s been dubious of the legitimacy of the wind energy credits. He’s having a hard time finding evidence that the purchases are actually causing new wind farms to be built.
This has caused Schendler to backtrack on his claims for Aspen — and some of his co-workers to get very annoyed with him. “You are confusing to the point of complete exhaustion,” wrote one.
Another co-worker, John Norton, who is now at Crested Butte, says he admired Schendler, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with his full agenda.
“We were trying to run a very complex set of businesses — four ski areas, three hotels, two athletic complexes, and a golf course — but Auden never let us forget that he belonged in the family portrait,” Norton told the magazine. “Usually he elbowed in with good humor, but also sometimes with the grim single-mindedness that’s the mantle of a true believer.”