Aspen’s Schendler On Corporate Greening: ‘Who Are We Kidding?’

by | Oct 19, 2007

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Much corporate environmentalism boils down to misleading statistics and hype, according to a Business Week article. To make real progress, genuine accomplishments will have to be sorted out from feel-good gestures.

“Who are we kidding?” says Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs at Aspen Skiing Company, a resort often pointed to as a green leader. Despite all his exertions, the resort’s greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise. “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do,” Schendler says in the article. “How do you really green your company? It’s almost f—— impossible.”

One problem, according to the article, is that companies continue to assess most green initiatives with the same ROI analysis they would use with any other capital project.
In 2003, for example, FedEx announced it would deploy 3,000 hybrids a year with the goal of replacing the company’s 30,000 medium-duty trucks over the next 10 years. Four years later, FedEx has purchased fewer than 100 hybrid trucks. The problem? At $70,000 and up, the hybrids cost at least 75 percent more than conventional trucks. “We do have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders,” environmental director Mitch Jackson told Business Week. “We can’t subsidize the development of this technology for our competitors.”

One of Schendler’s big disappointments is in Renewable Energy Credits. Even as he helped launch a REC campaign, Schendler says he suspected the credits weren’t literally offsetting anything. Schendler says that he made a mistake last year when he pushed the resort to say it had “offset 100% of our electricity use” through REC purchases. Schendler now concedes the boast was empty. (See more on REC criticism here.)
Schendler is not the only person who feels this way. Johnson & Johnson spent $1 million on credits it says are equivalent to 400,000 tons of emissions. Asked about the doubts surrounding RECs, Dennis Canavan, the company’s senior director of global energy, concedes that the credits “aren’t ideal.” They don’t really reduce J&J’s pollution, he says.

It was recently announced that Aspen’s entire 2007-08 winter ad campaign will focus on global warming.

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