Sonnenalp’s Green Team is making a difference

This column first appeared in the Vail Daily. Author Kim Langmaid, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Colorado Mountain College’s Sustainability Studies program and VP and director of sustainability and stewardship programs at Walking Mountains Science Center.

Jane Ross in the Sonnenalp Hotel’s new Smart Car.

Jane Ross in the Sonnenalp Hotel’s new Smart Car.

When Jane Ross was asked to lead the “Green Team” at the Sonnenalp Hotel she thought she would simply be scheduling monthly meetings and taking notes. She had no background in sustainability and no idea how things would evolve.

Implementing an employee Green Team is part of getting employees to participate in sustainability practices and also one of the criteria for becoming Actively Green 2015 certified by the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Sustainable Travel International. Actively Green 2015 is a project of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championship’s Environmental Committee.

‘People, Planet, Profit’
Now 18 months after taking the helm of the Green Team, Ross says the Sonnenalp’s water usage has decreased 15 percent, their energy usage had decreased 18 percent and they’ve saved more than $200,000. Their engineering administration supervisor, Cindy Gilbert, has worked with Holy Cross Energy and Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability to obtain thousands of dollars’ worth of energy efficiency rebates. Ross says, “The great thing about it is that the ‘people, planet, profit’ concept makes it easy for you to do the right thing. It’s a new way of thinking.”

Leading the Green Team is Ross’ most rewarding role working at the Sonnenalp.

“The Green Team boosts employee morale,” Ross said. “There is someone from every department on the team and they all have great ideas to improve the hotel’s sustainability. We have a lot of fun!”

One idea came from the sommelier who helped launch a new cork recycling program at the Sonnenalp’s restaurants. Now, each restaurant keeps their corks in a bin and when the bins fill up an employee ships the corks to ReCork where the corks are recycled into other products like soles on shoes and the profits are used to plant new cork trees.

Employee Health, Safety
Employee health and safety are another aspect of Green Team initiatives at the Sonnenalp. One recent wellness project included a competition where each employee wore a pedometer.

“Everyone picked up the pace around the hotel and we all had a lot of fun with it!” Ross said.

Another success was when one employee who hadn’t previously been involved in the Green Team did research to create a paperless accounting system. Who would think that going paperless could be so fun and rewarding? But this kind of work has many more benefits. Not only is the Sonnenalp increasing employee morale and productivity, they are also saving resources and lots of money.

Actively Green 2015
The Sonnenalp is now in the process of going for re-certification with Sustainable Travel International, a global nonprofit organization that helps train, certify and promote sustainable travel destinations. As one of the 2015 Environmental Committee projects, Sustainable Travel International is partnering with Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the town of Vail and others to launch a new Vail Valley business sustainability certification program called Actively Green 2015.

The goal is to train and certify 100 Vail Valley businesses. The next sustainability training for new businesses is on Nov. 13. To register for the training go to www.eaglevalleyalliance.org.

The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are scheduled for Feb. 2-15, 2015. For additional information, visit www.vail beavercreek2015.com.

Kim Langmaid, Ph.D., is the vice president and director of sustainability and stewardship programs at Walking Mountains Science Center, a faculty member in the Sustainability Studies program at Colorado Mountain College and a member of the Vail Valley Foundation’s 2015 Environment Committee. She can be reached at kim@eaglevalleyalliance.org and at 970-827-9999.