After months of preparation, Vail will be hosting an independent site visit next week to determine if it has met the criteria needed to become the first Certified Sustainable Destination in the U.S. The certification process is sponsored by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Green Destinations, based in The Netherlands.
Conducting the onsite fieldwork taking place July 17-21 will be Magdelena Muir of Calgary, Canada. Her assessment will review the community’s performance on over 40 international standards in the areas of energy, climate, waste, equity, economy, wildlife health and more.
Muir is an internationally renowned professor of energy policy and climate science, published author, attorney and strategist. As the principal of International Energy, Environmental and Legal Services, Ltd. and Climate Sustainability Finance Ltd., Muir provides consulting services on a broad range of economic and energy projects, while also serving on several boards, including the Climate and Global Change, Coastal and Marine Union as well as research organizations including the Arctic Institute of North America.
During her visit, Muir will interview a diverse group of representatives from the resort community including Vail Resorts, Town of Vail, Vail Chamber and Business Association, U.S. Forest Service and Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, among others. She’ll also experience local events and visit top destination gems such as the Vail Farmers’ Market, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Ford Amphitheater Vail Jazz and more.
In partnership with Vail Resorts, the community of Vail and Vail Mountain are aiming to become the first certified sustainable destination in the United States under criteria from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a non-governmental organization established by the United Nations Environment Programme and several other global partners in response to growth in tourism and the desire to foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices. The destination certification criteria include 40 best practices that any tourism destination should aspire to reach. Another global organization, Sustainable Travel International, is also a partner on the Vail project.
Over the past year staff from Walking Mountains Science Center, Town of Vail and Vail Resorts have been assembling supporting data and documentation demonstrating results in criteria categories where the destination excels and as well as a draft implementation plan to improve in areas that may need additional attention. Vail will receive an initial assessment at the end of the audit period and a determination of its certification application in the upcoming months.
“We are creating a new standard that Vail and other mountain resort communities can adopt so that we can all grow and develop in a responsible and sustainable manner. The increasing impacts of our success in promoting mountain tourism have a double-edged sword that requires proactive collaborative planning for the future,” said Walking Mountains Science Center founder and Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid. The new standard named the Mountain IDEAL will become a model for mountain resort communities across the world.
“The Town of Vail has a long history of environmental stewardship and sustainability including the protection of open space in its Town Charter, the creation of the Vail Nature Center and Preserve in the early 1970s and more recently its proactive approach to restoring the water quality of Gore Creek. We hope to celebrate our successes and elevate our programs in those areas that need more attention,” said environmental sustainability manager Kristen Bertuglia.
The Vail Sustainable Destination Project began when the Environment Committee of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships was tasked to deliver an innovative legacy project. As a first step, the Environment Committee launched the Actively Green Sustainable Business Training and Certification Program which continues to support businesses and other organizations and is coordinated by Walking Mountains Science Center. The Actively Green program supports the larger destination certification project and provides local businesses and employees avenues to participate along the journey to make Vail a sustainable destination. “Vail is a great example of the progress and success that destinations can have when they harness the power of travel and tourism as a force for good,” added Geoff Bolan, CEO of Sustainable Travel International.
Among the certification criteria for destinations are sustainability indicators that address things like tourism infrastructure, planning for climate change, protection of sensitive environments and wildlife, affordable housing, light and noise pollution, programs for youth and seniors, stakeholder participation, cultural heritage protection and sustainability education.
“This whole area of environmental sustainability can become a positive distinguishing feature of the resort, for visitors and residents alike. It’s a wonderful project that can significantly enhance Vail’s future if this becomes a true, communitywide effort,” said long-time Vail resident and Walking Mountains’ board member Alan Danson.
For more information, visit www.walkingmountains.org/vsd.