VAIL — Recently, Vail hosted a special guest, one whose endorsement could help the town set a new global standard for mountain resorts. But Magdelena Muir, of Green Destinations, wasn't judging her stay based on the best ski runs or bike trails or restaurants. She was judging on something else entirely — environmental sustainability.
Muir is an auditor for the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the Green Destinations organization, and her visit will determine if Vail is named the nation's first certified sustainable destination.
FIRST IN THE WORLD
Green Destinations, headquartered in the Netherlands, certifies locations all across the world based on a series of sustainability guidelines. Green Destinations is approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and recognized by the United Nations. The weeklong audit of Vail conducted by Muir consisted of visits to major tourist attractions such as the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Walking Mountains Science Center and White River National Forest.
Vail Village and the surrounding wilderness were assessed with rigorous criteria, including wildlife protection, transportation and infrastructure impact, water quality, waste reduction, greenhouse gas emissions and more. If Vail receives the certification, then it would be the first certified sustainable destination in America and Canada. Vail is also hoping to make the list of the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations of 2017.
In addition to the sustainable destination certification, Vail has been working closely with Green Destinations to develop an adaptation of the sustainable destination certification designed to address the sustainability concerns specifically present in mountain-resort communities. The new standard would be called the Mountain IDEAL (innovation, diversity, education, authenticity, leadership) and it would add additional guidelines for the water and energy usage required for snowmaking and snow melting, affordable housing and local access to natural sites. If Vail adheres to these guidelines, then it would be the first mountain resort in the world to receive the certification.
Kim Langmaid, founder and vice president of Walking Mountains Science Center and member of the Vail Town Council, said the process to become certified with Green Destinations and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has been ongoing since the 2015 World Ski Championships. She said the community has come together through lots of different partnerships at the local and federal levels — including the town of Vail, U.S. Forest Service, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Vail Recreation District and others — to make Vail a healthy and sustainable area.
"Vail has always thought of itself as a leader in the world in terms of mountain-resort communities," Langmaid said, "and I think it would be very appropriate if we were the first in the United States and Canada to earn this certification."
Kristen Bertuglia, environmental sustainability manager for the town of Vail, has had a big hand in this project and said she would be proud to see Vail set the standard for sustainability in mountain communities on an international scale.
"We're comparing ourselves to areas in Austria, Spain, the Galapagos Islands — we all have very sensitive ecosystems, and we want to make sure we preserve them and continue our leadership role in terms of climate change, wildlife protection, community involvement and other things like that," Bertuglia said.
Not only does the sustainable destination certification ensure that the natural environment of the area remains in tact, but it also goes a step farther to include the cultural and community environment in its protection. The Mountain IDEAL certification features guidelines for area safety regulations, site accessibility requirements and the protection of local community property and rights.
These guidelines were included in the new standard to protect the residents and culture of mountain resort communities and to prevent tourism from intruding too heavily upon the lives of the locals. This was the element of Vail that Muir was most impressed with, stating that the "broad community and partnership" in the area was "impressive" and put Vail "far along the path to a sustainable tourism destination."
The sustainable destination certification would only be in place for Vail and the surrounding wilderness, but Langmaid and Bertuglia hope to someday extend the sustainability efforts to the entire Vail Valley.
"The challenge," Bertuglia said, "is going to be taking all the information we get from this audit and turning it into something meaningful, something that we can use to shape the Vail Valley in the future."/