Photo: Aspen Skiing C0mpany

Aspen’s Straight Shooter

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According to Auden Schendler of Aspen Skiing Company, what we really need is a revolution – the outdoor industry’s beloved public lands will quickly become unrecognizable without one.

Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company and a Protect Our Winters board member, is not known for sugarcoating the severity of the global climate crisis. Instead of working behind the scenes to green up resort operations, Schendler has also spearheaded initiatives to get customers involved. Now it’s time, he says, for your company to get off the sidelines and get involved. Without major action on climate, the whole industry is at stake.

Suston: What are POW’s goals in 2019?

The question POW is trying to answer is, why doesn’t the outdoor industry wield power on climate the way the NRA does on guns? The NRA is successful because they have a passionate constituency that’s basically rabid. When you tell them to vote, [they act]. What we want to do in 2019 and beyond, is to weaponize the outdoor industry as a political force, an advocacy force on climate.

Suston: Global warming can seem like a far-off threat that’s too big to tackle. How can we motivate people to act with a greater sense of urgency?

That’s the crux of the whole issue. We need to be more clear in what we need. What we need from people, businesses, institutions, is engagement in a democratic society. Participation, at the local, state, and federal levels. That means voting, writing, and running for office.

The broad, existential threat is becoming more tangible. People are seeing fires, seeing floods… I’m not sure I agree with the thought that when faced with a very difficult problem, humans are paralyzed. I think we’re capable of engaging a big problem and not being scared. That goes against Americanness—we’re not scared of big, scary things; we take them on.

Suston: What can people do right now, today?

Businesses have great power in the United States. And almost without exception, they’re not speaking out on climate to their customers, elected officials or the government. These people can push other companies and their trade groups to elevate this issue and stop talking about public lands. Public lands will be sacrificed if we fail to solve climate.

It’s really a pervasive problem that the outdoor industry is not speaking about climate. Even the leaders tend to just talk about public lands.

Suston: Why do you think the industry has prioritized public lands advocacy over climate?

It’s easier and safer, and it’s easier to make the connection with your customers. No one’s going to criticize a business for supporting or protecting public lands. But you could say, “What are you doing talking about climate? You’re just an outdoor business.”

We have to make that pivot because there is something kind of clueless about saying “We gotta protect our public lands,” when we know full well that we’re headed for a level of warming that will [render these places] nothing like what we understand them to be. They will be entirely different.

Suston: What are you doing at Aspen Skiing Company that other companies could replicate?

The key questions we’ve asked are “Is what we’re doing enough, on climate?” And “What’s our biggest leverage? What’s our power?”

This year we converted our marketing campaign from, “Hey, come see Aspen,” to “Here’s how you can be activists on climate.” We created a website that allows you to contact your elected officials. We released 1 million postcards to three key [Republican] senators we think can swing on climate. So we’re reaching a ton of people, educating people. We’re also saying to the rest of the industry, “Hey, it’s OK to do this—you can talk about these issues and not get in trouble.”

Kassondra Cloos
melanie.haas@norragency.com