Names: Kate Wilson
Title: Senior Director of Sustainability
Company: Vail Resorts
Years with Vail Resorts: Almost three years
Primary Responsibility: “I am lucky to run Commitment to Zero. We own and operate 37 resorts globally. We made a bold sustainability commitment to have a zero-net impact by 2030. I work on the strategy and implement these goals.”
Organization’s most significant accomplishment in global corporate responsibility: “We reached our 50 percent waste diversion goal nine months ahead of schedule.”
Organization’s most significant challenge moving forward in global corporate responsibility: “Waste is still a huge challenge for us because of where these resorts are located. Two towns may have their own definitions of what is compostable or not.”
VAIL, COLO.—From the C-Suite to engineering to housekeeping, every employee at Vail Resorts is doing their part to help the company reach its goal of having a zero net operating footprint by 2030. “We have an employee survey and every time our employees are interested and passionate about sustainability and community,” says Kate Wilson, Senior Director of Sustainability.
In addition to visionary Chairman and CEO Robert A. Katz, Wilson is leading the way towards the company’s ambitious 2030 goals. She has been in her current role since August of 2019 after working as Director of Sustainability since April 2018.
Wilson overseas a team of 11 “Commitment to Zero” team members, two of whom are in Vail Resorts’ corporate office. She also overseas Vail Resorts’ regional sustainability managers.
“Mostly, my team creates energy and waste dashboards,” Wilson says. “We provide reports monthly to our leaders.”
Investing in Energy Efficiency
Vail Resorts has long had an interest in investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The company is pursuing a 15 percent energy efficiency savings goal by 2030 through energy efficient equipment and shared best practices. Vail Resorts has pledged to spend $20 million on energy efficiency—$5 million of that on snowmaking (more efficient snow guns) and lifts. With COVID-19, tents have been attached to restaurants to provide a safer environment to eat. Those tents are heated. “We manage that energy very carefully,” Wilson says. The company has also invested in products ranging from LEDs to low-flow faucets.
Last June, the large-scale wind farm Vail Resorts invested in came online. Through a 12-year commitment to purchase 310,000 MWhs annually from the Plum Creek Wind project, Vail Resorts is bringing new clean energy to the power grid—and addressing more than 90 percent of the company’s current electricity use across its North American resorts. This virtual power purchase agreement is the first of its kind to be executed with a Colorado-based company as a buyer.
Additionally, this past fall Vail Resorts signed onto the Elektron Solar Project in Utah. Vail Resorts, along with five other local partners in Utah, completed a two-year journey to finalize details on development of a new 80 MW solar project 60 miles west of Salt Lake City. Once complete in late 2022, Vail Resorts will purchase enough solar electricity annually to power Park City Mountain 100 percent. The wind and solar projects, along with participation in other local utility programs, sets a course to be 93 percent powered by renewable electricity enterprise wide by 2023.
“We started our sustainability journey in 2006,” Wilson says. It was then when Katz committed to offset 100 percent of its energy use through the purchase of wind energy. Vail Resorts had just five resorts at the time. In the summer of 2017, company leaders asked themselves, “What is our next big goal?” Wilson says that Katz then asked: “Can we do 100 percent emissions reduction?”
Importance of Partnerships
As mentioned, reducing waste remains a major challenge for Vail Resorts. Wilson gave an example of a banana peel produced as waste at 10,000 feet. How do you get that peel down the mountain and composted? Yet, Vail Resorts continues to make progress in reducing its waste. It is eliminating all guest-facing single-use plastic and expanding its partnership with suppliers such as PepsiCo. to reduce beverage and food packaging waste and replace wax-lined paper cups with compostable or durable PepsiCo products. At the end of the 2018/19 ski season, the companies shared that more than 250,000 wax-lined paper cups (or 7,750 pounds of waste) had been saved from landfill because of this switch at multiple on-mountain restaurants.
“It is by working together, through robust partnerships with shared sustainability goals, that we’ll have the most impact on climate change,” said Wilson, in a press release last fall that announced the expanded PepsiCo partnership. “No one company can do it alone and expanding our partnership with PepsiCo will allow us to make major progress toward reaching our most challenging Commitment to Zero pillar—zero waste to landfill.”
Vail Resorts and PepsiCo are currently partnering with TerraCycle to create picnic tables and Adirondack chairs out of recycled snack and candy wrappers for guests to enjoy at Park City, Keystone, Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge resorts. The companies also are partnering with Fuse Marketing and Snow Park Technologies to develop a terrain park feature at Breckenridge made partially of recycled plastic and snack and candy wrapper material.
To keep the momentum going toward their 2030 goal, employees receive ongoing training. “We just built a module for employees that takes them through all the parts of EpicPromise,” Wilson says. EpicPromise is the name of Vail Resorts’ corporate responsibility platform.
Passionate About Her Work
Wilson, who grew up in London and who has a Masters of Applied Science in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Denver, says she loves her job. “I have had a personal mission to have the most impact on climate change. My charge in life is to combat climate change. I cannot not do this work,” she says.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.