From Government to Aspen Chamber Resort Association to the Private Sector, Aspen Takes a Lead in Sustainable Policies and Combating Climate Change
ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s natural assets are highly valued by the local and visitor community. Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have prioritized protecting the environment for decades. More recently, many government, tourism, and private entities have adopted more aggressive policies to preserve the local environment and reverse the effects of climate change.
From civic to private and nonprofit sectors, there is a high level of advocacy and initiatives that make Aspen a leader in environmental stewardship. Following are some of the environmental initiatives taken by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), the City of Aspen, Pitkin County, Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA), and Aspen Skiing Company, which operates the four ski mountains in Aspen Snowmass.
Since its creation in the 1960s, ACRA has worked to create and support an environment for Aspen to thrive. In 2020, ACRA shifted its focus from destination marketing to destination management with the following stated goals:
- We want to preserve the very reason people enjoy visiting Aspen while providing the high quality of life that made people decide to live here full time.
- Maintain economic vitality for our residents while providing world class experiences that delight our visitors.
- Sustainability is important not only in the environmental sense but also in its application to our business community.
- In being mindful about our promotion of Aspen, and switching to an educational lens, we have the opportunity to improve both the experience for visitors and locals.
To help promote responsible tourism, ACRA has adopted the following programs:
- The Aspen Pledge, an initiative with positive messages on how to visit and play in Aspen. The Aspen Pledge was created to encourage visitors – and locals - to take ownership in maintaining Aspen’s natural beauty for generations to come.
- “Tag Responsibly” campaign encouraging locals and visitors to “Tag Responsibly – Take the Aspen Pledge.” As Instagram and other social media channels have encouraged people to travel the world while snapping photos of the most beautiful places discovered, some places in the world are getting over-visited – or people are endangering themselves for that perfect Instagram shot. ACRA encourages locals and visitors to use the geotag “Tag Responsibly – Take the Aspen Pledge” to protect Aspen’s most coveted locations.
- In 2020, ACRA launched a partnership with Pledge for the Wild – in order to encourage locals and visitors to support local nonprofit Independence Pass Foundation with their goal to protect Aspen’s wild surroundings.
- In March 2022, ACRA enacted the ADMP/Aspen Destination Management Plan With three pillars: Address Visitor Pressure, Enhance the Aspen Experience, and Preserve Small-town Character, and strategic priorities such as catalyzing sustainable choices,
- in 2022, ACRA updated the Aspen Pledge (in English and Spanish) with a commitment of $50,000 to Roaring Fork Outdoors and Independence Pass Foundation to help protect Aspen’s wild environs. https://aspenchamber.org/pledge
Cleaner Air and Better Transportation
In order to encourage locals and visitors to not use their cars, Aspen has many complimentary options. Since 1993, car trips into Aspen have decreased 10%, with 2019 being the lowest number of car trips in 27 years, while the population in the Roaring Fork Valley has increased substantially.
- Complimentary bus service in Aspen - The City of Aspen operates eight shuttle routes providing free transit service to more than one million residents and visitors each year.
- RFTA (Roaring Fork Transit Authority) operates complimentary bus service to Aspen Airport and the Brush Creek Intercept Lot as well as to Snowmass Village/Snowmass Mountain.
- The City of Aspen boasts a unique car-share program, offering residents a fleet of vehicles to rent for a small cost instead of owning a car.
- The Downtowner was brought in by the City of Aspen in 2017, as an eco-friendly and free way for locals and visitors to travel around Aspen in an electric vehicle. In 2021, the Downtowner had 78,000 riders, up from 23,000 in the inaugural year.
- Most of the City of Aspen's shuttle, transit and car-share vehicles use hybrid and biodiesel technology.
- We-Cycle launched in Aspen in 2013, making Aspen the first-ever resort town to have an official bike-sharing program. We-Cycle, which is subsidized by the City of Aspen and Pitkin County, has been free for the first 30 minutes since the year 2018. The number of rides is expected to reach 100,000 in 2022.
There are multiple electrical vehicles (EV) complimentary charging stations throughout Aspen and the upper Roaring Fork Valley including one level three DC fast charger.
In December 2019, RFTA added eight battery powered electric buses to the RFTA fleet at a cost of $8.2 million (buses and electric charging infrastructure). The electric buses operate on City of Aspen routes. RFTA has plans to expand the electric bus fleet as funding allows.
As of December 2019, passengers traveling to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) may opt to reduce the impact of their flight with carbon offsets through an online program called The Good Traveler. The online program, which is endorsed by Roaring Fork Valley’s Rocky Mountain Institute uses allows travelers to calculate the distance of their trip and buy offsets to cover the distance, which then gets invested into carbon reducing projects.
Atlantic Aviation, which operates the Aspen FBO and provides all the fuel for commercial and private flights, is providing 100% verifiable carbon offsets for all fuel sold at Aspen Airport. Through Carbonfund.org. They are the first airport in North America to have non-voluntary offsets, and at no cost to the flying passenger.
Smart Use of Water
The City of Aspen has made improvements to the municipal water distribution system which has resulted in water-use levels similar to those existing in Aspen in the 1950s, all despite a dramatic increase in population.
Efficiency is a priority as seen in the Aspen public golf course where 30 million gallons of water are saved each year thanks to a state-of-the-art irrigation system. In addition, water-saving technology is used in all 35 city parks.
Since 2008, Pitkin County has had a .01 tax for the Health Rivers Fund to improve water quantity and quality, protect water for the watershed, augment streamflows, promote x, and enhance watershed facilities.
Green Parks & Open Space
Aspen is surrounded by open space, which is a mix of U.S. Forest Service, City of Aspen Parks & Open Space, Pitkin County Open Space, and other preserved land with Aspen Valley Land Trust and other organizations.
Aspen Parks and Open Space Department manages approximately 1,300 acres of open space and 25 parks within and around the city in addition to supporting an active land acquisition program.
Pitkin County Open Space & Trails’ manages more than 20,000 acres of Open Space, and their mission is to acquire, preserve, maintain and manage open space properties for multiple purposes including, recreational, wildlife, agricultural, scenic and access purposes; and to acquire, preserve, develop, maintain and manage trails for similar purposes.
In September 2019, at the urging of youth activists, Pitkin County declared a climate emergency and requested “regional collaboration to counter climate change.” At the time, Pitkin County was one of 32 governments across the country to declare a climate emergency. Pitkin County originally adopted an aggressive climate action plan in 2017.
CORE– Community Office for Resource Efficiency
Since 1994, CORE has been helping Roaring Fork Valley residents save energy and cut carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. The nonprofit organization was created by a group of visionary citizens, local governments, and utilities that came together almost 25 years ago to conserve natural resources. CORE values include clean air, stable climate, strong economy, healthy communities, and sustainable energy.
As a community, Aspen has adopted the goal of reducing carbon pollution by 80% by 2050. Aspen’s recently updated three-year Climate Action Plan (CAP) establishes strategies to reach that goal. The CAP was developed by the City of Aspen’s Climate Action Office with an advisory committee comprised of 40 regional experts from 15 organizations, including the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE). Executing the Climate Action Plan is happening now, with 46 actions encompassing six sustainability sectors.
Aspen is one of six cities in the country that runs on 100 percent renewable energy- a mix of approximately 50 percent wind, 45 percent hydropower, and the remaining five percent from solar and landfill gas.
Single-Use Plastic and Recycling
In 2011, the City of Aspen became one of the first in the U.S. to ban plastic bags and charges a fee on single-use paper bags.
The City of Aspen's recycling ordinance requires recycling be part of basic trash service for all residential, multi-family and commercial customers, and was the first in Colorado to include the commercial sector.
Aspen Skiing Company
Aspen Skiing Company operates the four ski mountains in the Aspen area. They have been recognized as the leader in the ski industry for activism to fight climate change.
- Reducing the Carbon footprint– Aspen Skiing Company’s three-megawatt waste-methane-to-electricity power plant eliminates three times ASC’s carbon emissions annually.
- Education and Awareness – Aspen Skiing Company has been working to increase awareness of the effect of climate change on the Aspen area. For example, average temperatures have increased an average of two degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, with one month more frost-free days.
- Aspen Snowmass Give A Flake Campaign - Aspen Snowmass’ Give A Flake activism campaign is geared at rallying the ski industry in the fight against climate change. The campaign featured tear-out postage paid letters for readers to sign and mail to Senators as well as social media outreach.
- The Environment Foundation is Aspen Skiing Company’s nonprofit employee organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the regional environment. The Environment Foundation supports projects that promote environmental education and research, seek to reduce the impacts of climate change, foster responsible stewardship of the area’s natural resources, protect mountain ecosystems, and preserve and create opportunities for outdoor recreation. Since its inception, the Environment Foundation has raised $3,500,000 (employee donations matched by Aspen Skiing company’s Family Fund and other entities.)
Aspen Meadows Resort
Nestled on 40 acres of meadowlands and forests, Aspen Meadows Resort worked with energy provider Holy Cross Energy to reopen in June 2020 with 100 percent clean energy. The renewable energy switch is part of the Aspen Meadows Resort’s plan to work towards carbon neutrality for Aspen Institute facility operations and staff travel. In addition to the renewable electricity transition, the resort is replacing all plastic water bottles with reusable options, as well as removing all single-use plastics from guest rooms.
Additional local nonprofits laying the foundation for Aspen's embrace of the environment include Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), Aspen Valley Land Trust, Independence Pass Foundation, and Wilderness Workshop.
For visitor information, visit www.aspenchamber.org, or call 1.888.290.1324 or 970.925.1940.
About Aspen, Colorado – Aspen, Colorado is an authentic, historic mountain town that is renowned for its year-round outdoor lifestyle, cosmopolitan cultural calendar, and bustling downtown ambiance. With an endless array of arts, culture, dining, and nightlife, Aspen is defined by an urbane feel that belies its small-town charm. An Aspen vacation is an experience that energizes the mind, body, spirit, whether soaking in mountain splendor and over 200 days of annual sunshine, learning a new skill, feeding a fascination, or simply absorbing the mountain spirit. Located 18 miles west of Independence Pass on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide, Aspen is nestled in the heart of the White River National Forest at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River, Hunter Creek, Maroon Creek, and Castle Creek, and encircled by the peaks of the Elk Mountain Range in the central Rocky Mountains. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is conveniently located only three miles from downtown Aspen. For visitor information, a complete calendar of events, or to book an Aspen vacation, visit www.aspenchamber.org, or call 1.888.290.1324 or 970.925.1940.