Auden Schendler: Navigating the Steep Slopes of Climate Policy

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

This week's conversation, with Auden Schendler, VP of Sustainability for the Aspen Ski Company, certainly made me pine for my Colorado days. It also reminded me that underneath all of the beauty and tranquility of the skiing experience, the industry behind it is hugely energy intensive and, unfortunately, directly contributing to global warming.

So Auden spends his days fighting hard on both the macro and micro level for changes in energy policy. There is a lot at stake directly for the industry – the ski season has shortened by 3 weeks in the last 30 years.

His job can be uncomfortable at times, but Auden is not shy when he discusses his aims, saying that it will take a complete overhaul of our energy policies to truly affect change.

We talked about his recent trip to DC, his challenges and successes at his job, the power of Aspen as a laboratory for the climate change message, as well as his book, Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainable Revolution. Thankfully, despite it all, he is still hopeful.

When Auden started at the Aspen Ski Company over 10 years ago, not only did he have a job to do, he had to convince many within the organization that climate change was real and not simply a passing fad. Internal discord has faded, but as his trip to DC can attest, the climate change movement remains unsuccessful in convincing Washington of the immediacy of the issue.

Auden SchendlerHe did mention, however, that while the DC trip may not have been an overall success on the ground, it succeeded in sending a message to Washington that the ski industry, as a $66 billion a year industry, is a major player in the fight to curtail climate change.

And Auden wisely flanked himself with well-known and well-spoken ski industry athletes who spoke on behalf of all ski industry athletes who are motivated to fight hard for climate change policy.

There is also Auden's aforementioned book. (Read Marc Gunther's profile here.) It is as honest as a book can get when it comes to the realities of how messy and complicated sustainability within corporations is.

In addition to his own challenges at his job, he highlights the challenges that people with similar positions in his field face and speaks of their pervasive frustration in getting at the big energy cuts and policy actions within their corporations. He argues that as long as energy remains cheap, whatever the company is selling or service it is providing is always going to take precedence over energy savings no matter how many low hanging fruit are grabbed.

But as I mentioned before, he ultimately believes there will be a positive outcome. In his words:

Hope comes from an engaged electorate. There's an incredible crisis but we, at same time, know how to solve it and we have the technology to solve it. In a way you can think of it as an incredible opportunity to achieve things that humans have always wanted to achieve; we've always wanted to be able to take care of our children, treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated ourselves.... If you solve climate change, and start to do this on this incredibly broad scale, it taps into some of the oldest dreams and aspirations that humans have ever had. It's an unprecedented opportunity that taps into something very visceral in human desire.

Amen.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.

Ski slope photo via Shutterstock. Author photo via Getting Green Done.