Spirit Mountain leads the way in local sustainability effortsCARA LINDBERG: In the spring of 2011 the staff of Spirit Mountain recreational area took a big step. This was a well-thought-out leap of faith that started them on a journey towards sustainability.
By: Cara Lindberg, for the Budgeteer
In the spring of 2011 the staff of Spirit Mountain recreational area took a big step. This was a well-thought-out leap of faith that started them on a journey towards sustainability. In early 2011 Spirit Mountain applied for and was accepted to the 2011 Sustainable Twin Ports Early Adopter training. Spirit Mountain has virtually eliminated the presence of plastic foam, plastic plates and utensils, and other single-use food and beverage containers, and won grants to install motion- and occupancy detectors to reduce energy consumption.
In March of 2011 Spirit Mountain joined the Clyde Park (Clyde Iron Works Restaurant, The Boys & Girls Club, the Duluth Children’s Museum, and the Heritage Sports Center), Common Ground Construction and the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority in sustainability training with Sustainable Twin Ports.
Sustainable Twin Ports is a Twin Ports-based volunteer-led nonprofit organization whose goal is to teach businesses and organizations of all sizes The Natural Step, a science- and systems-based framework that teaches how to strategically and efficiently plan for sustainable development. The training provides leaders the tools and a clearer understanding of how implementing a sustainability initiative will help their operations economically, environmentally and socially.
Spirit Mountain’s team was strong. It was led by Gretchen Ransom, the manager of Safety and Sustainability, and included Gareth Bates, Brenda Witte, Dawn Earls and Josh Halligan. The team members were chosen strategically across departments. When speaking of the team Ransom said, “We have many folks who work in multiple departments, and their participation in our sustainability efforts transcends departmental lines.”
Now a year since the training, Spirit Mountain has, well, “moved mountains” in its sustainability efforts. Through commitment and leadership, major steps have been taken and some goals have been reached. They have created and placed more food waste and recycle containers around the area for employees and guests. They received 12 large plastic bottles from the Recycle Association of Minnesota’s “Message in a Bottle” program, which benefits Spirit Mountain and guests by offering an easily recognizable receptacle for disposal of bottles and cans, and offers employment opportunities for individuals with special needs and challenges who face difficulties trying to find employment in mainstream America, said Ransom.
The plastic foam has been replaced by products that are biodegradable, compostable and recyclable. Ransom is proud of these efforts and said, “We’ve virtually eliminated the presence of Styrofoam, plastic plates and silverware, and other single-use food and beverage containers at Spirit Mountain, thanks largely to Gareth Bates, our head chef.” Guests have also taken notice. Spirit has received many positive comments from guests and visitors who share the same concern for the environment.
One of the most economically beneficial outcomes of their sustainability initiative is the receipt of grants and rebates. Spirit Mountain applied for and received a $6,000 grant from the National Ski Areas Association’s Sustainable Slopes Program.
The funds are awarded to ski resorts through an annual application process. Ransom said these funds will be used to incorporate more motion- and occupancy sensors throughout the facility to reduce energy consumption in areas that are unoccupied or infrequently used, yet almost always illuminated.
“The grant is a matching-funds grant, and it offers support for incentives which, although beneficial, might otherwise be unattainable for ski areas at the time,” said Ransom. Along with the NSAA grant, Spirit has qualified for several rebates through Minnesota Power for lighting upgrades, energy-efficient equipment and energy-saving devices. “We’re continuing to apply for grants and other sources of funding to help with initiatives such as solar heating, solar energy and other costlier portions of our sustainability plan,”
There are always challenges when it comes to implementing change. One of the biggest problems for Ransom and her team is time. “Each of our team members is busy. Once the training ends it’s important to get together and continue the work that began during the early adopter training,” said Ransom.
Another challenge is funding. During the strategic planning portion of the training, organizations are asked to compile short-, intermediate- and long-term goals. Many of the intermediate- and long-term goals come with a hefty price tag. This is a challenge for every organization, but Ransom offers a good outlook: “There are so many great ideas and areas for improvement, but a business or organization can implement them only as resources permit. You still have to keep the doors open and, as with any program, you can’t sacrifice all other efforts for one focus. There is a balance to be found.”
For businesses and organizations interested in implementing a strategic sustainability plan, Gretchen Ransom has some advice: “The EA training is one of the best things we’ve ever done. We have a more detailed focus and a comprehensive plan that we didn’t have prior to the training. It’s generated excitement and anticipation within our organization. Trying to formulate your own plan without some assistance is like operating a rowboat with one oar — you keep going in circles and it takes you a long time to get there. Instead of just saying that we want to be green, environmentally responsible or sustainable, we actually have action plans and tangible ways of getting there and the goals are better defined. Don’t delay, enroll today!”
As of 2012, the Sustainable Twin Ports Family is 26 organizations strong, and growing. For more information on becoming a 2013 Early Adopter, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sustainabletwinports.org
Cara Lindberg is the board president of Sustainable Twin Ports. She lives with her husband in the Duluth area. Lindberg can be reached at email@example.com.