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Disclosure of environmental sustainability activities by large ski lift firms

Communication des activités de durabilité environnementale par les grandes entreprises de remontées mécaniques
Martin Falk et Eva Hagsten

Résumés

Cette étude examine comment un groupe de six grands exploitants de remontées mécaniques à travers le monde (Compagnie des Alpes, CDA (France), Silvrettaseilbahn AG (Ischgl) (Autriche), Skistar (Suède/Norvège), Vail resorts (États-Unis), Whistler Blackcomb (Canada) et Zermatt (Suisse) communique sur les pratiques et les rapports en matière de durabilité environnementale. Différents types de pratiques sont évalués. Les résultats montrent que les exploitants de remontées mécaniques sont très actifs, même si l’étendue de la communication varie d’une station à l’autre. Les exploitants de remontées mécaniques cotés en bourse en France et en Suède fournissent un rapport détaillé sur la durabilité et ont également mis en œuvre des programmes de gestion environnementale. D’autres entreprises développent leurs propres stratégies de développement durable (Whistler Blackcomb, Vail resorts et Zermatt Bergbahnen AG). Ces pratiques vont de la surveillance des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, de l’électricité 100 % verte, des objectifs de zéro émission, de la réduction de la consommation d’énergie, du changement de combustible, de la consommation d’eau, de la gestion des déchets et des mesures d’adaptation aux changements climatiques. Deux exploitants de remontées mécaniques montrent une tendance à la baisse des émissions de CO2 par jour de skieur ou des coûts énergétiques. Certains exploitants signalent une consommation d’eau dans la fabrication de neige par visiteur, qui varie entre 250 et 1400 litres par jour de ski. La compensation carbone et le diesel écologique sont également des outils courants. Aucun exploitant de remontées mécaniques ne participe activement au programme mondial du Pacte des Nations Unies, tandis que trois fournissent un rapport sur la durabilité à la suite de l’Initiative mondiale pour la production de rapports sur l’environnement. L’accent est trop mis sur l’utilisation de sources d’énergie renouvelables facilement disponibles, tandis que d’autres préoccupations environnementales plus complexes, telles que le risque de changement climatique, sont négligées. Les informations sur la principale source d’émissions générées localement, la consommation de carburant des véhicules de piste et des motoneiges sont rares.

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Introduction

1Ski lift businesses are not only threatened by global warming (Knowles, 2019; Steiger et al., 2019) but also need to navigate their land and energy use in environmentally sensitive areas (Hudson, 1995; Todd and Williams, 1996; Williams and Todd, 1997; Pickering, Harrington and Worboys, 2003; Smerecnik and Andersen, 2011; Hopkins, 2014). These challenges include rising costs of snowmaking (Damm, Köberl and Prettenthaler, 2014; Spandre et al., 2015), adaptation of renewable energy sources, soil erosion and air pollution, water scarcity (Sefiha and Lauderdale, 2008) as well as effects on alpine vegetation (Wipf et al., 2005).

2Evidence based on annual reports of the largest ski lift operators in the world shows that they are increasingly aware of their responsibility for the environment. They try to mitigate the possible negative impacts on the environment by for instance reduced consumption of energy, water and non-durable products as well as by use of clean energy and environmentally friendly business practices (CDA, 2020; Skistar, 2019). The resorts also attempt to keep the number of transportation modes within the destination down and take measures to protect the soil. An increasing number of ski lift operators undertake annual sustainability reporting, provide separate sustainability reports or implement environmental management systems.

3The aim of this study is to present a comprehensive analysis of how some of the largest ski resorts in the world disclose their environmental and sustainability practices. Based on information from annual reports, sustainability reports and websites, the measures disclosed are assessed. In addition to this, the extent to which the operators participate in one of the environmental management certification or voluntary international sustainability reporting programmes is investigated (ISO 14001, United Nations global compact or Global reporting initiative). Six ski resorts are included in the analysis: Compagnie des Alpes, CDA (France), Silvrettaseilbahn AG (Ischgl) (Austria), Skistar (Sweden/Norway), Vail resorts (United States), Whistler Blackcomb (Canada) and Zermatt (Switzerland). These firms are characterised by above-average profitability with gross margins of 30 to 67 per cent.

4Since the 1990s, the ski business has stagnated in Europe and North America (Tuppen, 2000; Steiger et al., 2019). Recent discussions focus on the vulnerability of ski resorts to climate change and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Flagestad and Hope (2001) argue that environmental sustainability is a crucial determinant for the strategic success of winter destinations. Several studies emphasise the weight of sustainable business strategies for ski resorts (Hudson, 1995; Tashman and Rivera, 2016 for the United States, Peyrache-Gadeau, Rutter and Bélicard, 2017 for four ski resorts in the French Alps, Val d'Isère, Saint Gervais, Combloux, and Les Gets, George-Marcelpoil and François, 2016 for France and Kuščer and Dwyer, 2019 for several ski resorts in the European Alps). Spector et al. (2012), for instance, examine ski resort environmental communications based on 82 ski resort websites in the United States. The assessment includes scoring these communications for prominence, breadth, and depth based on environmental categories listed in the USA such as sustainable slopes and program Carter. Based on these ratings and scores, ski areas were classified as inactive, exploitative, reactive, or proactive.

5By use of firm level data for the US, Eccles, Ioannou and Serafeimhigh (2014) demonstrate that sustainably managed firms significantly outperform their peers in the long run, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance. Goncalves, Robinot and Michel (2016) show that efficiency of ski resorts and environmental practices are correlated. Based on a Delphi analysis of ski lift managers and related businesses, Knowles (2019) calls for a new mountain experience including nature-oriented activities to engage tourists and locals alike in the climate movement for sustainable tourism.

6This study contributes to a first assessment of disclosed environmental strategies and reporting by ski lift operators. Sharma et al. (2007) report that data on ski resort environmental practices, performance, and organizational capabilities for these firms are not available from published sources. Fortunately, with the increased emphasis on sustainability reporting, information on these activities is now available, at least for the larger firms.

7The structure of the study is as follows. Section 2 introduces the conceptual background and the empirical method. Section 3 presents the data underlying the analysis, and Section 4 reports the empirical results. A discussion is held in Section 5 and Section 6 concludes.

Conceptual background and literature

8Environmentally sustainable business practices are particularly crucial for firms that operate in environmentally sensitive areas such as ski resorts (Williams and Todd, 1997; Pickering, Harrington and Worboys, 2003; Sharma et al., 2007; Sefiha and Lauderdale, 2008; Smerecnik and Andersen, 2011; Hopkins, 2014). Without environmental considerations, these activities may otherwise be difficult to justify in the longer run. It should be noted, however, that travel distance and modes of transportation are by far more environmentally exhausting than the level of direct emissions generated by the consumers and businesses at the destination, including winter sport areas (Spector, 2017; Lenzen et al., 2018).

9Ski lifts and ski slopes are resource (water) and energy intensive compared to other forms of winter sports such as ski touring, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Ski lifts need electricity, which can be green from renewable sources or conventional. Once there is snow, another energy-intensive activity is called for; the preparation of the slopes. Generally, for this snow groomers are employed. These piste machines are commonly run by fossil fuels. There are also various other vehicles used by operators for local transportation purposes. Snowmaking is the other energy and water intensive activity. Water consumption can be large and is likely increasing with global warming (Steiger and Mayer, 2008; Rixen et al., 2011). Global warming is a massive challenge for ski lift operations (Knowles, 2019; Steiger et al., 2020; Willibald et al., 2021). Rising temperatures and snow shortages pose a serious threat to ski tourism. Investments in snowmaking equipment are a widely used means to combat this problem (Spandre et al., 2015; Steiger and Scott, 2020; Berard-Chenu et al., 2021). As the effects of climate change are expected to increase in the coming decades, ski resorts will have to produce snow under less ideal conditions, resulting in higher production costs (due to increased water and energy requirements; Spandre et al., 2015). Implementation of energy-saving snowmaking systems can reduce costs, but these risks are likely to be outweighed by increasing snowmaking operating hours. Energy consumption of snowmaking equipment is relatively low while water demand for snowmaking is immense (Rixen et al., 2011). It should be noted that the constraints on the two types of resources are likely to be different. While energy is available, possibly from new sources or at an increasing cost, water scarcity may become a real constraint independent of costs.

10A growing number of firms in all industries are aiming for so-called net zero emission targets, carbon neutrality or climate neutrality in the medium and long run (Rogelj et al., 2015; 2020). This is achieved by the use of renewable energy: photovoltaics, ground-coupled cooling, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines (Adams et al., 2017; Benachio et al., 2020; Ruiz et al., 2020). There is also an increase in the implementation of the circular economy perspective emphasising carbon-neutral building materials, renewable materials, application of the 3Rs concept (for instance reduce, reuse and recycle) and wood-intensive construction (Wang, Toppinen, and Juslin 2014, Pajchrowski et al., 2014).

11Climate neutrality is thus likely to become a central goal for many ski lift operators as well. This status is achieved when negative carbon emissions are offset through climate protection projects (Rogelj et al., 2015). Since the emissions from diesel-powered vehicles are difficult to replace in the short term, ski lift firms can use the option of CO2 offsetting to achieve climate neutrality.

12Before any action can be taken by the operators, water and energy use and the carbon footprint of energy utilisation must be calculated (see Skistar annual report 2019, 2020 and CDA 2020 for examples). In addition to actions related to the use of resources, other adaptation measures to the consequences of climate change are also important. These include diversifying operations to the summer season with lift operations, theme parks and bike parks.

13Large ski lift operators exhibit a relatively standardised business model with transparent operations and, thus, are suitable candidates for a comparison and assessment of their sustainability reporting and environmental certification standards. Different environmental certification schemes have been developed since the 1990s and are now widespread (Font, 2002). Todd and Williams (1996) are pioneers in proposal of environmental audit or management systems to evaluate the effectiveness of environmentally friendly practices. However, ISO systems are only feasible to adapt for larger tourism enterprises, as Font (2002) points out. Recent studies reveal that environmental management systems such as ISO 14001 are increasingly used by hotels (Chan 2009; Segarra-Oña et al., 2012).

14Environmental and sustainability reporting is another strategy to disclose information about different practices. Starting from the early 1990s onwards, firms increasingly disclose information about their environmental sustainability efforts as separate CSR reports including social or environmental aspects, as a separate sustainability report, as part of the annual report or as information on their websites (Hahn and Kühnen, 2013). Annual reports are the main means that companies use to communicate their key priorities and actual commitments (Adams and Harte, 1998). It is the archive that is publicly available and most frequently accessed by different partners and stakeholders to obtain different types of information, including financial and non-financial, such as those related to sustainability (Neu et al., 1998). Milne and Adler (1999) note that the annual report is regularly used in sustainability research to demonstrate a company's sustainability practices. More recently, several studies use the content analysis approach based on the environmental information provided on the websites of the firms (Jose and Lee, 2007). Some firms integrate a corporate sustainability report (CSR) in their annual report or provide a separate CSR or sustainability report. These studies indicate that progress in environmental performance at the country level and the extent of voluntary environmental reporting go hand in hand (Clarkson, Li, Richardson and Vasvari, 2008).

15One of the most widely used practices is Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI), founded in 1997. GRI is a framework that helps firms to organise sustainability reports that include the economic, social and environmental impacts of their businesses (Willis, 2003; del Mar Alonso‐Almeida, Llach and Marimon, 2014). Other sustainability reporting initiatives include the United Nations Global Compact programme encompassing ten principles of which three refer to environmental sustainability (Rasche, 2009). These principles state that (i) firms should support a precautionary approach to environmental problems, (ii) take initiatives to promote greater environmental awareness, and (iii) encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies (https://www.unglobalcompact.org).

16There are also nationally initiated sustainability programmes specifically for ski areas. An example is the Sustainable Slopes Program launched by the US National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) (George, 2004; Steelman and Rivera, 2006). This programme aims to "provide a framework for ski areas across the country to implement best practices, evaluate environmental performance, and set goals for improvement in the future" (NSAA, 2000 cited in Steelman and Rivera, 2006). The “Sustainable Slopes” programme is a way for ski areas to commit to sustainable practices throughout their operations. Ten thematic areas can be distinguished: Water, Energy, Design & Construction, Education & Outreach, Climate Action, Climate Advocacy, Transportation, Waste, Forest Health & Habitat, Supply Chain (NSAA, 2020).

17The nature of disclosure of environmental sustainability practices depends on several factors. One is that a firm has a proactive environmental strategy. This includes organisational learning, shared vision, cross-functional integration, stakeholder engagement, strategic proactivity, and continuous innovation (Sharma et al., 2007). Another factor for sustainability reporting is government regulations and legislations. Increased sustainability reporting could well follow from government regulations or new laws. Generally, firms above a certain size are legally obliged to do so (France, Sweden). In France, listed firms (as CDA) are required to report on the social and environmental impacts of their operating activities under Section 116 of the New Economic Order Act adopted in 2001 Nouvelles Régulations Economiques, NRE) (Chelli, Durocher and Richard, 2014). Also, in Sweden, firms above a certain size are legally obliged to prepare a sustainability report (Swedish Annual Accounts SFS 1995:1554, Chapter 6 § 10). The CDA had a market share of 25.6 per cent in 2015 (13.6 million/53 million) (Vanat 2019; CDA Annual Report 2015), while the market share of Skistar was 37 per cent in the 2018/2019 winter season (3.7 million skier days divided by the total of 10 million) (Skistar annual report 2019).

18Firms with proactive environmental strategies are often related to the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders (Buysse and Verbeke, 2003). These stakeholders are not necessarily suppliers and customers, but can also include owners, investors, banks and local authorities. Therefore, it may be the case that environmental leadership is not necessarily related to an increasie in the importance of environmental regulations, but to voluntary cooperation between firms and stakeholders (Buysse and Verbeke, 2003). Sharma et al. (2007) mention that ski resorts face significant counter pressure from local communities, but rather because of real estate price trends than due to environmental concerns. There is also pressure from environmental NGOs alarmed about the degradation of mountain habitats.

19Large or listed firms are forced by stakeholders to disclose such information. As argued by Rivera and De Leon (2004) larger ski resorts experience more institutional pressure on their response to environmental challenges from stakeholders, media, government agencies and environmental agencies than smaller ski resorts. Normative pressures therefore force larger ski lift operators to behave like role models to represent the values and norms of the ski resort industry. In this study the six ski lift operators analysed are either medium-sized or large and CDA, Skistar as well as Zermatt Bergbahnen AG are publicly listed.

20Literature on ski lift operators has a strong focus on the winter season but strengthening their summer activities is a way to de-seasonalise businesses and also to contribute to climate change adaptation. Many managers try to diversify their ski resorts with new services for the summer season and to reposition themselves as year-round destinations (Zach, Schnitzer and Falk, 2021). There are expectations that losses of sales in the early and late winter season can be partially compensated by an increase in ski lift sales and turnover of the associated businesses in the summer season.

21Against the background of what is highlighted in the literature, the different environmental practices disclosed by selected ski lift operators are compared and assessed in this study. Specific focus is placed on a set of three indicators: Proportion of green (renewable) electricity and renewable energy usage, Co2 emissions in kilos per visitor (skier days), costs of energy consumption, water consumed for snowmaking and use of biofuels.

Data

22Information on sustainability and environmental reporting originates from a sequel of annual reports and from the website of the ski resorts. In addition to this, data from international databases is used (UNGC and GRI). Compagnie des Alpes (CDA) has a detailed and comprehensive sustainability report which is integrated into the annual report. Since the firm is listed on the stock exchange, such a report is mandatory. Skistar provides a separate sustainability report (Skistar 2019) which is in accordance with the GRI Standard’s guidelines and loosely follows the guidelines of the United Nations Global Compact, even though Skistar is not formally participating in the programme.

23Silvretta Bergbahnen AG (Ischgl) does not provide information about its environmental practices in its annual report, but on its website. Vail Resorts delivers a separate sustainability report, while Whistler provides information on its homepage together with a large environmental programme first published in 2002 (RMOW, 2002). Zermatt Bergbahnen AG also releases information mainly on its homepage and to some extent in its annual report.

24Three ski lift operators (CDA, Vail resorts and Skistar) are conglomerates, consisting of several ski resorts. The ski lift conglomerate Vail resorts is the parent organisation of Whistler Blackcomb. Five of the six firms (except Silvrettaseilbahn AG) are listed. Two ski lift operators are large, publicly listed and have to report their sustainability efforts (CDA and Skistar). According to the CDA annual report 2020, each of the nine ski areas has a sustainable development manager. Similarly, Skistar has employed a sustainability manager (see LinkedIn). Silvrettaseilbahn AG is a limited company, with the shareholders including the municipalities, tourism firms and the board of directors.

Results

25All six ski resorts have some sort of sustainability agenda and disclose information about this as reported in their annual reports or on their website (Table 1). Skistar has a long tradition of producing sustainability reports. Since the beginning of the 2000s this reporting includes progress in the Co2 emissions by type (electricity, fuel, heating, travel and transportation) and more recently fuel consumption by kind of fuel as well as water usage for snowmaking (Table 2; Skistar annual report, 2001, 2020). The sustainability vision is clearly communicated in the annual and the sustainability reports with the underlying purpose to do as little damage as possible to the physical environment and to make every effort to continually minimize any significant negative environmental impact. From 2006/2007 onwards, the sustainability guidelines adopted by Skistar follow the core values set out in the UN Global Compact and its ten principles on corporate social responsibility (Skistar 2006/2007). One of the most important advances is that from 2007/2008 onwards electricity is solely based on renewable energy sources (Skistar annual report 2007/2008). CDA discloses that 90 per cent of the electricity consumed in locations comes from a renewable source (CDA annual report 2020). However, the share of renewables in total energy is lower (Table 3).

26Vail ski resort has a sustainability programme with three pillars (EpicPromise): resource conservation, forest and watershed protection as well as energy reduction. Whistler has a strategy of "Zero waste, zero carbon and zero net emissions" (source: https://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/explore-the-resort/about-the-resort/environment.aspx). CDA is also an early implementer of ISO 14001 with all ski areas within the group successfully certified. In addition, between 2007 and 2018, all ski areas implemented the ISO 14001 certification (CDA, 2020). For instance, the Val d’Isère ski lift operator, part of the CDA, had already adopted this in 2007 (https://www.valdisere.ski/​en/​environnement). Les Menuires, another member of the CDA is another early adopter. Both Zermatt and Skistar belong to the group that has also implemented the ISO 14001 certification.

Table 1: Disclosure of environmental sustainability practices

CDA (FR)

Silvretta-
seilbahn (AT)

Skistar
(SE/NO)

Vail
resorts g(US)

Whistler
Blackcomb (CA)

Zermatt (CH)

Operating margin (EBITDA/revenue in 2019 in percent

37

67

33

31

31

48

Environmental management systems
and reporting

ISO 14001

X

X

X

Global reporting initiative

X

X

X

United Nations Global compact

Environmental sustainability reporting

Monitoring of carbon footprint (eg. CO2)

X

X

X

X

X

X

Zero emission goal in the next 10 years

X

X

X

Electricity from renewable sources
(green electricity) (achieved or planned)

90%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Use of energy from renewable energy sources

58%

70%

Carbon offset

X

X

X

Photovoltaic installations

X

X

X

X

Biodiesel/Renewable diesel

X

X

X

X

Fossil-free using geothermic

X

Water consumption and waste management

X

X

X

Use of locally sourced materials

X

X

Biomass heating plants

X

Planting of vegetation

X

X

X

Environmentally friendly transportation to the resort (train)

X

X

Action related to reduce the dependency
on the winter season

Summer lift operations

X

X

X

X

X

X

Bike parks

X

X

X

X

Source: Annual reports, websites of the firms.

27Silvrettaseilbahn AG only discloses limited information in its annual report; instead, more is available on its website. The sustainability strategy is to achieve carbon neutrality, partly by offsetting.

28Skistar reports in detail on CO2 emissions (equivalent) over a longer period and also by type of energy used. The results show that CO2 emissions per number of visitors per day are low and are reduced by 58 per cent to 0.6 kg between the winter season 2013/2014 and 2019/2020 (Table 2). Before that, an increase can be observed. The decrease in 2013/2014 could be due to the switch to biofuels. Compared with the cost of air travel to the destination, the CO2 emissions are low at the destinations. For example, a round-trip flight from London Gatwick to Lyon airport produces 187 kg of CO2 emissions (source: ICAO Emissions Calculator). It is also important to note that fuels still account for the largest share of CO2 emissions at over 90 per cent, while the share of the other energy categories ("renewable fuels, district heating) is low. The use of fossil fuels is mainly due to the use of snow groomers.

Table 2: Greenhouse gas emissions by type (CO2 equivalent) in kg (Skistar)

Winter season

Electricity
total

Renew-able
fuels

Fossil
fuels

District
heating

Total

Share of fossil fuels in per cent

Skier days
(number)

GHG emission per skier days in kg

2009/10

4877000

4712938

1.03

2010/11

5192000

4297150

1.21

2011/12

5206000

4204063

1.24

2012/13

5850000

4412282

1.33

2013/14

6205000

4379900

1.42

2014/15

6103000

4699616

1.30

2015/16

6358000

5142832

1.24

2016/17

5989000

5147135

1.16

2017/18

22470

619000

3787000

221000

4649470

81.5

5489718

0.85

2018/19

24700

616000

3338000

181000

4159700

80.2

5492000

0.76

2019/20

21700

57500

2680000

142000

2901200

92.4

4865000

0.60

Source: Skistar annual report 2020.

29CDA also reports on Co2 emissions, which it is legally obliged to do. The average direct greenhouse gas emission in kilo per skier day is low at about 1.2 (Table 3). However, unlike Skistar, there is no downward trend in emissions. The share of renewable energy in total energy consumption has increased between the winter season 2015/2016 and 2019/2020, but this does not seem to have led to a decrease in emissions.

Table 3: Greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption (CDA)

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

2018/19

2019/20

Direct GHG emissions in kilos
per skier days

1.15

1.22

1.25

1.19

1.21

Proportion of renewable energy consumption in total energy consumption in per cent

41

40

52

55

58

Source: CDA annual report 2020.

30The two remaining ski lift operators do not report CO2 emissions, which is of course also due to the fact that they are not obliged to do so. For Silvrettabahn AG, the CO2 emissions can be calculated using the standard assumption of converting fossil fuels into CO2 emissions (2.68 kg CO2 emissions per litre of diesel) (Table 4). This results in a Co2 emission ratio per skier/visitor of about 1 kilo, which is close to CDA and Skistar. Similar to CDA, no decrease in emissions can be observed.

Table 4: Greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption (CDA)

2004/05

2005/06

2006/07

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

2016/17

Electricity costs in Euro

1447600

1420300

1886900

2041800

1886900

2067000

2138600

Fuel cost in in Euro

503900

579800

615000

789300

895900

988200

857000

Total revenues in Euro

36144000

37256000

48666000

46091000

48666000

50807000

58044000

Electricity cost in % revenues

4.0

3.8

3.9

4.4

3.9

4.1

3.7

Fuel costs in % revenues

1.4

1.6

1.3

1.7

1.8

1.9

1.5

Co2 due to fuel consumption in kg

1607681

1600272

1744127

1652597

1688475

1883624

2039751

Skier days (Number)

1542510

1600828

1642130

1745056

1740574

2060822

2095655

Co2 based on fuels per skier

visitor in kg

1.04

1.00

1.06

0.95

0.97

0.91

0.97

  • 1 https://people.exeter.ac.uk/TWDavies/energy_conversion/Calculation%20of%20CO2%

Notes: The energy conversion is based on the method suggested by Davies University of Exeter. TWD Energy Conversion, 2019. Calculation of CO2 Emissions - people.exeter.ac.uk. 1

Source: Silvrettaseilbahn annual report, various issues.

31Zermatt Bergbahnen AG reports information on costs of energy and disposal. Between the winter season 2011/2012 and 2019/2020 energy costs as a percentage of revenues are declining (Table 5). Although energy costs depend on energy prices and are difficult to compare due to fluctuations over time, energy saving measures may have contributed to the decrease. If energy consumption is measured as energy costs divided by the consumer price index for energy (based on Statistics Switzerland), a decrease of 28 percent can be observed between the winter season 2015/2016 and 2019/2020. This means that emissions have also dropped significantly, which could be related to the use of eco-diesel powered piste machines.

Table 5: Evolution of energy and disposal costs (Zermatt Bergbahnen AG)

Energy and disposal

costs in CHF

Total revenues

in CHF

Proportion

Price index

energy CHF 03/04=100

Energy and disposal costs constant prices, index

2003/04

2778093

52996559

5.2

100.0

100.0

2004/05

3248782

56311217

5.8

108.2

108.1

2005/06

3669686

58857936

6.2

121.5

108.7

2006/07

3671177

64866510

5.7

122.7

107.7

2007/08

3564310

66972425

5.3

134.9

95.1

2008/09

4070394

66227405

6.1

137.4

106.6

2009/10

3826785

65097364

5.9

130.4

105.6

2010/11

4315082

64211105

6.7

141.1

110.1

2011/12

4238135

61104902

6.9

147.5

103.4

2012/13

4114837

62481626

6.6

147.2

100.7

2013/14

4114837

62481626

6.6

147.0

100.8

2014/15

4149671

65627188

6.3

141.7

105.4

2015/16

3810484

66155477

5.8

132.2

103.8

2016/17

3317242

69590453

4.8

133.8

89.2

2017/18

3278061

69629607

4.7

138.6

85.2

2018/19

3401692

76094540

4.5

147.1

83.2

2019/20

2957606

64912041

4.6

142.8

74.6

Source: Zermatt Bergbahnen AG, annual report.

32The use of environmentally friendly diesel is reported by two ski lift operators. Zermatt Bergbahnen AG uses eco speed diesel for the 68 diesel-powered vehicles and work machines (including 29 snow groomers), which require around one million litres of diesel per year (https://www.matterhornparadise.ch/​en/​Company/​Environment-and-sustainability/​Sulphur-free-eco-speed-diesel). Skistar also uses so-called biodiesel introduced in 2015 (https://www.skistar.com/​en/​inspiration/​news/​electric-piste-machine/​. The proportion of biodiesel is 60 per cent and is increasing over time (Table 6).

Table 6: Example of information on use of fuels by type

Litre

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Use of HVO 100

1500244

1518380

1417129

Use of diesel

1122767

966817

772632

Fuel consumption

121936

98718

166497

Total fuel

2744947

2583914

2356258

Proportion of HVO 100 in per cent

54.7

58.8

60.1

Source: Skistar annual report 2020.

33Water consumption for snowmaking is another important indicator of the use of scarce resources. Two ski lift operators report information on water consumption for snowmaking. Skistar provides information for all five ski areas, while CDA only gives information for the whole group. Water consumption for snowmaking per skier day ranges between 220-250 litres per day and visitor for CDA and between 770 and 1000 litres per day and visitor for Skistar (Tables 7 and 8). Expressed in litres per square metre, it is 612 litres for all five ski areas. The difference between the ski resorts is difficult to explain and could depend on several factors, such as a higher share of snowmaking by Skistar, which is about 65 per cent in the five ski resorts combined (Skistar annual report 2020), and the probably lower share in the French resorts. Elevation and access to water reservoirs, and losses of water during snowmaking are another possible explanation. Grünewald and Wolfsperger (2019) find that about 21 per cent of the water consumed is lost during snowmaking and that the loss is highly dependent on the ambient meteorological conditions

34For the ski areas that belong to Skistar, there is an increasing trend in water consumption in snow production, measured in litres per skier day. However, this is partly related to the increase in the area covered with snow. If water consumption is divided by the area covered by snowmaking, water consumption is constant over time (Table 7 lower panel).

Table 7: Water usage in snow production (Skistar)

Water use in snow production in m3

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Sälen

1039839

897098

1006692

1273001

1213308

Åre

1507766

1813107

1546341

2008217

1611204

Vemdalen

622000

656000

649523

817609

850782

Trysil

432802

577480

540915

720000

806775

Hemsedal

480802

565245

473191

484000

404908

Total water use

4082980

4508939

4216662

5302827

4886977

Number of skier days

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Sälen

1627014

1596330

1675404

1669000

1542000

Åre

1113000

1170082

1265454

1278000

1109000

Vemdalen

717818

720723

759860

800000

744000

Trysil

1030000

1064000

1128000

1121000

958000

Hemsedal

655000

596000

661000

624000

512000

Total

5142832

5147135

5489718

5492000

4865000

Water use in snow production (Litre per skier day)

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Sälen

639

562

601

763

787

Åre

1355

1550

1222

1571

1453

Vemdalen

867

910

855

1022

1144

Trysil

420

543

480

642

842

Hemsedal

734

948

716

776

791

Total water use

794

876

768

966

1005

Area covered by snowmaking systems square metres in m2

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Sälen

1627014

1596330

1675404

1669000

1542000

Åre

1113000

1170082

1265454

1278000

1109000

Vemdalen

717818

720723

759860

800000

744000

Trysil

1030000

1064000

1128000

1121000

958000

Hemsedal

655000

596000

661000

624000

512000

Total

5142832

5147135

5489718

5492000

4865000

Water use in snow production as ratio of area covered by snowmaking (litre per m2)

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

Sälen

469

405

454

564

530

Åre

770

926

790

1025

783

Vemdalen

414

437

432

544

566

Trysil

412

522

472

602

675

Hemsedal

698

821

507

518

434

Total water use

551

604

544

675

612

Source: Skistar annual report 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Table 8: Water usage in snow production (CDA)

Volume of water (litres) per skier-day

2015/2016

2016/2017

2017/2018

2018/2019

2019/2020

235

259

222

257

285

Source: CDA annual report 2020.

35Another important aspect is the use of near-surface geothermal systems. The heating costs for ski lift company buildings are likely to be high in winter sports resorts. After the oil price shock in 1973, large-scale use of near-surface (also referred to as shallow) geothermal energy began in Sweden (Haehnlein, Bayer and Blum, 2010). As a result, Sweden is now one of the leading countries in the use of this heating system. It can be assumed that Skistar will also make use of this. One reason for this is the liberal legislation for such systems and the good investment incentives. This is not necessarily the case in other countries. The use of geothermal heating systems is also reported by the ski lift operator Ischgl for some buildings such as a dining restaurant and a ski lift valley station (Silvrettaseilbahn AG, 2021).

36Two of the six ski areas are located on a railroad line that regularly serves the destination. Zermatt is the only ski resort that introduced a ban on cars as early as the mid-1970s.

37All ski lift firms offer operations during the summer period. Three out of the six have a bike park, for instance. Needless to say, mountain bike transport is allowed on the main feeder lifts and there is a mountain bike taster lift. There are also theme and adventure parks.

38Aspects related to biodiversity are to some extent mentioned in either the annual reports, sustainability reports or on the website of the resorts. Skistar, for instance, clearly states that they will participate in projects for biodiversity at all its destinations. A recent project includes improvements of diversity in a lake close to the resort of Vemdalen (https://www.skistar.com/​en/​corporate/​sustainability/​sustainable-development-goals/​). Ski star also emphasises that it has no intention of developing untouched land, but rather intensifying the areas already used (https://www.skistar.com/​en/​corporate/​sustainability/​skistar-and-sustainability/​environmental-responsibility/​www). Another important factor highlighted by Skistar is that tree conservatism benefits from the downhill activities, since otherwise the forests would most likely be industrially used. CDA is monitoring the biodiversity in a project that started in 2007, something that among others includes restoration of peat land as well as protection of birds and mountain forests (CDA Annual report 2020). Vail is also active in reforestation (Vail progress report 2019).

Discussion

39Information from the sustainability reports or from the websites of the ski lift operators is difficult to compare, as two are large and publicly listed companies that are forced by law to disclose such information, while the reporting requirements for the others are lower. However, the two ski lift operators CDA and Skistar can be compared. A closer look at their sustainability reports shows that Skistar discloses more details than CDA. First, the operation of ski lift operators is water intensive. The high water consumption of the tourism industry has long been a major problem. For example, Gössling (2001) reports that the average tourist uses 15 times more water than the local population. Gössling et al. (2012) calculate that a tourist directly consumes between 80 to 2000 litres per day. Results show that the operations of the ski business are water intensive with the maximum of 1450 litres per skier per day. However, the level of detail disclosed in the reports varies. While Skistar reports water consumption at the resort level within the company, CDA only reports total water consumption for the whole group (branch ski lift operations).

40To get an idea of the extent of water needed for snowmaking, it can be related to the total consumption (by households and firms) in the region where the ski area is located. Calculated as a ratio of the total water consumption in the region of Dalarna, the snowmaking in Sälen amounted to one per cent in 2015 (Source: Statistics Sweden), while the corresponding share for the other two ski resorts, Åre and Vemdalen, located in Jämtland, is 12 per cent. This higher ratio is related to the smaller number of inhabitants and firms in Jämtland.

41Another main finding is that many ski lift operators report using 100 per cent electricity from renewable energy sources in the form of solar, wind and hydro power. Overstating measures to reduce carbon emissions could be considered as green rhetoric. For example, changing from electricity to renewable energy sources is not only a business decision, but it also depends on the general environmental progress and availability of such sources in the country. In some areas (for instance, north of Sweden) and in mountain regions in general, only electricity from renewable energy sources is available (due to hydropower), so it is not surprising that ski lift operators use it. The literature documents several cases of greenwashing activities (Delmas and Burbano, 2011; Testa, Miroshnychenko, Barontini and Frey, 2018), and symbolic environmental strategies are widespread (Hyatt and Berente, 2017; Testa, Boiral and Iraldo, 2018). Nevertheless, it is a bit less likely to believe that an operator that is supplying natural experiences would engage in greenwashing rather than environmental concerns.

42There is little information disclosed on progress in the field of fossil fuels for snow groomers and snowmobiles. The Swedish association of ski lift operators Slao (2021) estimates that fuel for snow groomers and snowmobiles accounts for about 75 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions. The plan is to eliminate 100 per cent of fossil fuels for snow groomers by 2025 (Slao, 2021). Currently, the majority of snow groomers and snowmobiles are run on biodiesel (HVO 100). This is seen as an interim solution, as the operator Skistar is already testing electric snow groomers. It is interesting to note that both ski lift operators Skistar and Zermatt that use biodiesel also report a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions while the two other European ski lift operators that do not report such practices observe no decline. In the literature, there is an ongoing discussion on the environmental sustainability of hydrogen-treated vegetable oil (HVO) (Xu, Lee and Wang 2020). A study of the use| of second-generation biofuels for the public transportation buses in Stockholm, demonstrates that HVO can directly compete with electric buses run on renewable energy in terms of emissions balance (Xylia et al., 2019). HVO is the biofuel that Skistar uses.

43Soam and Hillman (2019) also note that the improvement in carbon footprints is highly dependent on the type of main feedstocks used in the HVO supply chain, such as palm oil, rapeseed oil, PFAD, tallow and tall oil. Life cycle assessment studies show that purpose-grown feedstocks cause greater life cycle GHG emissions than residual feedstocks.

44The main finding of the disclosure and assessment of the sustainability reporting and measures taken by the ski lift operators is that they indeed report significant efforts to save energy and change to renewable energy in the form of solar, wind and hydro power. However, the concept of the 3Rs as expressed in the circular economy (e.g. reduce, reuse and recycle) receives little attention in sustainability reporting. Exceptions are CDA and Vail who started to report their activities in materials and waste management. However, little is known about the use of carbon-neutral building materials and materials from local sources. An example is the use of wood which is considered the only energy-efficient, renewable and carbon-neutral building material throughout the life cycle (steel, aluminum, cement, plastics and wood) (Buchanan and Honey, 1994; Wang, Toppinen, and Juslin 2014, Pajchrowski et al., 2014). Buchanan and Honey (1994) show that a modest change from concrete and steel to more wood construction can lead to a significant reduction in energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions. However, the sustainability of such a change has significant implications for forestry, so strategies for responsibly sourced wood are needed.

45There is also not much revealed about other aspects of the circular economy in the annual reports such as the use of long-life materials and secondary materials, development of material passports, reuse of secondary materials in the production of building materials, waste reduction, the use of a tool to assess the condition of materials during the life cycle and at the end of the life of a building, and the use of water management practices as highlighted by Adams et al., (2017) and Benachio et al. (2020).

46Reforestation or protection of forests is a common measure to offset carbon emissions. Several of the ski-lift operators take part in such activities, although the reporting about this is modest and there are no calculations about the amounts offset.

47The claim that ski lift operators are climate neutral is in a way incorrect as long as snow groomers and snow groomers have a poor carbon footprint and a quick conversion to electric groomers is not feasible.

48The other common practice in the tourism industry is green hushing, which means that companies selectively communicate fewer sustainability measures than are practiced in an attempt not to overburden the tourist with this information. This behaviour is first noted by Font, Elgammal and Lamond (2017), who show that tourism firms communicate only 30 per cent of all practiced sustainability measures on their websites (see also Ettinger et al., 2021). The practice of remaining silent about their environmental efforts and achievements could also apply to ski lift operators, as over-emphasising their sustainability reporting might discourage visits to the ski resort, as they are reminded that sustainable thinking also starts with transport to the ski resort.

Conclusions

49This study presents how a group of large ski resorts across the world disclose their environmental and sustainability practices. Based on information from annual reports, sustainability reports and websites, the measures disclosed are assessed. Indicators available on sustainable practices of six ski resorts in Europe and North America are interpreted and discussed.

50A special focus is put on the use of environmental management systems, sustainability reporting, monitoring of carbon dioxide and emissions reduction programmes as well as sustainable modes of transportation to the destination. The practices themselves are not dissected, only the way in which they are made public and whether they can be compared across resorts or over time. This indirect assessment of sustainability reporting is common in research.

51Results show that many ski lift operators generously disclose their various types of environmental sustainability practices. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using 100 per cent electricity from renewable energy sources is the most common action. This, however, is not surprising since this is generally the kind of water-based energy supplied to businesses in mountain regions. Half of the group of ski lift operators has certified environmental management systems, although it is not completely clear whether all sub-divisions are also certified.

52While greenhouse gas emissions efforts are reported in the annual report or on the websites of the ski lift operators, there is little publicly available information on the use of other resources. Two ski lift companies report water consumption for snowmaking per skier day. The amount of water used is high and must be added to the water consumption of tourists, which is significantly higher than that of residents. Biodiversity is a field where several operators are active, particularly in the protection of or re-planting of forests. Typically, information about this is modest and does not include calculations of how much can be offset this way.

53A major information deficit concerns the consumption of fuel for snow groomers and snowmobiles. This is the largest part of greenhouse gas emissions, and the reported progress is slow. The overemphasis on the use of green electricity is unhelpful as this is the default source of electricity in mountain regions. This raises the suspicion of greenwashing. On the other hand, many ski lift operators could easily engage in several measures without reporting them.

54It is also obvious, that the circular economy practices are not widely reported, so the approach to this is unknown. Ski lift operators have many buildings including ski rentals, peak and valley stations, and sometimes also cottages and hotels. The use of renewable materials or carbon neutral building materials is seldom reported. Overall, a narrow definition of environmental sustainability is used.

55Ownership appears to be important to the level of disclosure of information on sustainability. Listed firms such as Compagnie des Alpes, Skistar and Zermatt Bergbahnen are under higher (legal) pressure to produce comprehensive sustainability information than those that are not.

56Providing benchmarking of environmental sustainability efforts disclosed to the public is valuable information for stakeholders. This enables comparison of activities with other firms in the same industry and also with other service providers. The need to adopt environmentally friendly practices will increase in the future as many countries (as for instance in Europe) aim to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This is especially expected for energy-, water- and land-intensive businesses such as ski lift operators. The practices resemble process, or managerial innovations, but the information on to what extent the firms take part in the development of product innovations is not revealed, such as piste machines without emissions.

57Ski lift operators play a key role in winter sports destinations. The overall level of environmental sustainability of the destination depends on many factors and on the cooperation with other stakeholders (local municipalities) and visitors. One important factor is the availability of low-carbon transport to the destination, as transport accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Another role is played by visitor behaviour. Visitors can contribute to environmental sustainability by using low carbon transportation modes to the destination. Unfortunately, ski areas are often remote, implying that there are difficulties to reach them with public transportation. In such cases, a longer stay at the destination would reduce the average carbon footprint per day per person.

58There are several limitations of this study that are worth mentioning. One is the small and selected sample that does not allow for generalisations or model estimations. The other is that not all environmentally sustainable strategies are disclosed by ski lift operators. This is a common form of behaviour among tourism enterprises. Additional work should survey managers about their sustainability practices and a larger sample is needed that includes the small and medium-sized ski lift operators that are likely to lag behind in their sustainability efforts. Further, future studies could investigate the long-term sustainability of downhill ski operations on partly fabricated snow, an important aspect that lies outside the scope of present study.

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Notes

1 https://people.exeter.ac.uk/TWDavies/energy_conversion/Calculation%20of%20CO2%

20emissions%20from%20fuels.htm.

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Référence électronique

Martin Falk et Eva Hagsten, « Disclosure of environmental sustainability activities by large ski lift firms  », Géocarrefour [En ligne], 95/2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2022, consulté le 29 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/18349 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/geocarrefour.18349

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Auteurs

Martin Falk

University of South-Eastern Norway Martin.Falk@usn.no

Eva Hagsten

University of South-Eastern Norway

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