Highlights of article:
- Xanterra, based in the Denver area, is owned by the Anschutz Corp.
- Xanterra is one of the greenest companies in the nation.
- Sustainability is not only good for the environment, it is good business.
A grizzly bear feasting on a carcass. Bison parading past a backdrop of geysers, like a snapshot from a prehistoric photo album. Geysers, springs and steamy pools being fed by what a ranger said was snowpack 150 percent above normal, making them that more impressive. That is why we vacationed this summer in the Yellowstone National Park. We weren’t disappointed.
But what we didn’t know when we pulled our Prius into Yellowstone is that we were staying at an eco-lodge. And the park, as well as about 19 other national resorts – including the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National Park – are operated and managed by Denver-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The privately held Xanterra was purchased with little fanfare in 2008 by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., headed by Denver businessman Philip Anschutz. How sustainable is Xanterra? Even the Coke machines are green.
Xanterra partnered with the Coca-Cola Co. to install energy management systems or upgrade efficiencies on vending machines, reducing energy consumption by 25 to 35 percent. The energy cost reductions alone on vending machines saves Xanterra more the $50,000 a year, while tourists gets the same ice-cold beverage that they expect. Chris Lane, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Xanterra, this week answered some questions from InsideRealEstateNews about the company whose mantra is “Hospitality with a softer footprint.”
InsideRealEstateNews: We recently returned from a vacation in Yellowstone. I was surprised, but delighted, to learn that we were staying in an eco-lodge. Do you think many visitors are aware of your sustainability efforts when booking vacations at one of the parks you manage?
Chris Lane: Although we do communicate to our guests about our strong environmental programs, we know that our visitors who book vacations with Xanterra are not always aware during the time of booking that we are an environmentally preferable vacation selection. We do not over-promote our environmental performance to guests. This practice may change over time as concerns about sustainability broaden. In today’s market, the primary selling points revolve around guest services, activities, amenities, price, etc. However, there is a growing number of our visitors that are well aware of Xanterra’s environmental performance and they return year after year to our resorts because of their belief in the importance of these effort.
IREN: Even if visitors are surprised, do you think they are impressed, or even pay any attention to Xanterra’s many sustainable efforts, such as running a historic steam train with vegetable oil; ferrying tourists around in buses that use clean-burning natural gas; heating building with waste french fry oil, and so on?
Chris: Absolutely, guests certainly notice our environmental efforts and tend to be impressed. We receive thousands of comments monthly from guests complimenting, and even providing constructive feedback on, our environmental initiatives. We provide guests with environmental comment cards as the conduit for this feedback. Furthermore, people who enjoy national and state parks, tend to appreciate environmental protection, so there is a synergy in ethos there. IREN: Do you get much feedback on your environmental and sustainability efforts from visitors? Also, do you get any indication that people might be influenced by Xanterra’s many environmentally friendly efforts and try to incorporate some of those practices into their lives?
Chris: Yes. While we try to influence and educate guests to take our sustainability ideas and use them in their daily lives, we do not have direct empirical evidence that our influence is necessarily resulting in changes in guests’ personal environmental habits. Based on how each of us within the company have changed our habits since beginning these programs, we believe that our guests are likely behaving the same way in making subtle and sometimes dramatic changes in what they do.
Chris: The parks that Xanterra manage draw 18 million visitors each year. To put that into perspective, that is 1 million more people than the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles and all of Colorado. Given the sheer volume of the number of visitors, is it possible to tread lightly on the environment? Or is it like building a 10,000-square-foot house with photovoltaic panels, super-insulation and geo-thermal heating and cooling that is still a huge house?
Chris: Yes, “treading lightly on the environment” is exactly the experience that the National Park Service and Xanterra create for our guests. The environmental health at the national parks where Xanterra operates – ecologically speaking as well as physically speaking – by most measures is probably better today than it was 50 years ago. For example, there are more wolves, more grizzly bears, more elk and more bison now in Yellowstone than 50 years ago. And the buildings and facilities that provide the guest experience are more efficient, emit fewer greenhouse gases, create less waste (70 percent of all waste is diverted, recycled, and reused), and emit fewer toxic pollutants than 50 years ago. People visiting the parks will find that our operations are better managed and our staff better educated than in decades past. These changes are visible to guests who experienced the parks yesterday and today. The resources are protected much better from impacts than in years ago. Examples of this are countless.
IREN: In Xanterra’s 2011 Environmental Sustainability Report, it notes that Xanterra Parks & Resorts is looking beyond its own properties and is dedicated to such things as slowing global warming; preserving natural resources; minimizing hazardous substances; and protecting the natural environment. Are there any specific things Xanterra is doing – or planning to do – to accomplish those goals?
Chris: In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Xanterra has advocated for climate change legislation with the US Congress. Xanterra is a strategic partner with the National Parks Conservation Association in working to protect all national parks from a variety of environmental impacts. We participate in promoting sustainable travel through several other partnerships with organizations that work on these issues, such as Sustainable Travel International and many others outlined on page 47 of our Sustainability Report. More generally speaking, we act as a model of environmental performance for other large companies and organizations by presenting our ideas, challenges and solutions at many sustainability conferences and through our strategic partnerships.
IREN: Have you received much feedback from other private sector companies that would like to learn from some of your best sustainable practices?
Chris: Yes, other companies often call Xanterra to inquire how we are handling particular environmental issues. More specifically, Xanterra participates in informal bi-annual meetings with 25 major companies that are all vigorously pursuing sustainability. In these meetings, companies share their challenges and successes in meeting their environmental goals. These meetings are confidential, as are the company names.
IREN: I’m sure you are always out there looking for new ways to further your environmental goals and objectives. Do you work closely with agencies such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden? And is there anything out there that looks extremely promising?
Chris: I recently toured NREL and met with representatives from NREL over the last six months. Though, other than gaining ideas for testing new renewable energy technologies, these meetings have yet to bear tangible fruit. However, working with NREL and the EPA has given us the confidence to pursue radical energy efficiency and cutting-edge renewable energy systems. For example, at the Grand Canyon Railway, we are currently installing a large solar photovoltaic system, a large solar thermal hot water system, and a combined heat and power system that not only heats water but also generates electricity at the same time. These three renewable energy systems, in addition to running the steam train on renewable 100% waste vegetable oil, are making this operation become probably the most sustainable train/resort operation in the country. These systems are cutting edge, and combining them all at one resort is unprecedented in the tourism industry.
We are always looking to implement the most cutting-edge environmental technologies at our resort operations. These range from energy control technologies that control air conditioning and heating systems helping to reduce energy waste in our rooms, to things such as solar golf carts, propane fired busses, hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles, and biodiesel-fueled vehicles. We’re always looking for what’s next in the renewable energy field. We’re currently assessing a solar thermal – solar photovoltaic hybrid system that combines the two technologies in one system. We’re looking at a new solar ballast technology that allows solar panels to be placed on roofs much less expensively without roof penetration.
- We’re growing some of our food on site, organically, and serving that food to our guests – saving transportation and shipping impacts.
- We’re installing green retail stores that score retail products on their environmental impact, educating guests on their consumer choices. So far, this is unprecedented anywhere.
- We’ve banned the sale of plastic water bottles at Zion Lodge – resulting in an education of our guests on this issue. We instituted a better solution by tapping into the natural spring water of the park and providing that water to guests at convenient refilling stations where they use reusable water bottles.
IREN: Andrew N. Todd, the President & CEO of Xanterra, in the 2011 Environmental Sustainability Report wrote that after the Denver-based Anschutz Co. bought Xanterra in 2008, one of the first things that Philip Anschutz did was to “clarify his support for our culture of sustainability.” Todd went on to say that Mr. Anschutz even asked Xanterra to assist one of his companies, Anschutz Entertainment Group, with its environmental programs, which it has done. These are the types of things you might expect to hear from Al Gore or Robert Redford, but not necessarily from a successful businessman such as Mr. Anschutz. Do you think people would be surprised to learn that Mr. Anschutz is so committed to sustainability? Also, do you think his interest and implementation of environmentally friendly practices could serve as an example to other companies and business leaders?
Chris: People shouldn’t be surprised to know that Mr. Anschutz, a highly successful businessman who has been involved in the oil and gas industry for decades, is committed to sustainability. Sustainability itself is big business; it’s good for business; and, as resources become more scarce and our world more impacted (no one is debating these truths), it probably won’t be long until sustainability affects every business in a material manner. There are certainly business opportunities to improve environmental performance and that will further help reduce society’s impact on the planet. For example, Mr. Anschutz is currently working on building what may be the largest wind farm in the country. That’s not just good for the planet; it’s good business. Mr. Anschutz is a visionary in taking action at the right time on the right issues.
IREN: Thank you.
To learn more about this company, please visit Xanterra.
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