Even before the 2010 Winter Games, tourists viewed Whistler as one of the world’s premier destinations for mountain sports and recreation. But by being named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers, the resort continues to attract another key group of people: environmentally concerned employees who value the company’s commitment to a sustainable workplace.
Arthur De Jong, Whistler Blackcomb’s mountain planning and environmental resource manager, characterizes the company’s green initiatives as “a long-term journey.” An environmental management strategy was established in 1992, and since then there have been aggressive recycling and composting programs, carpool programs for employees, close ties with a local community group to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the Whistler area, and partnering with local government and area businesses to create a comprehensive community sustainability plan and to educate employees on the best green practices. The company has also initiated an employee environmental fund, with the employer matching each staff donation. The money raised goes to local green projects.
PROMOTING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
De Jong has no doubt that the company’s green history and its ongoing initiatives have made Whistler Blackcomb an employer of choice for workers who value environmental responsibility. “Most of our employees, about 75 per cent, are Generation Y or younger,” says De Jong. “They are far more aware of an environmental mentality and are committed to environmentalism. People here want to be satisfied that they are working for a company that is trying to do the best it can environmentally. The company’s record does help with retention. Employees become connected, and the more they are connected, the more it matters to them. We are trying to be better stewards, and everyone who works here knows that.”
His colleague Karen Bauckham readily concurs. As recruiting manager for Whistler Blackcomb and veteran on the mountain, she has witnessed firsthand how environmental responsibility is a key recruitment factor. “People today are far more aware of environmental concerns, and they want to know that the company they’re working for is concerned about that issue,” she says. “People want a company that shares the same values that they have.” Thus, being named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers is no small matter. “In their applications, people say that they are well aware of the green initiatives,” says Bauckham. “They’ve seen what the company tries to do; often they’ve read about it online. As a result of what they’ve learned about the company, they want to work here. People want a sense of pride from their jobs and to believe in the company’s policies. We all know we work in a very beautiful place and that it’s important we look after it.”
Stu Osborne has been with the company for over 20 years. Among his duties is being a facilitator at the company’s orientation courses for new employees. He has also come up with several environmental programs that are currently in place, including better sustainable practices in the kitchen. Osborne is enthusiastic about Whistler Blackcomb’s commitment to the environment and constant improvement of its own track record. “I’m proud to be working for this company because of the initiatives they’ve made,” says Osborne. “I hear from new employees all the time that the environmental concerns are a big part of why they want to work here. People think it’s awesome.”
A MODEL FOR GLOBAL TOURISM
One exciting current initiative, says De Jong, is a partnership with two other companies — Innergex and Ledcor — to build and operate a micro hydroelectric project in the middle of the ski area. Called a Run of the River system, it is “not like a traditional hydro power producer,” he says. “We did not need to build a large dam; we needed just enough water to fill a 1.2-metre pipe, which runs down slope to get enough of a head to run the turbine, then the water is returned to the river. And 70 per cent of the facility was built in our existing footprint. Thanks to this Run of the River system, we are generating all the power that we consume.
“Our goal is to have a zero-operating footprint,” he says. “We try to remediate and reduce the impact of our actions on the mountain. We want to generate no carbon emissions or waste products. It may be impossible to reach zero, but we continue to try to meet that goal. We know we’re not purely sustainable. We’ve got a long way to go. But we have a strong social connection, and in a world increasingly interdependent, tourism brings people together. We’re very cognizant of that, and we know that, ultimately, we can make a difference if we can be a model for global tourism.”