Green Mountain, Lincoln Peak

Green Mountain

How Sugarbush is shrinking its carbon footprint

How does clearing your tray at Gate House Lodge relate to climate change? Putting four-stream waste receptacles in the Gate House cafeteria is one of the many ways in which Sugarbush is working to slow the change of the earth’s climate. These receptacles allow guests to divert a portion of their trash out of the landfill and into recycling, composting, and reuse. (Mostly eaten grilled-cheese sandwich: compost; hot chocolate cup: trash; remaining hot chocolate: liquid; cup top and empty water bottle: recycling; reusable plastic plate: washtub.) Over the past two years, the resort has increased landfill diversion rates by 5 percent and composting tonnage by 200 percent. Those numbers mean less trash in the landfill, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and more reuse and recycling.

Fighting climate change is not new to Sugarbush, but the resort has grown more nimble in its ability to quantify its efforts and set goals for future reduction. In 2011, Sugarbush joined the National Ski Areas Association’s Climate Challenge, a voluntary program to help ski areas develop greenhouse gas inventories, set goals for carbon reduction, and decrease their overall carbon footprint. The Climate Challenge helps resorts track emissions and waste disposal along with use of petroleum fuels, electricity, wood, and solar energy.

“The Climate Challenge has allowed us to wrap our arms around the data,” says Margo Wade, director of planning for Sugarbush, who heads up the data collection. “It took us three years to get a comprehensive understanding of the different data inputs.” For example, the resort has forty-five separate Green Mountain Power accounts that feed into the data and allow the resort to track power usage and associated emissions. Since 2012, Sugarbush has reduced electrical usage by more than three million kilowatt hours (roughly 25 percent) by investing in energy-efficient snowmaking guns, phasing in LED lighting, and, more recently, supporting a Vermont-based solar array development.

Resort emissions and fuel consumption are tracked through close monitoring of biodiesel use (powering vehicles like groomers and heavy equipment) and of the power and fuel needed for facility heating and cooling. To cut down on emissions, Sugarbush implemented a resort-wide no-idling policy for all vehicles. Since investing in the four-stream waste receptacles, Sugarbush has been carefully tracking waste reduction and expanding the implementation of composting and recycling around the resort (along with encouraging practices such as the use of refillable water bottles). Incidentally, Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, bans all recyclables (as of 2015) and food scraps (as of 2020) from the landfill.

Not all of the resort’s environmental initiatives are tracked in the Climate Challenge. Tesla charging stations were installed in the underground parking garage of Clay Brook Hotel in 2015, and the resort provides 30 percent of the annual financing to fund public transportation with the Mad Bus. The resort’s green housekeeping uses nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products, and supplies resort properties with bath products packaged in biodegradable or recycled material. Clean water initiatives include storm water and runoff management, and stream and brook repair to protect aquatic habitat. Rumble’s Kitchen (formerly Timbers) is a member of 1% For The Planet, which has guided the resort to donate more than $50,000 to environmental organizations (including Vermont Land Trust, Friends of the Mad River, the Mad River Path Association,
and the Vermont Fresh Network). The Winthrop H. Smith Family Foundation has made significant contributions to the preservation of open space in Vermont (Camel’s Hump State Park, Blueberry Lake National Forest, Scrag Town Forest, and Bragg Barn). And the ongoing efforts of the resort’s Safety/Environment/ Wellness Committee (see sidebar) have contributed to the staff’s embrace of effective environmental initiatives.

While the Climate Challenge does not track all environmental initiatives, it has helped the resort get a handle on its overall carbon footprint. With that understanding, resort leadership can continue to set policies for further reduction . . . right down to dealing with the crusts of that grilled cheese sandwich.

Sugarbush's four-stream waste receptacles in Gate House Lodge
Sugarbush’s four-stream waste receptacles in Gate House Lodge
Sugarbush staff practice how to clean up a toxic spill
Sugarbush staff practice how to clean up a toxic spill


What do recycling, drinking (water), and a regular fitness regimen have in common? All are part of the mission of Sugarbush’s Safety/Environment/Wellness Committee. SEW began in 2014 as the next iteration of the resort’s original Green Team, started fifteen years before. The Green Team’s charter was to initiate enhancements throughout the business by preventing pollution and environmental degradation, while using resources more efficiently and improving recycling efforts. These goals needed to be met without compromising business objectives. Early policies started by the Green Team included resort-wide waste reduction, energy reduction, and recycling initiatives, as well as participation in the Resort Green Up Day (a staff-wide spring cleanup) and the Way to Go! Commuter Challenge (staff commuting alternatives like biking to work and carpooling, to lessen greenhouse gas emissions).

The SEW Committee combined the Green Team’s initial charter with the added challenge of improving staff wellness and safety. Recent wellness initiatives include the introduction of the thirty-day fitness challenge, a contest that inspires employees to log their daily jogs, bike rides, and yoga classes to win prizes. Safety initiatives include improved nighttime lighting in parking areas, office ergonomics training, and regular evaluation of resort procedures ranging from staff knowledge of the Skier/Rider Responsibility Code
to lift evacuations. On the environmental side, the SEW Committee augmented the resort’s implementation of four-stream waste receptacles in Gate House Lodge last year with a team of “Trash Talkers”— staff members and volunteers who educate guests about the new system. The installation of the first water bottle filling station in the fall of 2016 was another SEW initiative to promote the use of reusable water bottles and allow employees to fill their company-provided collapsible water pouches. (This also satisfied an employee wellness and safety initiative: statistics show that well-hydrated employees are less susceptible to workplace accidents.) Implementation of the resort-wide no-idling policy began in earnest in the fall of 2016 to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, with SEW’s help. Current projects include increasing the number of recycling and composting receptacles in public and private resort locations.

While the SEW Committee has quickly earned a following among employees, its recognition extends beyond the resort: since its inception, the committee has received three Governor’s Awards for the good work it is doing.