In the summer of 2003, one of the most legendary and fearsome mountaineering routes in the world –– the North Face of the Eiger –– fell victim to climate change. An unusually warm summer melted much of the ice that makes this route in Switzerland passable. As temperatures continue to warm, this iconic passage may only exist in winter.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, aspen trees have begun dying off in huge numbers. Aspens can fall victim to many diseases, but science suggests that a warmer climate will lead to increasing tree mortality as a result of sickness, insect infestations and other pests.
As CEOs of two of the most widely known consumer brands in the outdoor recreation market — Aspen Skiing Company and The North Face — it gets our attention when our companies’ namesakes start to vanish before our eyes. Although we operate different businesses, we share concern about the impact of climate change on our companies, the economy, the environment and our customers. We also agree that now is the time for dramatic action by Congress to curb greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate investment in renewable energy sources and clean technology, and encourage energy efficiency.
The effects of warming global temperatures are not theoretical. At Aspen, where our business depends on the climate, we already see a gradual increase in frost-free days and warmer nights. Milder winters mean a shorter ski season and greater reliance on artificial snowmaking, a costly and carbon-intensive practice. In short, climate change impacts Aspen’s bottom line. For the $6 billion ski industry, and the hundreds of thousands of people who make their living directly or indirectly from it, the stakes are huge.
The North Face is part of the $9 billion outdoor market, and our business depends upon predictable and consistent four-season weather patterns for our customers and athletes to get outdoors and ski, camp, climb, run and hike. Climate change disrupts this predictability, creating a tenuous business climate for ourselves, our supply chain and our dealers. Most importantly, it reduces the outdoor activities of our customers.
As our athletes and customers travel the globe, they tell us they see firsthand the changes taking place, from the recession of glaciers to the effects of severe drought. These impacts are having dramatic effects on the people and places many of us have come to love.
But we are doing more than just fretting about climate change. Both our companies have taken extraordinary steps to increase our energy efficiency and reliance on renewable energy, and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these efforts save us money as well. By installing extensive solar energy systems at Aspen, and by offsetting our energy consumption with wind energy and installing solar panels at The North Face, we are working every day to reduce our impact.
We serve passionate outdoor customers who are eager to learn about solutions and take action towards a clean energy economy. These customers tell us in ever-growing numbers that our reputations and actions for environmental responsibility are why they buy our product and/or ski at our resort.
We also know that these efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done. And that is why a strong global and national climate and energy policy is so important. America is at a critical crossroads on climate change: We can lead the world and jump-start our economy by spearheading the transition to a low-carbon global economy, or we can delay and fall further behind China and other nations that already have cleaner, more efficient cars, and more established wind and solar power industries.
We pick the first choice, not because we are idealists, but because we are businessmen, and because solving climate change and creating a clean energy economy is a business imperative. We believe that far from being a drag on economic growth as some fear, comprehensive climate and energy legislation will prove an economic stimulus for the long haul, creating millions of new jobs, spurring technological innovation and stabilizing business. This issue is not an abstraction to people like us. Aggressive action on climate change will preserve and protect the source of our profit and our passion: the stable climate, and the beautiful earth.
That is why we urge the Senate to take action now on a new and comprehensive climate change policy. This is the time for us to be the world leaders that we know we can be, and should be.
Steve Rendle is CEO of The North Face, based in Sacramento, Calif. Mike Kaplan is CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, based in Aspen, Colo. This editorial first appeared in High Country News (hcn.org).