Perhaps no company is living the positive example of going green more visibly than Xanterra, which operates resorts and activities within some of the most pristine and wild places in America, including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Glacier, and Zion national parks, as well as Windstar Cruises, the Kingsmill Resort, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, and Austin Adventures. Xanterra is a pioneer in lodging sustainability, with a creed to provide quality services to customers in the most sustainable ways possible while maintaining profitability.
In a changing world, the company’s innovative ideas aim to keep these pristine places the same as they’ve been for thousands of years. “People are always going to expect a quality experience,” says Catherine Greener, VP of sustainability. “So part of our philosophy is that sustainability efforts are embedded into that experience as opposed to added on. It takes a lot of creativity, which comes from the ingenuity of employees who are inspired and allowed to follow their own values.” One Xanterra innovation is Ecologix, the company’s environmental management program, which monitors the consumption of electricity, fuels, and water through a proprietary energy performance metrics model. Ecologix measures the usage data against revenue and displays a corporate per room per night cost analysis based on environmental impact. “Each property has a director of sustainability and they collect the Ecometrix data, which is then relayed to corporate, reviewed, and published in a sustainability report every other year,” says Greener.
By 2015, Xanterra aims to decrease CO2 emissions by 30 percent, increase renewable energy by 7 percent, divert 50 percent solid waste from landfills, decrease fossil fuel usage by 30 percent, increase sustainable food purchases by 50 percent, achieve 35 miles per gallon as a standard for all company vehicles, decrease water usage by 25 percent, and generate zero hazardous waste. Projects that are helping achieve these goals include the Grand Canyon Railway’s retrofitted 1928 diesel-powered steam locomotive, which now runs on 100 percent waste vegetable oil, some of which comes from its onboard restaurant. This not only helps keep the vintage train running better but also eliminates fossil-fuel-burned pollutants into the air, just as waste vegetable oil is reused in boilers to heat buildings at Yellowstone. Xanterra’s Furnance Creek Resort goes a step further by using a 1.23-megawatt solar panel system to generate enough electricity to power the entire building during the day.
“We’re never preachy about sustainability. People want to feel good about their vacation, not guilty, so we try to be seamless while still engaging people to join us,” says Greener. In practice this means hotel amenities such as shampoo are available in biodegradable cornstarch containers across all Xanterra properties, and guests can choose to enjoy their beverages “straw free” at the restaurants. At Zion National Park, reusable bottles and hydration stations have replaced plastic water bottles.
Greener adds that Xanterra employees feel a deep sense of responsibility and stewardship in working within some of our national jewels. “It’s the heart of who we are,” she says. “Everyone is seeing the plight of the glaciers, so particularly at Glacier National Park, we’re seeing the challenges of how we impact the environment.” The ultimate hope is that people are able to walk away from an amazing experience not only with memories but with an awareness that they can do something themselves to reduce their own carbon footprint in their everyday lives. “There are many trails that eventually end up at the same vista,” Greener adds, “which is an understanding that there’s a better way for all of us to live and work.”