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Utah Outdoor Industry Urges Action On Climate Change, Talk About How To Make Progress

Photo of chairlift with snowy mountains in the background.
Chelsea Naughton
Utah has warmed about 2 degrees over the last century. Outdoor industry leaders say if that trend continues, it’s not just bad for the environment, but the state’s economy.";s:

As wildfires rage throughout the West, funneling smoke through the Wasatch Front, leaders of Utah’s outdoor recreation industry met Tuesday to talk about what it all means for the state’s economy going forward. 

Climate and the economy, they said, are intrinsically linked. Outdoor recreation contributes about $12.3 billion to the state, while outdoor opportunities are also a major draw for tourism dollars. 

But speaking at the annual Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit, community leaders said that climate change is threatening the sustainability of the industry. Worsening air quality also makes it harder for companies in the state to recruit new talent.

“The way we look at it is that this is a clear business case,” said Chris Steinkamp, director of advocacy at Snowsports Industries America, an industry trade group based in Park City. “Our industry and Utah as a whole will become much stronger and resilient if we take action today.”

Steinkamp pointed to emissions models that show places like Park City could look very different in a few decades. He said some predictions show that by 2100, most of the state would lose skiing altogether, especially at the lower elevations.

Brand Marketing Director for Rossignol Ski Company Nick Castagnoli, which has offices in Park City, said climate change has already begun to affect the business’s bottom line. Shorter winters mean less time for skiing. And while the company makes products for other seasons, winter is its economic engine. 

“Snow is really our currency,” Castagnoli said. “There's a seasonality to our business. We only have about a quarter of the calendar year to really engage with our consumers and generate revenue, so there's quite a bit of pressure.” 

He said the pressure is coming from customers, too, who are increasingly demanding companies like his take action on the environment. Research in 2017 on corporate social responsibility found that, in the absence of government regulation, 63% of Americans hope businesses will take the lead on driving social and environmental changes. 

Rossingol is working towards a 40% reduction in waste by 2025 and a 30% cut to its carbon footprint by 2030, Castagnoli said. It also audits its suppliers five to 10 times a year to make sure they are complying with its sustainability standards. 

But action on an issue as huge as climate change will take buy-in from everyone, said Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton. Major outdoor companies like Rossignol are crucial, but government and Utahns are key too. 

Handy sponsored legislation last year to help Utah cities and counties commit to transitioning to renewable energy sources. So far, he said about 25 have made that pledge. That number was higher before a few dropped out.

One of the ongoing challenges, he said, is opposition from those who still don’t believe climate change is an issue. That mostly comes from other Republican lawmakers, he said, trying to protect jobs in coal country. And the only solution there is to keep educating people and presenting the facts, which can be a slow process. 

“We have to navigate this, but we have to do it expeditiously,” Handy said. “We've been dawdling too long.”

Correction 11:59 a.m. MDT 8/26/2020: This story has been updated to reflect a title change for Chris Steinkamp.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

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