Whistler Blackcomb saves $27,000 a year in lighting costs


Lighting upgrade brings overall energy savings to $85,000 a year

With its latest energy efficiency project, ski resort Whistler Blackcomb is saving $27,000 per year in electricity. Plus, it qualified for a $42,000 Power Smart incentive to help out with the cost of switching out T12 fluorescent tubes for more efficient T8 lamps.

But the project itself is still an uphill climb. Literally.

"Imagine replacing a lamp in one of the lift stations," says Allana Williams, energy manager for Whistler Blackcomb. "A person has to take an eight-foot lamp — usually in a box, so it won't break — get it onto a snowmobile, drive the snowmobile up to the station, climb up into the station with all of your tools, and change out the lamp."

And that's just one location.

"We're doing lighting basically all over the mountain. It's a huge project," says Williams. "It takes a lot of planning. You don't want someone going up to the alpine and then realizing they need something and coming all the way back down again."

With 3,000 lamps (plus ballasts and occupancy sensors) to be installed in lift stations, alpine shops, and other outbuildings spread across two mountains, this is a lighting retrofit of epic proportions. For Whistler Blackcomb, it's just the latest effort in a long history of environmental stewardship.

Staying focused

"I've been doing the environmental work here for 18 years, starting with waste management and moving into energy," says Williams. "Initially you try to do everything for everyone because everyone is really passionate about it. But you do get to a point where you have to prioritize."

Williams says developing a sustainability policy was important, allowing the company — with operations that encompass 17 restaurants, 37 lifts, and more than 500 acres of snow-making capacity — to focus. "Now when we come back to that person who had a great idea we can show that it's here on the list after we do these other things."

With energy costs at $3.2 million per year, efficiency has become a big goal. "For example, we've completed Continuous Optimization at the Roundhouse [a lodge located at 1,850m altitude], saving more than 520,000 kWh a year," says Williams. The company has also implemented a Workplace Conservation Awareness program that draws employee attention to a different conservation behaviour each month.

"We're now working on a snowmaking project. By putting in submetering, we've discovered that our electrical consumption for snowmaking for four months of the year represents a significant portion of our annual consumption overall, so we're looking at how to be smarter about the way we make snow."

Williams says the company is saving 450,000 kWh on snowmaking, 520,000 kWh at the Roundhouse, and 444,000 kWh on the latest lighting project. That brings total electricity savings for current projects to $85,000 per year — with another $39,000 estimated potential savings from the Workplace Conservation Awareness program.

Employees embrace incentives to help increase sustainability

Williams says Whistler Blackcomb staff, who choose to live and work in a pristine wilderness area, tend to be very supportive of environmental initiatives. Recently sustainability performance has become part of the overall incentive program for employees.

"There was a little bit of fear at first: 'If I commit to this, what if I can't do it?' But we've provided support. With our new energy management information system, and tools and reporting we have, we can factor in heating degree days, guest visits, revenues.

"With measurable goals and objectives around sustainability, there's even more drive for the success of our sustainability programs. People really get on board."

Williams says there's another reason to implement good tracking and analysis of energy use. "It feeds your plan. If you have an effective plan you need to know where your biggest hits are and where you're going to put your resources first. Until you have the numbers you don't really know how it's going.

"In the early days with the environmental efforts it was like, 'Please do this for us. It's the right thing to do.' But we didn't really have the business case. If you want to be part of the organizational culture, you have to fulfill the requirements like everyone else.

"Once you develop that credibility, you can move on to a wider range of programs."

Staff enjoys working for a leading green company

Whistler Blackcomb has been consistently voted one of Maclean's Magazine's Top 30 Green Companies in Canada for several years. Williams says that's important to investors who are seeking green companies, but it's also critical in attracting staff (the company swells from 1,000 to 3,500 people annually as ski season comes and goes).

"In this day and age, people are looking for companies that are doing things you can feel good about," she says. "I get letters where people write and say, 'I read about your green program and that made me want to work here.'"

Williams says energy efficiency will continue to be a focus at Whistler Blackcomb. "It's a significant cost centre for us, and it's not going away, it's just getting higher. When we first started with environmental work, it was, 'Oh, that's a nice thing to do.' Now it's become a business imperative — and part of our culture."