Alison Gannett: Extreme skier turned climate hawk
At first blush, Alison Gannett’s sacrifices in the name of fighting global climate change don’t seem all that sacrificial. In 2001, the world champion extreme freeskier gave up helicopter skiing. She sold her snowmobile in 2005. Several years ago, she rejected a lucrative contract with Crocs because of the shoe company’s questionable environmental practices. (She kept her contract with the more sustainable Keen Footwear.) Just recently she turned down a photo shoot in the Alps because the flight over the pond was too much for her carbon footprint to bear.
Go ahead, roll your eyes. (Oh muffin … no heliskiing??) Then take note: Gannett walks the walk when it comes to living green. She and her husband grow their own food on an earth-friendly farm, and she’s battled to bring sustainable eats to residents in her rural corner of Colorado. Gannett has also leveraged her personal experience into a business that helps individuals and corporations — including a few of her athletic sponsors — reduce their energy consumption by up to 50 percent.
Hers is a story of how a fun hog became a climate activist in order to protect the thing she loves most: winter.
Gannett delivers roughly 250 keynote addresses each year (many, it should be noted, via Skype — no air travel required). Her talks start with a jaw-dropping slideshow of her exploits shredding some of the world’s most extreme slopes. Then she extolls all things winter. Just when you think she’s going to bro down and brag about bagging some sick peak in Alaska, she drops the hammer.
“I’m here because I want to save our snow,” Gannett says. “And what is snow? Water. And water is one of the most precious and endangered resources.”
That’s when Gannett shifts into energy wonk mode. Specifically, she talks about how to analyze your (or your organization’s) energy consumption and carbon emissions. Then she offers strategies to reduce carbon footprints and save money.
Some of her solutions you’ve heard before: “LED light bulbs are a slam dunk,” Gannett says. “Now they’re available and affordable at places like Home Depot, and each bulb can save $130, and is 79 percent more efficient than a standard bulb.”
She tells homeowners to call their local utility company for a free blower-door test and infrared scan, and to use the results to do their own caulking and foaming, which reduces the need for energy-intensive air conditioning and heating.
“Alison takes what can be a terribly complex subject and simplifies it in a 75-minute presentation,” says Sam Mix, outdoor marketing manager at Osprey Packs, one of her sponsors. “She makes a convincing case that small, individual actions can make a big difference.”
But don’t expect to hear Gannett encouraging organizations to plaster their roofs with solar panels or buy every employee a Prius. Those are expensive actions that, she argues, don’t always translate into a lower carbon footprint. (She built her own plug-in electric SUV in 2005, but when she ran the numbers, realized the vehicle and its solar charger massively increased her carbon footprint.) And she’s convinced that most people will only change their habits when there’s a financial incentive.
“I want to write a book called I Don’t Give a Shit About Climate Change,” Gannett says. “Companies can be more profitable by reducing waste and reducing energy use. Period.”
In truth, Gannett really, really gives a shit about climate change. It’s that concern that inspired the jet setting pro skier to start the Office for Resource Efficiency in 2004 with the goal of improving energy and resource efficiency in homes and businesses around her then-hometown of Crested Butte, Colo. In 2006, she helped launch a nonprofit called the Save Our Snow Foundation, which consults with large corporations, including Keen and Osprey, on how to reduce resource consumption.
In 2009, after uncovering some ugly truths about industrial organic agriculture — particularly the lax regulations governing the industry and the amount of energy consumed to grow and ship certified organic food to places like Crested Butte — Gannett started an online farmers market called localfarmsfirst.org for farmers within 100 miles of the Gunnison Valley. The next year, she relocated to a rural homestead, where she and her husband grow a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and meat — all by following an integrated farming model and without using pesticides.
All this has given Gannett even more fodder for her speaking events.
“I can use that as an inspirational platform,” she says. “That’s a lot better than being preachy — that’s just not an effective way to change human behavior.”