By MICHAEL JAMISON
How green is Glacier National Park? Greener by the day, courtesy of the Glacier Centennial Green Business Program, which challenges businesses to celebrate the park's 100th anniversary by adopting new energy-efficient initiatives.
WEST GLACIER - Business owners have received a special invitation to Glacier National Park's 100th birthday party. But to get in the door they'll first have to don their finest green apparel.
"We didn't want one big party and then it's over," said Kass Hardy, centennial coordinator for the park. "We wanted to energize initiatives that will last to well beyond the anniversary."
Initiatives such as the Glacier Centennial Green Business Program, which challenges business owners to change the light bulbs, start a carpool, reduce, reuse, recycle. In return, the storefronts get a marketing boost tied to the big birthday.
So far, Hardy has about 40 businesses on board, and is shooting for 100 by the 100th.
"We should get there," she said. "We're working on expanding the program statewide."
When Glacier Park hits the hundred mark in 2010, Hardy wants the entire community to join in the celebration, and that includes the business community. She also wants the party to recognize some of the park's many special designations. It's a World Heritage Site, and a Biosphere Reserve, and an official "climate-friendly park."
That last comes with requirements that Glacier's brass craft an environmental management plan, a way of measuring the park's impact and then mapping a path to reducing it. (An important task in a glacial park fast losing its glaciers.)
That effort got Hardy to thinking - what's good for the park is good for the climate, and that must be good for business, too.
"The idea was to try to encourage the surrounding businesses to bring those same principles into the workplace," she said.
So she teamed with Michelle Tafoya at the National Parks Conservation Association, and they cobbled together 15 possible actions to which businesses could commit. Choose any seven, and you're good to go.
Some are pretty specific: Get an energy audit. Buy an Energy Star appliance.
Some are more flexible: Create an "environmental management plan."
And some are wide open: Check the box labeled "other," for instance, and then let your imagination loose. More than half chose that "other" one, including Oliver Meister.
Up at the North Fork Hostel, in Polebridge on the park's western edge, Meister has built himself an expansive greenhouse that not only grows kitchen greens, but also helps heat the joint. And just beyond the back door is the first of many solar arrays he has planned, for heating water and making electricity.
"These are good projects," Meister said. "They're sustainable in the long term, so they save money over time."
They also got him on the Glacier Centennial Green Business list, which means he has a window sticker advertising his connection to the celebration. And his hostel is allowed to use the park's centennial green business logo, and is listed on the official centennial Web site, and on the Crown of the Continent site, too.
When centennial participants come to town, they're provided the green list, and encouraged to frequent participating businesses.
At Flathead Electric Cooperative, they've committed to providing free energy audits. At Montana Coffee Traders, they're looking to bring a commercial composter to town, for all those biodegradable cups. At Glacier Guides, they're driving a Prius, and the raft buses are rigged for biodiesel.
Glacier Park Inc., the park's primary lodging concessionaire, is using pillows that feel like feather-down, but are actually 100 percent recycled pop bottles. The Garden Wall Inn is serving local foods, and Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast - the only Missoula outfit on board so far - has banished plastic water bottles and is composting kitchen waste.
"It's really about sustainability," Tafoya said, "and it's only limited by your imagination."
Even the city of Whitefish has come on board, she said, the first of what she hopes will be a whole host of municipalities joining the park's celebration, and laying the groundwork for the next 100 years.
"Businesses get that association with Glacier, and they get a great marketing tool," Tafoya said. When the national centennial press trip brings media to town, for instance, the guests will be given a list of participating businesses. Stay at the Moss Mountain B&B, goes the pitch. Try some Copperleaf chocolate. Take a float with Montana Raft. Oh, and while you're at it, interview them, learn about their connection to the park, give them a little ink when you get home.
"It's a solid marketing approach," Tafoya said, and it may also prove to be the beginning of something bigger.
"I think there's a great potential for this to continue on," Hardy said. The centennial greens might prove the core of a green-business consortium, long after the birthday. They might collaboratively market themselves, might play host to enviro-friendly business meetings, might be the catalyst for real regional change. They might even find themselves feeling connected to the park in new ways, a Main Street organizing force to lobby on behalf of park interests.
For now, the free program is self-auditing, and Hardy is counting on businesses to police themselves and each other. At some point, though, if the project really catches on, she admits they'll need some enforcement, to make sure businesses really are doing what they say they're doing.
But that day remains a long ways off.
"For now," Tafoya said, "we see it as a welcoming entry point for businesses to see sustainability as an integral part of their daily operation."
It saves money, she says, and makes money, too, putting business interests squarely in bed with global environmentalism.
"We all live here for the same reasons," Hardy said, "and Glacier Park is central to those values."
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