Aspen city staff presented to city council at a Tuesday work session about Aspen’s environmental health and a sustainability work plan. The purpose of the presentation was to provide information to aid council members in setting goals during an upcoming retreat. 

In alignment with the city of Aspen’s mission to steward the natural environment — and support a healthy and sustainable community for the benefit of future generations — the city set a number of goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city is committed to reducing emissions by 30% by 2030, 80% by 2050 and eventually using 100% renewable energy. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these goals seemed attainable, but the timeline has recently been shortened, Climate Action Manager Ashley Perl said. 

“We really have eight years — until 2030 — to do some dramatic reductions so that we reach 2030 slowing the emissions, but keep moving toward zero emissions,” she said. 

The Pitkin County Landfill is expected to reach its capacity in eight to nine years, Perl said. However, she emphasized that the city is optimistic that it can still meet its goals through a number of new programs and that staff has some solutions in mind. 

For at least the last 15 years, the city of Aspen has implemented programs like the Community Office for Resource Efficiency’s (CORE) Path to Zero and SCRAPS that have encouraged community participation in recycling and composting, Perl said. These programs have had a direct benefit, and staff has seen 5-25% of the community participate in them when staff has engaged with them, at least in the beginning. After a certain period of time, participation growth begins to flatten out, she noted. 

“That’s a signal to us that we need to switch something up,” Perl continued. 

Chris Menges, Aspen’s sustainability and climate programs administrator, recommended that council should examine ways to electrify buildings, reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled and adopt some new targets. 

Most of Aspen’s emissions — 58% —  come from residential and commercial buildings, Menges said. Transportation, waste and aviation also contribute to a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Menges encouraged council to shift to using clean energy sources and use that energy as efficiently as possible, both in buildings and vehicles. He recommended adopting an electrified vehicle fleet for the city and aiming for a 63% emissions reduction by 2030. 

“If we are able to do that, we can likely hit those science-based targets,” he said. 

Staff also stressed that maximizing the city’s recycling and composting efforts should be a main focus. Increasing those efforts could lead to a 30% reduction of trash in the landfill, a waste expert said. 

Following the presentation, council members agreed that while it’s possible they could enact some policy changes in the future, they wanted more direction on what actions are needed from staff. They also agreed that climate issues are very important, and something that they are passionate about tackling. 

“We need to make progress, and we don’t have time to wait,” Councilmember Ward Hauenstein said. “We can’t change [people], people have to change themselves. But we can make a dent on these buildings, and we can make a dent on transportation.”

Mayor Torre said he supports the efforts that staff presented, and council will discuss further in the coming weeks what steps they can take to move forward.