Crystal Mountain’s investments in sustainability make good business sense
Also, comparing their groundskeeper to ‘Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler
Obsessed with a wily gopher, golf course groundskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) creates his own experimental mix of explosives to blast the critter to kingdom come in the finale of the movie classic “Caddyshack.”
At Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa, Golf Course Superintendent Chad Corp also experiments with the unconventional. His goals are much different.
Corp recycles clippings from the resort’s golf greens to brew a nutrient-rich “compost tea” that can be re-applied to the greens as a natural fertilizer. It steeps in 55-gallon barrels filled with pungent grassy liquids in varying stages of yeasty decomposition. The barrels are linked by tubes and monitored constantly by Corp.
Frequent testing quantifies the levels of micronutrients in the end product – telling Corp how his homemade brew compares to conventional products. Each barrel applied to the greens is one less sack of petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer that Crystal Mountain must buy.
“As far as we know, no one else is doing this,” said Corp. “So it’s exciting to see if we can make it work.”
The compost is but one of dozens of initiatives employed throughout Crystal Mountain to lessen impacts to the environment, reduce energy consumption and save money.
For CEO Jim MacInnes, his wife Chris, who is Chief Operating Officer, and the Petritz family, all of whom are the resort’s co-owners, earth-friendly practices often make good business sense for Crystal Mountain. The resort is Benzie County’s largest employer with 600 workers during the busy winter months.
MacInnes said smart choices can provide a buffer against fluctuating oil, coal and gas prices. But it’s also an ethical imperative for MacInnes, perhaps the industry’s most outspoken Michigan proponent of clean energy policies and sustainable practices.
“It’s not a one-time thing, it’s a lifestyle,” said MacInnes. ” It’s all hands on deck here. The whole staff is involved and made aware that this is a priority.”
A small city
The sprawling Crystal Mountain complex is essentially a small city, complete with the electricity and infrastructure demands that come with it. It takes massive amounts of electricity to power the buildings, chairlifts and snowmaking equipment, LP gas to heat buildings and gasoline to run grooming equipment.
From super-efficient water pumps and snow guns to electricity demand side management and pioneering work in composting golf course grass clippings, Crystal Mountain is setting a high standard for sustainability in the resort industry.
At the forefront of the charge is MacInnes, who is a former electric power engineer and energetic dynamo who travels the state advocating for smarter, more sustainable energy solutions.
He’s testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Technology supporting offshore wind energy and other renewable initiatives. He’s spoken at numerous energy forums across the state, making the case that smart energy and environmental choices are also good business. He’s in the local Benzie County Record Patriot where his columns on energy policy run next to small town news like “Used Jigsaw Puzzle Sale.”
And, somehow he finds time to preach sustainability on social media, regularly weighing in with comments and posts on Facebook and twitter.
“My goal is to try and get the word out about energy and the critical role it plays in society,” said MacInnes. “Oil and other fossil fuels are, after all, finite. Every day we ask ourselves what we can do to conserve energy and materials, and that makes good business sense. And I want to encourage people to put their oar in the water and become more aware.”
The resort’s spa is perhaps the highest profile of Crystal Mountain’s initiatives. It is the Midwest’s only LEED-certified spa, incorporating waterless toilets, bamboo flooring, native plant landscaping, material re-use, and groundwater heat pumps among many other green features.
The spa sits at the center of a tightly designed community that includes bike- and pedestrian-friendly roadways, natural ponds for stormwater collection and electric vehicle charging capability. Water used to cool the resort’s air conditioning systems is used a second time – for golf course irrigation. Dirty wastewater is cycled through a simple yet effective natural filtration system that includes wetlands and sand.
Protecting the region’s natural resources is self-preservation for the resort, notes MacInnes. After all, it is the region’s natural splendor that underpins the popularity of 56-year-old resort.
“It speaks to the culture here that we are all committed to this,” said Kristin Kiteley, director of food and beverage services. “It’s not trendy for us.”
Kiteley’s food service operations are increasingly efficient and locally based. Food scraps are composted and provided to community gardens, real mugs and silverware are used at the resort eateries and Kiteley is committed to finding alternatives to the individually-packaged condiment packets.
Much of Crystal Mountain’s eggs and milk come from local farmers. The resort also purchases locally raised beef and chicken, Michigan cheeses, and local produce.
“We also do what we can to push our food distributors [to use regionally sourced products],” said Kiteley.
Kiteley and Corp are part of Crystal Mountain’s “Green Team” of managers who meet regularly to review the resort’s practices. The team spearheads efforts including the change out of 4,200 incandescent light bulbs to more efficient LED and fluorescent types and in-room sensors that turn off lights in empty rooms. The resort also uses refillable soap and shampoo dispensers in guestrooms, which eliminate the use and disposal of 150,000 bottles each year.
Jon Zickert, who is rooms division director and heads the Green Team, said minimizing waste is a habit instilled in the staff.
“Reduce, reuse and recycle is an important mantra around here,” says MacInnes.
MacInnes said the family-owned nature of the business makes it easier to implement long-term solutions. Still, moving toward sustainability is a gradual process requiring significant investment. MacInnes and the Green Team must prioritize the projects that make the most sense. “We’re the ultimate incrementalists. We get there a little bit at a time,” he said.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
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