Ewan Mackie: Carving the Path for Sustainable Skiing in Aotearoa

Meet Ewan Mackie, a driving force behind sustainable initiatives at Cardrona and Treble Cone ski areas. Discover how his passion for sustainability is making a difference to the stunning landscapes of New Zealand's South Island.

Ewan Mackie: Carving the Path for Sustainable Skiing in Aotearoa

Could you tell us a bit about who you are, your role, and how you like to spend your time outside of work?

Kia ora, my name’s Ewan Mackie, and I’m the Treble Cone Ski Area Manager. I’m also the Conservation & Sustainability Lead for the Real NZ Group, a tourism group offering tourism experiences in the lower South Island.

I’ve worked at Treble Cone and Cardrona in various roles for a number of years, and have always had a passion and interest in sustainable practice and conservation, so I try to find opportunities to lessen our climatic and environmental footprint. We have operational stewardship of the whenua, and Ngāi Tahu are tangata whenua, so we need to be respectful of customs and traditions, needs and wants.

I’m passionate about the outdoors; anything that gets me outside – skiing, mountain biking, climbing, running. I grew up skiing in Scotland and Europe and I’ve done close to 30 cumulative winter seasons working in the ski industry. I’ve just become a father which is a new and exciting chapter for me.


How do your personal values align with your role of Sustainability Lead at Treble Cone and Cardona?

I’m always interested in learning how we can make a better world through our actions. How do we make better connectivity between people and place? How do we make a more thriving biodiversity, and regenerate natural processes? We have a choice to look after and enhance the biodiversity of the land and make positive change. It’s genuinely accepting that people are really busy and we all have stressors in our lives, so how do we give people the opportunity to connect with each other through the medium of going skiing, and connect with the mountain? That’s what’s important and that’s why I do it. It enriches people and place and that’s got to be our overriding goal. If you’re not having a positive outcome somewhere then what’s the point?


In 2020, at Cardona and Treble Cone, you led/implemented an initiative that all single-use packaging brought on-site must be taken back off the mountains by visitors. What prompted this initiative?

We decided to complete a waste audit to see if it matched how much rubbish we thought was coming up the mountain. We realised the best way to stop rubbish filling up the bins, or worse, spreading across the mountain, was to prevent it coming up the mountain in the first place. We recognised that our operational packaging had a big impact, along with the 5,000 people coming up Cardrona every day and 1-2,000 people heading up Treble Cone.

We aimed to establish a “pack-in and pack-out" mentality of carrying out any rubbish visitors brought in, mirroring the practice that DOC huts have had in place for the last 30 years. You’re going to remote places, to places of beauty, and rather than just taking the rubbish away, we wanted to encourage people to try not to bring it in the first place.

That also put the pressure on us – if we expect people to take it away then we can’t create rubbish and expect them to take it away. It was a great opportunity to speak to our supply partners and ask, “This is the direction we’re going, can you get on board? Can you change the way you operate for us?” It’s opened up a lot of conversations and reduced a lot of waste. In that first year we reduced waste by 40%. That’s tonnes and tonnes of methane that is no longer releasing into the atmosphere.

A massive partner in all of this is Wānaka Wastebusters. They are simply brilliant. They mentor us, guide us; it’s a great partnership. Recycling is a huge moving target fraught with complexity and Wastebusters help us navigate this. We always work with a hierarchy of waste – recycling is at the bottom and we want to work on reusing, repurposing, repairing, and reducing where we can. That’s where our great relationship with Chia Sisters comes in, we can have fresh pressed juice in a keg. It’s about having good kōrero, it can be worth waiting 6 months for a really good solution instead of rushing something.


How has this been received by guests?

We thought we were going to have lots of challenging conversations, and that people would ask “What is this guest service!?” We had a handful of people who didn’t get it, but people were – and are – hugely supportive. Furthermore we found people got really engaged, especially the local community. They’d have discussions about what they’re using instead of plastic wrap, what they’re baking; really getting behind reducing their waste.

We all need that nudge in the right direction – we’re all motivated to make change in our own lives, but we’re all busy people wanting convenience. It’s up to us to create systems.


What other initiatives have you been working on to reduce environmental impact?

Last year, we started a great initiative where we repurpose our old uniforms. We work with a global initiative ReAction which started in France and now works across three continents, and we’re the first in New Zealand to create a global repurposed uniform brand.

We partnered with Wānaka Wastebusters who do the repurposing, and the old uniform – some of which is brand new by the way, never worn – goes out to be sold. We’re creating employment in the community, the garments get sold on, and we’re breaking down socio-economic barriers of getting into snow sports because we know equipment and clothing can be expensive. Any profits leftover from sales of the garments goes straight into our conservation projects.


You serve the Chia Sisters Orange Mango pressed juice range in kegs and our Immunity Tonic in urns. How do these steps help Cardrona & TC achieve its sustainability goals?  

We know glass is well recycled in NZ, but we have the added challenge of being remote, it adds an extra layer onto just the recycling alone. So kegging is a new thing, it’s bold, dynamic, and well received. Our partnership with Chia Sisters fits well with our values and with the messaging that we’re trying to deliver – it’s a great example of a partner who supports what we’re trying to achieve here!

We’ve seen willingness to innovate, listen, and be challenged. The suppliers that want to make that difference are the ones we’re partnering with.


Chia Sisters Pressed Orange Mango Juice on tap at Cardrona 

You also offer free passes on shuttle buses and priority parking for people who car-pool. How impactful has this initiative been?

Free transport has had a huge impact. The ski industry has a massive carbon footprint, some of it is incredibly hard to change. For instance, the only way you can groom your slopes right now is with a diesel groomer, so we use modern groomers with more efficient burning engines.

One of the things we recognised having a major impact on emissions was guest transportation – all the private vehicles of guests travelling up the mountain, sometimes carrying one or two people, this has a significant environmental footprint. A full bus of guests has way less emissions than everyone taking cars. We had been running a shuttle bus anyway, but we decided to make it free. The uptake of people taking buses instead of driving their own cars is about 10% every year. We also offer priority parking for cars carrying more than two guests, to encourage people to carpool.


What do you consider the most significant achievement in terms of sustainability at both ski fields?

To say we’ve ‘achieved’ feels like we’ve achieved something and it’s done! We’ve done so many great things but there is still so much to do; the snow sport industry has a massive environmental footprint.

One achievement I’ll pin down are the conversations, guest to guest, and supplier to supplier, and the increased willingness to engage on this topic. What’s great is that we keep getting asked “What’s next?” so we keep getting challenged. Our people celebrate our success and continue to hold us accountable.

We’re not going to achieve everything on our own; we need to be lobbying and advocating as an industry. We have an industry sustainability group and we’re working on solutions together. In 2020, we created a greenhouse gas emissions measuring tool for the whole of the ski industry, to measure the carbon footprint in the same way and share results and solutions. We commissioned EAS to help us build an emissions accounting tool that met the international standard, and Cardrona and Treble Cone work with Toitū for certification and auditing of our carbon emissions.

I also represent Real NZ and the ski industry on a Ministry of Business panel for the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan, and decarbonisation for our tourism system is one of the pillars of this work.


If you had endless resources, what would the ultimate sustainable version of Treble Cone and Cardrona look like in ten years' time?

In a broad sense, it would be that every single day that we operate these mountains we are having a net positive result on the environmental footprint, not only of the mountains themselves and the community in which they’re based, but globally as well.

If we can decarbonise operations and systems, enhance and conserve biodiversity, and better understand – really understand – the ecology of which we live and improve this through restoration of natural processes, we can revive the mauri of this place.

We need to keep asking - How do we restore balance into water sources, vegetation networks, the inter-relationships between plants and animals, the bird species that are missing… How do we bring back habitat then leave habitat to flourish?

We’re all on this massive learning journey to understanding more, we’re having more kōrero and sharing information, we’re asking and answering questions, and we need to be willing to listen to other points of views.

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