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Allana Williams: ‘The culture is all about striving to be the best’

Allana Williams, energy manager and environmental coordinator at Whistler Blackcomb

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Allana Williams, 48, is energy manager and environmental coordinator at Whistler Blackcomb and founder of the resort's Foundation Environmental Fund, and designs, implements and tracks sustainability programs.

I am from Kitchener, Ont., and came out to Banff when I was 18 – my first time on an airplane. Took a bus up here to Whistler, and fell in love with it.

I went to Wilfrid Laurier University for business and took a psyche course with professor Doug Mackenzie-Mohr called 'Peace, Conflict and Aggression.' At first, you came out thinking, 'It is hopeless.' Then he started talking about what we're going to do about it. That changed everything for me.

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I wanted to do something in business, to be involved in the environment, and to be somewhere I loved to be. So I went to the University of Waterloo for environmental-resource studies and kept the business option at Laurier.

For my third-year thesis, to do a waste-audit review, I would come here on holidays. I switched to UBC for my final year, then sold silk-screen T-shirts, worked as a landscaper and a lift assistant, and did the environmental work on days off.

In 1997, Whistler and Blackcomb came together. I said, 'I will save you enough money on garbage collection to justify the position.' At the time, we were the only municipality to pay by volume so the first thing I did was to buy compactors. That saved our truck traffic by 70 per cent.

One of the VPs has a story about me coming to them and saying, 'Hi, I am Allana and I need $250,000.' And they are like, 'Sorry, who are you?' I was so young, and a woman, meeting all these [waste-management] guys. I remember being in a meeting and saying, 'You have to talk to me, because I have the money.'

At the time, it was business versus environment. The key, initially, was to prove the business case, which gave me the cred to stay. We did it with waste – reduced the bill by almost half, then put in the recycling program. They asked how the program is going. I said, 'Good … really good.' That's when I learned to measure everything.

I don't have to go into a meeting and talk about climate change now. We're been through the era of why, and now we're long into the how. There are amazing, brilliant people here who figure out things that haven't been done before.

Whistler is a forward-looking community – very green, and you work with people who love to be outside. The solutions team – they're skiers and mountain bikers, raising their kids here. We have a lot of things going for us in terms of people being on board.

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Some people think we're a bunch of ski bums. I mean, I love the mountains, and like that we can come to work in blue jeans. But the people have kept me here for 20 years. The culture is all about striving to be the best, always willing to help each other out.

We like to try new technologies. We like to take a problem and attack it. The culture of the organization is just 'go' and now they are going toward the sustainability agenda. I don't ever feel not motivated. I am surrounded every day by people who are so keen.

Most of [the job] is energy management – to reduce what we consume, be it electrical, natural gas or [other] fuel. We are looking at clean tech as well but demand-side management is less expensive. It makes sense to start there. So we started putting in solar panels, and optimizing what we have.

You have to find the common ground. If I am doing a lighting project, I want to save energy and make your space look beautiful. I took a lighting design [course], so I am not just considering the wattage, but also what it looks like. If it's beautiful and we're saving energy, everybody is happy.

I have a hard time letting people do things for me. You can't grow a program indefinitely. You have to get help at some point. I've gotten better at [delegating], and the results are awesome.

Less energy is less work, and less work is less maintenance. It's all about alignment.

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The interview has been edited and condensed for length.

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