By Tim O’Donoghue, Riverwind Foundation

2012: Jackson Hole is a Sustainable Destination Standards Early Adopter

In 2012, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council selected Jackson Hole as one of the first Early Adopters of Sustainable Destination Standards. The GSTC’s concluding remarks were that “Teton County more than any other place in the world has the potential to become a leader as a sustainable destination” and that we have the natural capital, human capacity, and financial resources to realize this potential.

2014: Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program is created to coordinate the achievement of sustainable destination certification within five years.

The Early Adopters program included an assessment of Jackson Hole / Teton County, Wyoming’s sustainability according to 120 criteria. One of the primary findings was that, despite all the organizations and activities working to make Jackson Hole and our community more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable, there was no organization or program working to coordinate and unify these efforts toward community goals and international standards for sustainability.

The Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program was created by the Riverwind Foundation in 2014 in response to the GSTC’s findings. One of the primary objectives of the Program was to achieve third-party sustainable destination certification within five years. The purpose of seeking certification was to guide and drive sustainability innovation and improvement with Jackson Hole’s business, government, and nonprofit stakeholders and overall community. Along the way, the Riverwind Foundation and Jackson Hole have received numerous awards and recognition.

2017: National Geographic World Legacy Award Destination Finalist

2018: World Travel & Tourism Council Destination Management Finalist for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards

2016, 2017, & 2018: Green Destinations recognition as one of the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations of the world

January 2019: The Riverwind Foundation engages EarthCheck for sustainable destination certification.

The Riverwind Foundation engaged EarthCheck on January 2019 to continue the initial evaluation begun in 2012 and pursue sustainable destination certification. EarthCheck is one of two destination certification programs that have been accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the world’s longest running, most experienced, rigorous program. The process of certification consisted of two stages: Sustainable Destination Certification Benchmarking and Audit

The Benchmarking stage involved collecting and submitting data on approximately 60 indicators in 12 key performance areas:

  1. Energy efficiency, conservation and management
  2. Greenhouse gas emissions
  3. Air quality protection, noise control & light pollution
  4. Management of freshwater resources
  5. Wastewater management, drainage and streams
  6. Ecosystem conservation and management
  7. Land use planning and development
  8. Transport
  9. Solid waste management
  10. Management of environmentally harmful substances
  11. Cultural and Social Management
  12. Economic Management

The Audit stage involved a week-long onsite audit by EarthCheck, including:

  • Evaluations of the validity and reliability of indicator data
  • Review of sustainability policies, plans, and reports;
  • Interviews of key sustainability stakeholders;
  • Site tours; and
  • Meetings with community leaders and Riverwind Foundation destination certification team members

44 volunteers contributed 786 hours of in-kind labor and additional funding in support of the Benchmarking and Audit certification stages.

October 2019: The Riverwind Foundation receives the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce Green to Green award for demonstrating a commitment to the environment by prescribing to innovative and effective environmentally conscious business practices

November 2019: Benchmarking and Audit results are in! Jackson Hole meets 256 out of 266 certification criteria, an increase from the 57 out of 120 in 2012.

February 2020: Riverwind Foundation submits progress report to address non-conformances

A progress report submitted by the Riverwind Foundation in February 2020 addressed three major non-conformances, sufficiently completing the action or demonstrating the plan and process for completing the action.

Of the remaining 10 criteria, three major “non- conformances” and corrective actions were identified:

  • Create an overarching sustainability policy for Jackson Hole signed by the highest local authorities
  • Establish a system for monitoring, responding to, and reporting on visitor and resident satisfaction
  • Create a process for developing a community/ destination action plan

The seven minor non-conformances and corrective actions identified were:

  • Create a chart illustrating destination management organization
  • Establish a library of operating permits, leases, and licenses from major destination stakeholders to demonstrate legal compliance
  • Include predicted climate change impacts in Teton County Risk Assessment
  • Share the revised Teton County Risk Assessment with public
  • Create and implement a mechanism for obtaining community feedback on the overarching sustainability policy and management plan
  • Create a mechanism for conducting an annual review of community / destination management and action plan
  • Establish a system for destination management record keeping for the key performance areas

March 2020: Jackson Hole becomes the FIRST EarthCheck Certified destination in North America!

Vision for the Future

We’ve reached an intermediate milestone in implementing the principles, policies, and strategies of the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan and realizing the vision established by the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Commissioners to be “a world-leading sustainable community and destination.”

Now, the objective is to further strengthen Jackson Hole’s environmental, social, and economic sustainability by continuing to innovate and improve our individual and community efforts in a more collaborative, unified way. This aspiration must be part of our community’s work to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and be more resilient to future events that threaten the integrity of the environment, the fabric of our community, and the vitality of our economy.

Written by Tim O’Donoghue, Riverwind Foundation.

Tim is the Executive Director of the Riverwind Foundation where he leads the Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program. He also serves as a sustainability consultant for several international conservation and tourism organizations and their members.

For more information contact: Tim O’Donoghue, Executive Director, Riverwind Foundation | (307) 690-3316 |