at the gardens

Bee at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Sustainability at the Gardens

As ambassadors of alpine conservation, we see the impacts of climate change on this fragile and critical ecosystem. While we are strategically implementing protection of the alpine, a few thousand feet lower we are operating our organization with the smallest footprint possible.

What We Do

The sustainability efforts used by the Gardens, Education Center and programming are part of our organization's DNA.

See below how you can implement some of these into your business, home and garden.

Recycling & Waste

Waste diversion is the process of eliminating and redirecting as much material possible from the landfill. We use the common and unique ways listed below to redirect as much waste into reuse. Our waste diversion rate has gotten as high as 80% of total waste diverted from the dump.

All waste stations at the Gardens include recycling receptacles with instructions of appropriate recyclable materials in order to keep the waste streams clean and suitable for processing. It’s important to know your collection agency’s current acceptable materials and check back periodically as they can change. Locally, you can use the Eagle County Waste Wizard to check if and where an item can be disposed of properly.

Hard to Recycle Items

Plant Containers:

The black thin plastic of plant containers and trays inhibit them from being recycled as they are made up of mixed resins and opticial readers cannot identify them. While the plant industry is working towards alternatives, they are currently a necessary evil. The containers we receive are used over and over or returned to the supplier where they are sanitized and reused. There are initiatives spreading through the United States for drop sites where this plastic can be melted down and turned into pellets.

Plastic Pot Fact Sheet

Plastic Film:

Plastic bags and wraps cannot be put into curbside recycling but they can be taken to locations that collect them in bulk. Paper towel packaging, the bags grapes come in, bubble wrap and newspaper bags can be turned into composite lumber for a playground or pellets to make new bags or even pipes. Recycling plastic film can be as easy as taking it with you on your next grocery trip. Check here to find a collection site near you.


Cork comes from the Cork Oak Tree and can take up to 25 years until it’s able to be harvested. Once your wine cork has done its job, it can be recycled into boards, flooring, even shoes. Using this recycled cork replaces harvesting other materials for product production. Collect those wine corks and find a drop off location near you with ReCORK.

Trash Bags:

Compostable bags line our trashcans and when a more hefty bag is needed, we use Revolution Bags. Rather than virgin resin, these liners use agricultural irrigation tubing that is only used for one growing season. Revolution Bags are made up of 70% post-consumer recycled resin.

Paper Products:

  • Marketing materials are printed on recycled paper.
  • Copy paper contains at least 70% post-consumer recycled paper.
  • All sanitary paper supplies are recycled fiber.
  • Facility bathrooms supplied with tubeless toilet paper.

Household Hazardous Waste:

Items such as motor oil, paint, batteries and pesticides are toxic and can corrode, catch fire or explode under certain circumstances. If poured down the drain, these toxins can reach our streams.

The Gardens collects all HHW for proper and safe disposal. HHW can be taken to the Eagle County Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Paint can be taken to local stores like Vail Valley Ace Hardware or Sherwin Williams.

Electronic Waste:

E-waste can leach lead and mercury into the soil and water system when improperly disposed. It can also contain valuable non-renewable resources such as gold, platinum, aluminum and cobalt. It’s important to collect these unused or inoperable electronics and take them to your local landfill e-waste department or send to a program such as Cellular Recycler. You could even make some cash!

The Town of Vail hosts two HHW/E-Waste collection events in the spring and fall. Check their website and local newspaper for these annual dates.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens pays close attention to collect all these materials that have a place outside of the landfill. 


Organic waste sent to the landfill emits methane gas, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. By keeping this waste out of the landfill and repurposing it back into rich soil, we can help lower the ozone hole depletion and create a closed circle system beneficial to gardening.


Garden Compost:

  • Compost produced from garden maintenance is collected and sent to the Town of Vail’s yard waste compost department where it is turned into nutrient-rich soil that’s used in gardening throughout the community.

Business Compost:

  • Organic waste including hand towels from the restrooms, serviceware and food scraps are sent to Vail’s Honey Wagon Organics compost collection site. This program is open to the public with convenient collection sites throughout the Valley.

Zero-Waste Events:

  • All events and programming produced by Betty Ford Alpine Gardens include compost and recycling.
  • We use only BPI-certified compostable serviceware, reducing plastic, landfill mass and chemical use.
  • All events also feature a plant-based menu to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

More information:
Create a backyard compost bin and composting in the winter.

Composting at home

High altitude composting


The Compost Story’ video by Kiss the Ground

Electricity & Water


  • In 2022, the Gardens switched to 100% renewable energy with the  PuRE initiative from Holy Cross Energy.
  • Since 2015, the Gardens have used electric maintenance carts and in 2023, the Gardens switched to an all electric garden power tool fleet.
  • The Education Center uses energy efficeint Light-emitting Diode (LED) bulbs which use less wattage than other types of bulbs. Several rooms are also equipt with self turn-off mechanisms which automatically turn the bulbs off after a certain amount of time without sensing movement.
  • We set a goal every year to reduce our electricity usage by 5%.


  • The Gardens feature six waterfalls. These are sourced through raw water from Gore Creek and run in a circular system to reduce water intake.
  • Irrigation systems are equipt with sensors to avoid watering when the ground is already saturated.
  • All toilets are low flow.
  • Water usage in the Education Center is closely monitored to spot irregularities.
  • We set a goal every year to reduce our water usage by 5%.

The Gardens

It can take a lot of resources to keep a world class alpine botanic garden at its peak. Our horticulture team uses best sustainable gardening practices to minimize this usage and to utilize natural systems.

  • When necessary, only organic non-synthetic fertilizer is used in order to eliminate toxic nitrogen pollution and harmful run-off.
  • Irrigation systems are connected to weather sensors which shut off usage when rainfall is present or temperature is low.
  • In development of new gardens, waterwise landscaping and a drought-tolerant plant selection are implemented.
  • In 2023, added a Water-Wise garden in a new plot next to the Education Center. This demonstration garden was inspired as a way for visitors and community members to see what is possible in their mountain gardens while conserving water.

Visit our Sustainable Gardening page for more information.

The Education Center

Built in 2015 with efficiency and the natural surroundings in mind. 

  • Living Green Roof
  • Beetle-kill pine
  • South-facing orientation, not only for the Alpine House plantings but also for the benefit of the thermal mass from the large concrete wall
  • Partially buried in a hillside, this helps with cooling loads in summer and heating loads in winter
  • Bioswale outside to handle storm drainage -helps intercept, slow down and allow some of the runoff to infiltrate into the ground before it goes to Gore Creek
  • Drought tolerant adaptable plant selection with the majority of the plant palette indigenous to the Rocky Mountains
  • Landscaping boulders sourced within a 200 mile radius
  • Efficient irrigation with emphasis on drip irrigation to help reduce water usage
  • Energy recovery ventilator to provide mechanical ventilation as an extremely efficient way to provide better indoor air quality
  • Air-to-air heat pump as a very efficient means of heating the building with electricity
  • High-performing glass for windows and doors
  • LED lighting
  • Low flow toilets

The Gift Shops

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Gift Shop in Vail Village & Schoolhouse Gift Shop in the Children’s Garden


Both stores offer a variety of local & nationally sourced items that support the gardens work in education, horticulture and conservation.


Locally Sourced:
The Gift Shops feature items from artists and producers in Vail Valley, neighboring valleys and Colorado. In supporting our community, we cut down on shipping emissions.



The gift shops use all biodegradable packaging including EPI 100% biodegradable bags from Colorado.


If a producer uses plastic or excessive packaging, we make a call to ask for alternative options.


Single-Use Plastic:

You won’t find single-use plastic or styrofoam in our operations! We opt for more easily recycled aluminum or paper-based products.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Visitor Center
Actively Green Logo - Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Actively Green

In 2017, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens became an Actively Green certified organization through Walking Mountains Science Center, a program recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. We are committed to the pillars of efficiency, longevity, ethics and culture.

Along with over 70 other Eagle County business, we are "elevating performance with the use of best management practices specific to sustainability principles".

Vail, where Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is located, became the first Sustainable Destination mountain resort in the world and the first Sustainable Destination in the United States by Green Destinations. It takes a strong community of businesses, citizens and visitors to commit to a pathway to a more sustainable future.

Ford Waterfall - Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Sustainability Awards

2023 Climate Impact Award -Walking Mountains Science Center

2023 Best Sustainable Organization -Vail Daily’s Reader’s Choice Awards

2022 Actively Green Business of the Year -Vail Valley Partnership

SA22 Winner Actively Green Business of the Year - Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

2022 Best Sustainable Organization -Vail Daily’s Reader’s Choice Awards

2021 Best Green Team -Actively Green

2021 #3 Favorite Sustainable Business -Actively Green

2020 Town of Vail Cleanest Recycler -Actively Green

2020 #1 Sustainable Business in Eagle County


Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM)

A group of local non-profits and organizations “striving to provide equal access to outdoor spaces and opportunities for youth and families in Eagle Valley”. We’ve teamed up with Walking Mountains Science Center to provide no-cost field trips and activities to our community members interested in getting more in touch with their local surroundings.

Environmental Internships

Inspiring future environmental leaders. One to two high school interns studying environmental leadership join our summer team for real life experience in an environmental organization. We also host four college interns a year with specialties in horticulture, education and conservation.

Climate Action Collaborative (CAC)

The Gardens is a stakeholer in helping implement the Climate Action Plan for Eagle County. The Gardens is also a member of the CAC specialized working groups of Natural Climate Solutions and Water.

Sustainable Destination Committee

The Gardens is part of the group that led the way to Vail becoming the first town in the United States to become a certified Sustainable Destination.

Colorado Tourism Office, Care for Colorado Coalition

Along with the work the Gardens puts into protecting the alpine, we’ve joined this special coalition of more than 100 statewide organizations to help promote Leave No Trace principles to “protect the state’s extraordinary natural and cultural resources”.

The Climate Toolkit

The 100th organization to join! “A collaborative opportunity for museums, gardens and zoos who want to learn how to aggressively address climate change within their own organizations and inspire the communities they serve to follow their lead.

Currently, the Climate Toolkit embraces thirty-two goals for addressing climate change within the categories of energy, food service, transportation, plastics, landscapes and horticulture, investments, visitors and research. The goals were determined through a collaborative process with input from members of the Directors of Large Gardens group. 

The Climate Toolkit’s goals are designed to align with both the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals  and the Project Drawdown Table of Solutions

Citizen Science Projects

Click here to learn more about our alpine conservation efforts, partnerships and citizen science projects.

  • EcoFlora
  • Project RiverWatch
  • Pika Project
  • FeederWatch

North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Conservation

Along with Denver Botanic Gardens, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens piloted and is executing the goals “to encourage plant conservation organizations to contribute to the collective goal of conserving North American alpine plants and their habitats”, “provide a framework for North American botanic gardens to address the environmental and climate change challenges facing alpine ecosystems” and “highlight the critical role that botanic gardens can play in research, conservation, and education”. Click the link to learn more about the objectives and targets.

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