when neutrality equals action
What it means to be carbon neutral.
From the very beginning, Outer Shores Expeditions has strived to make as little environmental impact as possible. In fact, we don’t want to make any impact and that’s why we originally decided to become carbon neutral.
“Being carbon neutral is a prominent pillar of the way we approach our business,” says Outer Shores’ founder and president, Russell Markel. “We started right away. Our first year of carbon offsetting was our first full season.”
To date, Outer Shores has achieved carbon neutrality for the years 2013-2015, and we’re hard at work to offset all of our emissions for 2016/2017.
Ironically, there isn’t anything neutral about becoming carbon neutral. It’s a decidedly active step towards helping not just your local environment, but other areas of the planet as well.
Heidi Grantner is a project manager at Victoria-based Synergy Enterprises, a company that helps Outer Shores achieve carbon neutrality. “Being carbon neutral means taking responsibility for your greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. “Every business, no matter how green they are, have some sort of impact on the environment that’s quantifiable in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”
According to Grantner, tourism activities, in particular, are a major source of greenhouse gas emission. “Tourism is primarily driven by travel and air travel is one of the biggest emissions sources out there,” she says. “Planes are big fuel guzzlers and that contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.”
Outer Shores enlisted Synergy to measure all of our emissions, including all the fuel burn, our electricity and water, the waste we create, the paper we use, and all of our employee travel to and from expedition points.
Once we figured out our carbon footprint, we tried to reduce where we could. Some of those reduction measures have included installing LED lights and new batteries on Passing Cloud, purchasing a desalinator to reduce municipal water consumption and switching to marine-safe soaps and detergents.
However, measuring and reducing is just part of the process. Offsetting is where it all comes together.
No matter how much you reduce, you’ll still have a carbon footprint. It’s unavoidable. So the last step in becoming carbon neutral is investing in projects that remove from the atmosphere the equivalent amount of carbon emissions that we still produce.
Those projects are spread around the globe, from Canada to Africa, but it’s the projects here at in BC that are closest to our environmental heart.
That’s why we hooked up Offsetters, a Vancouver-based carbon management company who invest in projects that not only remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere but also help ecosystems and have some kind of social impact.
“As much as possible, we want to contribute to carbon offsetting projects that are local, that are tangible,” says Russell Markel. “In a perfect world, we can take our guests there and say, ‘when we carbon offset, this is the area we’re helping to protect’.”
The majority of Outer Shores’ carbon offsets are currently going to two projects on the BC coast. One of those is land-purchase project helping protect forests on Quadra Island. The other is the Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project, a collaboration with First Nations communities. This project creates economic opportunities for the culture that originated in this ecosystem and for the people who are responsible for protecting, monitoring and conserving it.
Grantner says the benefits of becoming carbon neutral go beyond helping the environment.
“The educated consumer is definitely seeking out those companies that are taking tangible steps to be responsible for their impacts,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of clients successfully work the carbon neutrality story into their brand. They become leaders in whatever market they’re part of because it’s all voluntary. No-one has to offset. It’s going above and beyond and that resonates with people.”
Maintaining carbon neutrality is an ongoing process given that the amount of emissions we produce is always changing.
Our latest Sustainability Report shows that Outer Shores’ emissions have increased 54% on average since first being measured for 2013. That might sound drastic, but it correlates with a 45% increase in the number of guests we’ve had. Overall, our carbon footprint remains well below average for a typical tourism company.
While we think we’ve accomplished something pretty special, we think we can do better. We’re always looking for new ways to reduce our emissions. Moving ahead, we plan to install a solar power system to reduce diesel fuel consumption, develop solutions for grey water treatment, and to switch to wheat sheet paper to reduce tree consumption.
We also encourage our guests to help us achieve a 100% carbon neutral vacation by personally offsetting their travel leading up to their time onboard Passing Cloud. If you want to learn more about how to do this, check out Offsetter’s flight calculator.
So far, the feedback about Outer Shores’ effort has been incredibly positive. “The concept of carbon offsets still isn’t widely understood by the general public,” Markel says. “There was a lot of initial skepticism about how it works, but people are now seeing it as a legitimate way to help the environment. It’s been a revelation for some of our guests.”