Sustainability in British Columbia

How Green are our valleys? Or, for that matter, our cities, ski slopes and golf courses?

Well you may ask. As custodians of some of the world's last remaining wilderness and most fragile eco-systems, British Columbians, and the BC tourism industry, take their environmental responsibilities seriously.

Virtually every operator in the province, from leave-no-trace hiking guides to tour vehicles running on vegetable oil; from city hotels composting kitchen waste to, to eco-lodges generating their own electricity, everyone is doing what they can to preserve BC's precious ecology for future generations.

British Columbia has a large selection of eco-lodges, resorts and lodges in remote and sensitive wilderness areas. All strive to minimize their impact on the fragile eco-systems they inhabit; many are also "off the grid" and must be self-sufficient in terms of power, water, and waste disposal. This can be tricky when you're roughing it, but many of these lodges also manage to deliver a four-star luxury experience.

How do they do it? Each in their own way.

In March, 2007, King Pacific Lodge, a luxurious floating lodge moored at Princess Royal Island in BC's Great Bear Rainforest, announced plans to reduce its carbon footprint by half. Besides offsetting the carbon emissions of all lodge operations and employee travel, the lodge now plans to be the first in Canada, and possibly the first anywhere, to offset guests' air travel to and from the lodge, creating a completely carbon-neutral holiday. The lodge owners also plan to install a river-powered hydro plant and solar panels to meet the lodge's power needs and to use suppliers who conduct their own program of carbon reduction. (http://www.kingpacificlodge.com)

Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts and Spa is a two-part eco-resort comprising a 16-room resort floating in Quait Bay, 30 minutes by boat from Tofino on Vancouver Island, and, a few miles across the water, the luxurious safari-style Wilderness Outpost at Bedwell River. Both are located in the UNESCO-designated Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Area, one of the best intact examples of temperate rainforest left on earth. Operating a resort within a globally important biosphere reserve is a responsibility that the resort management takes seriously; and efforts to minimize the resorts' impact include an organic garden, a recycling program, a gravity-fed turbine to generate electricity, composting toilets, and non-intrusive, conservancy-driven marine and land activities. The resort has also recently launched its $3 million Environmental Legacy Program, a five-year commitment to research, conservation and environmental enhancement funded solely by resort revenues. (http://www.wildretreat.com).

On Cox Bay, south of Tofino, is the Pacific Sands Beach Resort, a family-friendly resort owned and operated by the Pettinger family since 1973. In 2004, the Pettingers installed a geo exchange system, or earth source heat pump, to supply all the heating, cooling and hot water needs for 22 new villas on the property. The villas were built using timber from stands, that had been killed by pine beetles and would otherwise have gone to waste. Low flow toilets were used throughout the project and even the old cabins on the site were recycled as staff housing. (http://www.pacificsands.com)

Accessible only by helicopter, Purcell Mountain Lodge is set in a fragile alpine environment near Glacier National Park in BC's Kootenay Rockies Region. Since -- and even during -- its construction in 1989, environmental stewardship has been central to the lodge's operations and way of life. All electricity is generated from a nearby mountain stream, a custom-designed plant turns waste water back into water, and, thanks to recycling and composting, very little waste is produced. In 2004, the lodge, whose systems are used as models for many other remote lodges, was awarded a Starfish Award for environmental excellence from the Oceans Blue Foundation. (http://www.purcellmountainlodge.com)
Nipika Rocky Mountain Resort, just east of Radium Hot Springs and next to Kootenay National Park in the Kootenay Rockies, generates all its own electricity via solar panels and a micro-hydro operation. The cabins were built with woodlot trees killed by mountain pine beetles, and much of the furniture was built in the resort's own woodworking shop using timber grown on site. The fun here is eco-friendly too, whether it's hiking, biking or cross skiing on 50 kilometres (30 miles) of groomed trails, or fishing, canoeing, kayaking or rafting on the nearby Kootenay River. (http://www.nipika.com)
Although eco-lodges, are, as expected, leading the way, BC's urban hoteliers are also committed to reducing their impact on the environment.

A pioneer in the area is Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, whose worldwide collection of historic hotels and lodges includes, in BC, the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Since 1990, the company has operated the Fairmont Green Partnership Program. Named the "most comprehensive environmental program in the North American hotel industry," by National Geographic Traveler, the programme works to reduce the company's environmental impact through improved waste management, energy and water conservation, and community outreach. Fairmont was among the first hotel chains to commit to such sustainable tourism practices as recycling and diverting organic waste from the hotels' kitchens, retrofitting energy efficient lighting, and educating guests on environmental conservation practices. In 2006, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) recognized Fairmont's environmental initiatives with a Tourism for Tomorrow Award, which promotes best practices in tourism development worldwide. (http://www.fairmont.com)

Another leader in eco-friendly hospitality is the San Francisco-based Kimpton Group, which operates Vancouver's Pacific Palisades Hotel and the Summit Lodge and Spa in Whistler. Kimpton's chain-wide eco-efforts range from using only environmentally friendly cleaning products and recycled paper to serving only organic, shade grown and/or fair trade coffee, and installing energy efficient bulbs and low flow plumbing fixtures in its hotels. In addition, Vancouver's Pacific Palisades has its kitchen waste composted, sends its hangers back to the dry cleaners for re-use, and has extensively retrofitted the hotel with energy efficient lighting. These efforts have helped earn the hotel a 4 Green Key ECOmmodation rating by The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) for its leadership in environmental-friendly practices. (http://www.pacificpalisadeshotel.com)

BC's many ski resorts are also leaders in environmental responsibility. In April 2004, Sun Peaks Resort became the first all-season recreational resort in North America to be certified under the International Organization for Standards (ISO) for its Environmental Management System. Efforts to protect the environment include a golf course irrigated with reclaimed water, recycling all green waste back onto the golf course, using captured rain water, and building a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant. (http://www.sunpeaksresort.com)

Whistler, set to host the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, has long been a leader in environmental stewardship, receiving, since 1998, 16 major awards recognizing its environmental commitment. These include a 2006 Best in Mountain Environment award from Englandís First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards, and two Golden Eagles and seven Silver Eagles from the US-based National Ski Areas Association.

In February 2007, Whistler Blackcomb was awarded the BC Tourism Award for Environmentally Responsible Tourism, presented jointly by Tourism British Columbia and the Council of Tourism Associations of British Columbia. This latest award recognizes the high standards of environmental and social stewardship maintained by Whistler through its Environmental Management System, in place since 1992 and in particular, for the efforts surrounding the construction of the $9.2 million Symphony Express chairlift which opened in December, 2006. The planning and design team, which included professional foresters, biologists and bear specialists, were able to dramatically reduce the lift's potential ecological footprint.

Among its many other impact-reducing steps, Whistler Blackcomb has saved more than three million kilowatt hours of electricity per year through the installation of programmable logic controls in all its lift stations (enough electricity to power 300 homes in BC for a year); reduce vehicle emissions by more than 585,000 pounds annually through vehicle fleet maintenance and an employee carpooling program; and in 2006 collected about 100 tonnes of organics to be composted into garden materials. (http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com)

BOX: Some fun BC Eco-facts

  • The first fully organic golf course in Canada is the 9-hole, 1608-yard links-style Blackburn Meadows Golf Club on Salt Spring Island, BC.
  • North Van Green Tours (www.northvangreentours.com) runs tours of North Vancouver in a Toyota Land Cruiser powered by vegetable oil. That's used oil, gathered from the deep fryers of local restaurants. The daily, four-hour tours take in Cates Park, Deep Cove, the Seymour Conservation Reserve, and the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, all ecological wonders within an hour of downtown Vancouver.
  • More people commute to work by bicycle in Victoria than in any other city in Canada.
  • Greenpeace, the 100 Mile Diet, and the concept of the Ecological Footprint all originated in Vancouver. Greenpeace, the environmental organization, evolved from the Don't Make a Wave Committee, launched by Vancouver Sun columnist Bob Hunter and other activists in 1970. An Ecological Footprint, a term used to describe how much land a population would, hypothetically, require to support its lifestyle, was coined in 1992 by University of British Columbia ecologist Dr, William Rees. The 100 Mile Diet first entered the lexicon when Vancouver journalists Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon experimented with eating only local foods and posted their experiences on www.tyee.com in 2005.

Ecotourism by Province

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