Working towards sustainability.

“Sustainability can be defined as a state of dynamic equilibrium achieved by taking responsibility for balancing long term economic, environmental and social health – for our communities, our world and ourselves.  Sustainability brings to light the connections between natural and human communities. It implies evolving our local and global civilization in a manner that makes sense socially, ecologically and economically. It involves treating our world as if we intend to stay.

— Stewardship of Mountains Ecosystems: Best Practices for Sustainability, HeliCat Canada 2003

 

The helicopter and snowcat (helicat) industry has an opportunity to act as a leader in adventure tourism and the greater business community by implementing practices for sustainability in mountain ecosystems.  We recognize that currently available technology does not allow for a perfectly sustainable helicopter or snowcat skiing operation. However, committing to current best practices and looking towards the next practices possible will allow operations to continue to evolve towards a more sustainable future.  

By acting as a leader and demonstrating the possibilities of sustainability to our staff, guests and the public, the helicat industry hopes other recreation, tourism and outdoor resource industries will join us in our vision of a sustainable future.  

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The sustainability next practices mission.

 

HeliCat Canada’s sustainability next practices mission is to provide a living document that informs and guides operators in prioritizing and implementing strategies and next practices that consider all focus areas of sustainability relevant to mountain operations, and acts as a model for other industries and stakeholders.

 

A resource for operators

The purpose of this page is to be a resource for the industry.  It serves to assist operators in understanding regulations and prioritizing sustainability when planning their next practices.  The practices suggested within are voluntary and not a list of requirements for operators or HeliCat Canada. This document is meant to encourage individual operations to take their own unique steps towards a sustainable future, on their own accord.  

Why next practices?

You will notice the term next practices being used throughout this document.  The more commonly used best practices describes activities that an entity can take to operate at a high standard.  However, using the word best implies there is one set of best practices for everyone.  The word next demonstrates the commitment of the industry to push the envelope on its own unique next practices, which can be built on to increase sustainability in the future.

A theory of sustainable development.

 

Sustainability has been structured as a set of three concepts: Environment, Society and Economy. An updated view of these three areas sees them as nested concepts, while companies see their operations bounded by the social and environmental systems that surround them.  The relevance of this model is becoming increasingly obvious in all industries and particularly for the helicat industry which nests literally as well as figuratively within a close social and natural environment.

The success of our industry relies on the support of our communities and governance, and the resilience of the mountain environment.

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The future of sustainability.

 

Right now, we can’t predict what will create a perfectly sustainable future.  These resources are not meant to provide guidance for the long term. HeliCat Canada is continuing an evolving process that will grow and change with developments in science, technology and policy.  

 

Focusing on our priorities.

 
 

Each specific focus area for sustainability has its own background and complexities.  These focus areas do not operate in isolation – there is a complex interrelation between the different priorities.  For example, waste management of septic systems involves paying attention to the importance of watersheds, and the preservation of wildlife is a concern closely influenced by the interests of society.  To maintain simplicity and structure this document presents each focus area within its own section; however, it is important to be aware of the overall interrelated nature.

How to use these resources.

Each focus area includes:

  • Important BACKGROUND information

  • A VISION for the focus area

  • SUSTAINABILITY STANDARDS including the mandatory actions operators must take with links to the Acts and Regulations that guide them

  • SUSTAINABILITY NEXT PRACTICES that guide operators to take action beyond the mandatory minimum requirements with links to valuable resources and tools

 

The best day of their life.

Ultimately, the vision of HeliCat Canada is to see helicopter and snowcat skiing operate sustainably into the future as an industry that provides value - to its staff, business owners, communities and natural environment.  If we can bring value to those around us, we can continue to provide memorable mountain experiences to our guests.

One of the common themes of guest experience is that they had “the best day of their life.”   Not many industries can say that of their customers! The Helicat industry is in a unique position to leave a lasting impression on its guests. By demonstrating our strength in sustainability leadership, we can send our guests home with an education in sustainability and the understanding of the importance in implementing sustainability into their businesses as well.

The whole experience of helicopter and snowcat skiing, including the mountains, snow, wildlife, rural communities and local people is paramount to our industry’s success.  We must have a goal of successfully sustaining the social, environmental and economic climate in which we operate to ensure people can continue to experience the mountains and the “best day of their life”.

Addressing our challenges.

Energy use is an essential part of helicat operations, as it is with all human activity and development around the world.  Although maintaining an economically sustainable helicat operation requires energy for skiing and lodge operations, the conundrum faced by the industry is that the climate change caused by worldwide emissions could impact the sustainability of the snow and cold temperatures on which the industry relies.  

“Currently, the ski industry faces an existential crisis as climate change threatens the core business asset...”

— Getting ahead of the avalanche. Natalie Knowles, 2017

The shift to lower snow years in the Northern Hemisphere has already been noted in research and also in the anecdotal observations of helicat operators.  Climate change is a concern, and will be a significant environmental factor for operations to consider when planning their future.

The vision.

The vision for energy use and climate change is for helicat operators to measure and track their energy use, and prioritize actions that will further progress towards the goal of reconciling their energy demands with the supply of renewable energy.

A common interest in energy efficiency.

Helicat operations have a vested interest in being as energy efficient as possible.  The procurement and consumption of energy in the remote locations in which they operate can be one of the largest expenses within a business.  Reducing these costs contributes to operators’ economic sustainability as well as the overall environmental impact of energy use.

Helicat operators are aware of the efficiencies gained by reducing their demand for energy use.  Policies are in place to minimize helicopter and snowcat running times, energy used by guests and staff at lodges, and transportation to their operations.

There is also a growing opportunity to produce renewable, sustainable energy to supply business operations.  Many operators have invested in micro-hydro power plants, solar systems, battery storage and wood-burning stoves, water heaters and fireplaces to take advantage of renewable energy from the natural environment.  Operations that are on the grid in British Columbia are fortunate in being able to purchase hydro-power electricity. However, in cases where the above is not available, operators still rely on burning natural gas, propane or diesel in generators to supply heat and electricity.

Operations impact energy use outside of their direct control as well. Energy use within supply chains, including importing goods and services, equipment production and waste management, is linked to operations.  However, there is an opportunity for operations to align themselves with suppliers and partners who hold the same environmental values to reduce energy use through the supply chain.

Energy related challenges.

There are many challenges that will face the industry in the future regarding energy use.  The fundamental contradiction between helicat industry sustainability and burning fuel as an underlying business model makes working towards energy efficiency a difficult task that is more complex and long term than simply changing out light bulbs.  However, this is a commonality around the world, and the industry is not facing the task of creating a solution to this challenge alone.

 

Fossil fuels

There is uncertainty in the future pricing of various energy sources, primarily Jet A and diesel fuel, and the resulting impact on operators’ profit margins.  However, current technologies don’t provide for a satisfactory alternative to these fuels.

Increasing energy use demands

Increasing energy demands are becoming a challenge as technology and home comforts become more important for individual guests and for growing operations, even as operations become more efficient.  

Lack of a baseline

The current lack of a way to measure baseline energy use, which would help benchmark and improve energy management practices, presents a challenge as progressive savings are not always discernible.  

Raising capital for investment

The upfront cost of improving energy use while maintaining economic sustainability is also a challenge for operations.

 

The helicat industry as a model of responsibility.

For many helicat operations, the business case for sustainability drives a desire to operate efficiently.  These members focus on ensuring profitability and providing an outstanding guest experience while recognizing the greater social and environmental limits in which they operate.

The helicat industry also has a unique ability to create positive connections between staff, guests and the natural environment.  As an industry, we operate in the perfect setting to educate our audience about the necessity for action in the face of climate change.  The direct connection to the natural environment that helicat guests experience when skiing in the mountains could lead these people, including investors, government workers, and business leaders, to realize the necessity of embedding sustainable energy use and considering climate change in their wider business practices.

While it is a difficult task to address sustainability in a carbon-heavy industry, operations have a multitude of opportunities to make significant strides in energy use, emissions and cost.  The industry is passionate about skiing in mountain terrain, providing exceptional experiences to its guests, and striving for continual improvement in all aspects of operations. Energy use and carbon emissions are having an increasingly significant impact on operations, and there is a collective willingness to pursue opportunities that will preserve economic sustainability, guest and community relations and the natural environment on which operations depend.

Creating value for our communities.

Helicat operations are truly unique.  Our use of Crown land to provide a dramatic product draws considerable engagement from stakeholders and the public. Sharing the landscape with others is our responsibility.  We need to maintain relationships with stakeholders and communities to ensure welcome access to the landscape in which we operate.

The vision.

The vision for social and community value is to demonstrate the dedication and importance of helicat operations to communities by supporting relationships with stakeholders, organizations and economies, ensuring the personal well-being of staff and clients, and building positive connections between people and the natural environment.

Defining social sustainability.

Put simply, social sustainability relates to the issues that directly impact people.  It pertains to the priorities, values and concerns of individuals, such as personal safety and well-being, but also of communities and social institutions, such as economic development, cultural integrity and governance.  This network of social interactions plays an important role in relation to the greater picture of economic and environmental sustainability – to the degree that social conditions are necessary to support ecological sustainability.

 

“Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company’s relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical. Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities, and it is important to manage impacts proactively. Businesses’ social license to operate depends greatly on their social sustainability efforts.”

UN Global Compact

 

Maintaining a social license to operate.

Social License to Operate (SLO) can be defined as “broad sentiments of stakeholders towards an activity and/or operation…it is often tied to an operation’s legitimacy”. Approaches to SLO emphasize a collaborative process that is based on the comprehension of local socio-cultural values. “In order to establish a collaborative SLO, host communities and developers are obliged to work through processes of listening, understanding each other’s concerns and interests, and reaching compromise.” — Harvey & Bice, 2014

SLO can better be understood as a continuous process of “working directly with project-affected stakeholders to achieve accommodation and agreement on issues that are of priority in the local context”. — Harvey & Bice, 2014. By working together with stakeholders and considering the greater business impacts on them, helicat operations can build and maintain support for their business.

Respecting their habitats.

The helicat industry operates in some of the most significant wildlife habitats in the world. As an extensive user of Crown land in British Columbia, the sector plays an important role in the stewardship of the province’s wildlife resources. Helicat operators recognize they are expected to maintain these resources by guests, the public, First Nations, as well as staff members who are privileged to live and work in these special places.

The vision.

The vision for wildlife next practices is to ensure that the activities of helicat operations occur in a manner that allows wildlife species to continue to occupy their preferred habitats and to fulfill their life requisites.

Coexisting on the land base.

Winter is typically a difficult season for wildlife. Forage is limited and of reduced quality, movement is more difficult, and cold weather saps an animal’s energy. Chronic disturbance due to human activity has the potential to cause stress if it is viewed as a threat by the species. Animals can respond by moving out of the area, sometimes into suboptimal habitat. Their behaviour can also be disrupted, perhaps leading to lower food intake or social disruption.

As a result, it is important that helicat operators maintain a high awareness of the distribution and abundance of wildlife within their operating areas. In particular, they should be aware of species that are known or suspected to be affected by human-related activities and those that are considered at risk for any reason. Maintaining this situational awareness allows operators to avoid unnecessary wildlife encounters and to respond appropriately when encounters occur.

The industry generates a low level of use on the land base and, when properly managed, operations can successfully coexist with wildlife and their habitats.  However, this requires effort to ensure that risks are minimized.

Managing fuel. Managing risks.

The helicat industry relies on remote locations, land tenures, winter climates and pristine environments to provide mountain experiences to their guests. Currently, an integral part of these operations is the use of fossil fuels to provide the energy needed to transport guests to the operations up in the mountains and to support accommodation services in the backcountry. Technology is promising future developments to allow increased use of alternative fuels, but currently the use of fossil fuels is ubiquitous within the helicat industry.  If not managed properly, these fuels can endanger the environment.

The vision.

The vision for fuel storage and handling is to provide guidance for helicat operations to develop maintenance and operating procedures that prevent spillage of fossil fuels, and a spill response plan.  This document strives to highlight operational areas where the potential for environmental contamination exists and where there are opportunities to conserve fuel.

Reducing our impact.

Petroleum products are composed of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can contaminate soil and drinking water supplies. Even a small spill can have a serious impact; a single pint of oil released into water can cover one acre of water surface area and seriously damage an aquatic habitat. A spill of just one gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water.

The presence of fuel also increases the risk of starting a wildfire in these sensitive environments.  Forest fires have serious environmental consequences such as loss of wildlife and vegetation, destruction of habitat, air pollution, and changing the terrain through loss of forests.  Wildfire can directly threaten an operation’s infrastructure and also change skiing terrain and avalanche management considerations through loss of trees and vegetation.

Fortunately, there are very prescriptive regulations and standards in place to guide operations in the storage and handling of fuels and the response expected when dealing with fuel spills, which mitigate the risk to the environment.  By following these and recommended best practice, the industry can aim towards safeguarding the environment when storing and handling fuel.

An additional aspect of sustainability and fuel management is consciously looking for ways to reduce consumption.  Planning, implementation, monitoring progress and evaluation are all important steps in understanding what impact a change has on the system.  This topic is addressed in detail in the Energy Use & Climate Change Focus Area.

Profit provides the means for sustainability.

The ultimate goal of the helicat industry is to continue to generate profits from helicopter and snowcat skiing operations. Economic sustainability is the ability of each operation to generate a functional profit now while also maintaining the ability to operate indefinitely into the future.  Profitable operations produce an important economic benefit for the business, employees, suppliers and the communities in which the industry operates.

The vision.

The vision for economic sustainability is for operators to acknowledge how environmental and social sustainability next practices contribute to the financial success of their operations and help prioritize action that benefits their business and the market as a whole.

And sustainability provides the means for profit.

Maintaining economic sustainability is becoming more and more dependent on the ability of an organization to align itself with the social and environmental demands of its stakeholders. This is particularly the case for an industry such as helicat skiing, which relies on the use of shared Crown land and operates in direct contact with sensitive environments.  By gaining the support of other land users and the greater community through sustainability efforts, an operation will create the relationships required to sustain activity within this shared environment. Increasing the social license of operations, as well as demonstrating progressive management of energy and resources, can help the industry meet and exceed the demands of stakeholders.  This will help demonstrate the value of the industry to the greater economy, community and environment.  As operations take steps towards next practices in the areas of social and environmental sustainability, the economic viability of each action will be an important consideration.

Reducing waste and gaining efficiency.

Waste management is a double-sided focus area.  On one hand, waste management refers to the management of different types of waste after they are produced.  However, waste management also includes the opportunity to reduce the amount of waste produced overall.

The vision.

The vision for waste management is to reduce the amount of waste generated by an operation, and responsibly and efficiently manage the disposal of waste so it does not impact the surrounding environment.

Minimizing any impacts.

Given the remote location of most helicat operations, many supplies must travel by road or helicopter to reach the lodge, particularly during winter operations.  Efficiency in waste management also creates efficiency in areas such as energy use and transportation costs.

For the purposes of this resource, waste management will refer to solid wastes, food wastes, sewage and water wastes.  By managing waste appropriately and efficiently, helicat operators can ensure there are no direct impacts from waste on the environment and that they reduce the indirect effects of transporting unnecessary waste.

Keeping our watersheds healthy.

Watersheds comprise all the land that drains into a waterbody, including streams and rivers, lakes, and oceans.  Healthy watersheds provide food, fibre, and habitat for native animals. They produce clean water for consumption as well as water for power, agriculture, and industry. They move sediments and cycle nutrients, purify and store water, and regulate flow to reduce downstream flooding. Furthermore, functioning watersheds moderate extreme weather, absorb pollutants, and store carbon, offering resilience to climate change.

The vision.

The fisheries and watershed vision is for operations to be watershed stewards working to keep water clean, allow the species that rely on healthy watersheds to thrive, and maintain the integrity of the physical formations and processes that support watershed functioning.

Maintaining their health and function.

Any work around water or other components of a functioning watershed can have impacts on water quality, fish and wildlife species, and habitat. When foreign substances are introduced into water, this can influence water flow, natural drainage, alter nearby wetlands, and impact flood protection. Foreign substances are also detrimental to species and habitat both in and beside the water.

Watersheds can be impacted by activities year-round. Ensuring that work in and around watercourses is planned and carried out in compliance with environmental legislation and with the advice of a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) is key to maintaining healthy and sustainable watersheds.

Protecting the alpine environment.

The alpine and subalpine habitats that the helicat industry operates in are naturally sensitive to disturbance to due to climate (they spend a long period under snowpack and have a very short growing season) and shallow soils. In addition, riparian and wetland habitats are also sensitive to human disturbance. In winter these habitats are protected by snow, but any summer activities such as guiding, trail building, glading, and general vegetation maintenance have the potential to impact native vegetation.

The vision.

The vision for vegetation management is for operators to be conscious of potential ecological impact on vegetation and operate in a manner that conserves habitat so native species can continue to thrive.

Healthy practices for sensitive species.

It is important to be aware that species at risk can be found in all tenures. Not only are subalpine, wetland, and riparian areas sensitive, but they may also contain species that are threatened, endangered, becoming extinct, or at risk of falling into one of these categories. One prominent species at risk found in many tenures is whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis).

Non-native plant species (or invasive plants) have the potential to compromise the integrity of and displace native plant communities and species. According to the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), invasive species are the second-greatest threat contributing to species extinctions worldwide.  Invasive plant species can dramatically change the composition and function of native habitats, and contribute to biodiversity loss. Invasive species not only have an environmental cost, but also a social and economic cost.

By careful consideration, operations can reduce any impact on native, endemic vegetation in sensitive habitats, including species at risk, and reduce and prevent the spread of invasive plant species, which can provide further negative effects to native plant communities.

Responsible forest management.

Helicat operations are shaped by their closeness to the forest, with many operations touting some of the best tree-skiing in the world. Responsibility to maintain these forests and support forest health involves complying with many regulations regarding cutting trees and constructing roads and trails within operating tenures.

The vision.

The vision for forestry and trail construction is to encourage helicat operations that require tree cutting go beyond regulations in responsibly and sustainably managing the forests within operating tenures.

Safe forestry operations.

Timber-cutting activities for heliports and glading are critical in the development and enhancement of ski runs, particularly those needed for safe skiing during poor weather conditions. Similarly, cutting timber to develop new snowcat roads is crucial for access to skiable terrain. The extent of these activities varies based on the size of the operation and the type and availability of suitable terrain.  However, the governing legislation applies equally to all helicat operations.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MFLNRORD) must approve all timber harvesting. Effective communication and respectful professional relationships with the MLFNRORD staff will increase the mutual understanding of all involved. Operations should be committed to managing all harvest and road building activities to minimize and mitigate any potential negative impacts to wildlife, wildlife habitat and critical vegetation communities.  Additionally, it is important that all timber cutting and development activities are carried out in accordance with the requirements of WorkSafeBC.