WTA Logo Environmental Stewardship Banner

Spirit of the West Adventures

Calculating a carbon footprint for any business is not an easy thing to do. It's even harder if you're the first sea kayak company in British Columbia to go carbon neutral. That was the case for Spirit of the West Adventures, a sea kayaking company based on Quadra Island, near Campbell River, British Columbia. For company owners, Breanne Quesnel, Rick Snowdon and John Waibel, calculating their carbon footprint, so they could offset every tonne of it, was one more step in creating a company they could really be proud of.

"We decided that to be a responsible and sustainable business, and to really call what we do ecotourism, we had to do a lot more than recycle," Quesnel says. "We had to make our operation as sustainable as possible and part of that was becoming carbon neutral." They are the first sea kayak company in B.C. to offset all their carbon emissions.

Quesnel is quick to point out that unfortunately that doesn't mean they've eliminated carbon from their daily operations. Being carbon neutral means that the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide produced in a year of running Spirit of the West has been prevented from entering the atmosphere in the future. To do so, they bought carbon offsets from Planetair, a Canadian offset company. Offset payments are invested in projects that help sequester or prevent the release of carbon dioxide into the environment that wouldn't happen without financial help. Examples of projects include investing in 'green' or alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass energy, technology and community based projects.

"While we recognize that 'paying for our sins' is not going to solve the problems of pollution and climate change, we believe that we are taking a step in the right direction and raising awareness about the issue," Quesnel says.

Spirit of the West did its due diligence researching offset companies before choosing Planetair. Quesnel says they chose Planetair because it's a Canadian company that invests in quality offsets that are third party certified and most of the projects include a social dimension - education to enable communities to carry out the projects.

Choosing an offsetter was only the first step; Planetair had never worked with a sea kayak company before, so figuring out how much carbon a water taxi or a small plane ferrying sea kayakers emits took more research. Calculators on the Internet helped out and eventually Planetair came up with the final carbon emission tally of 42.9 tonnes or $1,200 in offsets. "Planetair was surprised by how low our emissions were," Quesnel says. It's a significant, but manageable amount, but she says it is just another cost of doing business, part of their triple bottom line approach to operating a business: social, environmental and economic.

Navigate onto Spirit of the West's website and there's a long web page full of information on the company's environmental and social ethics and efforts - from using 100 percent recycled paper to buying local organic food as much as possible. The company organizes its trips to run back-to-back, maximizing the use of shuttle vehicles and minimizing emissions. Guests are taught about the local environment, geography and history, and shown how people are connected to the natural work. Employees are encouraged to commute to work by bike and use the business's electric bike for the regular trips to the store and back. There are also the little things such as: not having air conditioning, utilizing natural light and turning off computers at the end of the day, that all add up.

One environmental commitment that Spirit of the West is especially proud of is being a member of 1% for the Planet, a group of companies that donate one percent of all sales to environment charities. In 2008 they split the donation between five groups: the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Quadra Island Salmon Enhancement Society, the Sierra Club of B.C., Quadra Island Chapter, The Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretative Center and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

Customers notice things like that. Quesnel says about half their guests say they chose Spirit of the West over other companies because of their environmental policies. Now the company is hoping their green efforts will rub off on their guests; they are encouraging guests to offset the travel to and from their Spirit of the West trips. A lot of people are still learning about offsetting so employees do their best to educate them about the pros and cons.

Running a business with a green ethos is not a marketing strategy for Spirit of the West. The company doesn't expect a pat on the back either. "We want to be profitable as a business," Quesnel says. "But we also want to be able to sleep at night. If we're leaders in the industry maybe we can encourage other businesses to follow. Then we'll all be better off."

Website: www.kayakingtours.com

PHOTOS Spirit of the West Adventures