By Shannon Gordon
Have you ever experienced a moment where your connection to the natural environment is undeniable? Maybe it was while visiting a farm to pick strawberries, maybe it was on a hike, or perhaps while skiing on your own in the alpine? These moments are too frequently a passing realization, and we go back to the built environment, quickly forgetting about our fundamental dependency on the earth and the life-supporting ecological services it provides.
If you’re Ziptrek Ecotours and you’re operating your business up in the forest canopy, it’s easy to understand that the success of your business depends on a healthy natural environment. While the interconnection between businesses and nature is also real when operating in an urban environment, we tend to forget this dependency.
With Ziptrek’s dependence on the natural environment staring staff in the face everyday, and with the owners’ passion for and understanding about sustainability, it’s no surprise that this local eco-tour operator has become a local leader in business sustainability.
The very core of their business — low impact adventure experiences steeped in sustainability education — is by far and away one of the most sustainable business models going.
Nestled between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, Ziptrek operates zipline and suspension bridge outdoor adventure tours above Fitzsimmons Creek. In addition to providing an exhilarating aerial adventure through old growth forest habitat, they have established their mandate to not only operate in the most sustainable manner possible, but to also teach every one of their guests about the importance of sustainability and care for the natural environment. Every tour structures their ecology curriculum around the Natural Step sustainability principles — the same core principles that underlie the Whistler2020 Sustainability Objectives. Having hosted tens of thousands of people during the past four and a half years of operation, that translates into a lot of free marketing and promotion dollars for the sustainability movement!
In addition to zipping between trees, providing a great adventure experience and teaching about sustainability, what else is Ziptrek doing to make it a sustainability leader among Whistler businesses? From its energy and material use to their community initiatives, Ziptrek is contributing innovation, passion and progress to moving Whistler toward the Whistler2020 Vision of success and sustainability.
When it comes to energy use, Ziptrek courses and on-course equipment are powered independently from the local energy grid. And rather than choosing gas powered generators, the company chose to produce its own energy renewably using solar panels and a propeller in Fitz Creek. Not only does Ziptrek’s decision to use renewable energy options rather than gas powered generators enhance the guest experience and protect the environment, but it also saves the company thousands of dollars annually. Additionally, three of the eco-tour operator’s seven vehicles are hybrid electric and they are committed to growing their hybrid fleet into the future.
Ziptrek is also moving toward sustainability when it comes to material use. They built all platforms, decks and buildings using only local red cedar, which is naturally rot-resistant and therefore eliminates the need to annually apply chemicals to protect the wood. All their paper products (even their toilet paper) have between 30-100 per cent recycled content, and the bags offered to guests with purchases are compostable, corn-based “bio-bags” rather than plastic. To further reduce the environmental impact of their operations, Ziptrek is working with Slope Side Supply to source additional products that are more sustainable.
As demonstrated by their free, 200-seat showing of “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore’s documentary about climate change, the local company also supports community-wide sustainability learning. Moreover, they are sponsors of “Green Kids” theatre troupe, a group of children that teach other children about the environment.
Ziptrek acknowledges that there are sometimes higher initial costs associated with making more sustainable choices, but they are already benefiting from the financial returns resulting from reduced operating and maintenance costs. Take, for example, the cedar used for construction — while cedar is more expensive than other softwood, it won’t have to be re-treated every year to prevent rotting, therefore saving the cost of the chemicals and the labour to apply it.
Just as Ziptrek is a great example to highlight the connection between business success and a well-protected natural environment, so too are they a shining example of the dual message and mandate of Whistler2020 — that success and sustainability go hand in hand, and that we must achieve both if we want Whistler be a great place to live, work and play well into the future.
Thanks to everyone who is helping to make Whistler an increasingly sustainable and successful community. To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, or to find out how we’re performing visit www.whistler2020.ca. To suggest a story idea, get involved with Whistler2020, or to suggest actions for task force consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org .