In the three weeks since the launch of EcoPath, a tool that visitors can use to measure their carbon output travelling to Whistler and offset the impact by purchasing carbon credits, hundreds of people have visited the site. So far nobody has used the site to purchase an offset, but Breton Murphy — manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler — believes it’s only a matter of time.
“This was really a soft launch for us, something to share with our guests — hopefully in a respectful way — that works for them,” said Murphy. “It’s still in the very early stages, it’s very new. We’re monitoring it to see if it gets the attention it deserves in terms of what consumers are looking for, and whether it would be possible to give it more prominence or what the appropriate level of prominence would be.”
Right now the EcoPath tool is available for visitors booking packages, accommodation, travel and activities through Whistler.com. The link to EcoPath currently appears on the electronic receipt after the visitor has made their booking, but it may be included as part of the booking process in the future.
The cost of the offset program is reasonable — a round trip from Toronto to Vancouver with a bus ride to Whistler and back will cost less than $27 to offset. All offsets are purchased from the Offsetters Climate Neutral Society, which invests that money in renewable energy and energy efficient projects like industrial heat recovery systems, ground source heat pump systems, solar thermal systems, biodiesel production from waste agricultural products, high efficiency biomass stoves for developing countries, efficient lighting systems and biogas digesters. Roughly 80 per cent of the money goes directly to offset projects, with the remainder covering administration costs for the program.
Getting visitors to purchase actual carbon credits is only a small part of what the EcoPath calculator is all about, says Murphy, even though it’s the ultimate goal.
“In addressing climate change… the first step to manage your emissions is to measure your footprint, and EcoPath provides the means to measure all of the emissions associated with your trip to and from Whistler,” said Murphy.
“The second step is to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible, which is why the tool looks at all the different modes of travel to Whistler, so customers can make choices about different travel modes.
The third step is to offset the remaining emissions.”
The EcoPath program was also designed to be educational for visitors, informing them about Whistler’s campaign to be sustainable. The program includes tips on being more sustainable during your visit — e.g. parking your car on arrival and using Whistler transit and the Village Stroll to get around — as well as a Green Meetings program for conferences and group tours.
“We do want to be careful when we talk about initiatives like this, so it’s not us standing on a soap box and saying this is how things should be done,” said Murphy. “We are saying we need to be responsible as the stewards of our own community, and if we have the opportunity to make a difference then we have a responsibility to do that, and to share it with our guests.”
Murphy says the carbon calculator was designed so that other Whistler businesses can use it, linking to their websites and back again without losing the attention of the customer. As well, he hopes that Whistler businesses and residents will use the calculator and offset program themselves to reduce the impact of their travel.
“Whether you’re local or a visitor, we’re encouraging people to go to the site and play around with the calculator and see what their footprint would be for different modes of transportation, and how much they would need to invest in offsets,” said Murphy.
EcoPath is one of the projects to come out of the Whistler 2020 sustainability task forces, with funding from the provincial government’s Community Action on Energy Efficiency program.
To use the calculator visit www.whistler.com/ecopath.