Carbon Off-sets and Heliskiing: The CMH Perspective
Using energy is a reality while heliskiing. At CMH, energy use is not something that is ignored. Rather, for CMH - and perhaps for everyone - thoughtful energy use is our key to survival.
A few weeks ago, I brought up the subject of carbon off-sets and how they might be available to heliskiers, and ended up talking to Dave Butler, a forester, biologist and Director of Sustainability at CMH. I fired a few questions at him and his replies are well worth sharing:
TD: How do these carbon off-set services work?
DB: First, it's important to remember a basic premise: that human activity, whether it's burning a gallon of gas in a car, heating your home or office with electricity, natural gas or coal, or taking a trip on an airplane results in emissions of CO2 (which is a greenhouse gas or GHG) into the atmosphere. Current science appears to tell us that these human-caused GHG emissions are causing, to a degree which is under debate, climate change on a global scale.
In summary, companies offering carbon off-sets promise to bring to zero the carbon emissions associated with your travel (or any other activity) by investing in projects that will result in a comparable reduction in emissions elsewhere. So if you pay an offset company $20 or $25 for each of ton of carbon your travel has emitted, they will invest most of that in projects such as tree planting, refitting existing buildings to reduce their energy consumption or even projects to "capture" in underground storage. These projects might be in your neighborhood, or they might be located somewhere else in the world.
There are a number of carbon off-set certification systems in place around the world to try to ensure there is consistency about key issues such as how these credits are accounted for, how they are tracked/monitored, and in the case of projects such as tree planting, what happens if the forest is harvested or is consumed in a fire.
But despite the existence of those rules, there is also a multi-billion dollar market now in place for trading these credits. As a result, many people are still very concerned that these are simply schemes to buy one's way out of guilt, and that they are not resulting in an actual reduction in our global carbon emissions.
TD: What's your thinking about carbon off-sets in the context of CMH and heliskiing?
DB: Most of us are aware of the global debate about climate change. While the debate is important, I find that it acts as a deterrent for action.
At CMH, we've made a conscious decision to focus on managing our use of energy in all aspects of the business. We talk about this in some detail in our recent sustainability report. It's an environmental issue, it's a social issue, and because of the increasing uncertainty about the cost of energy, it's a major fiscal issue for us.
We're hitting this on four fronts:
- First, we're ensuring that we know what our company carbon foot-print actually is. We're just finishing up the third year of these calculations. In 2009, our company foot-print was 10,872 metric tonnes of C02, which is an 11.5% reduction from 2008.
- Second, we're driving efficiencies in every area of the business.
- Third, we're looking at new ways to use alternative energy in the business. Micro-hydro plants at our lodges are a perfect example of this.
- Finally, because we will continue to use energy in the business, we're watching and researching off-sets.
We don't have unlimited funds available to address our energy issues. But I often tell people that if I was given a million dollars to work with, and I had a choice between investing in projects in CMH to reduce our use of fossil fuels or giving it to another company for off-sets, the decision is very clear: I would invest the money in our own efficiency projects.
And we're going to continue to do that until we get to the point where we can't be any more energy efficient. At that point, and only at that point, do I see carbon off-sets as a more reasonable consideration.
TD: What do you tell a guest who asks about off-setting carbon emissions?
DB: I 'm contacted by a few guests each year who want to off-set the carbon emissions from their trips with us. I'm always happy to calculate their carbon foot-print for them, and let them make their own decision about if and how they wish to off-set those emissions.
TD: What kind of carbon off-set service would be right for CMH?
DB: We want to work with a system that is non-profit (and is transparent about overhead costs) and that will invest in projects that will benefit communities close to our lodges. We haven’t found one yet, but we’re still looking. If readers know of one that fits the bill, please let me know about it.
Many worldly people read the heliski blog. A question to our readers: Is there a non-profit, transparent carbon off-set service out there that would be right for CMH?