Gros Morne National Park-designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its exceptional universal value-protects thousands of square kilometers of extraordinary landscape on Newfoundland's west coast.
The Long Range Mountains, the northernmost extent of the Appalachians, contain numerous glacially-carved fjords. One of the most spectacular, Western Brook Pond, is also the Park's largest lake. With a surface of 20 square kilometers, (1,22 square miles), the lake is bordered by sheer granite, gneiss cliffs and cascading waterfalls that tower from above, often turning to mist before they reach the pond. Free of sediment, organic matter and human pollution, it is one of the purest bodies of water in the world and among the most visited attractions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Drawing a good 25,000 visitors annually, provincial campaigns promote its image widely as a tourism icon.
Along with tourism however, the popularity of Western Brook Pond has brought with it the risk of environmental degradation. Concerned about the pressure on the ecosystem, Parks Canada revised its Request for Proposal process, making registration to ISO 14001 a mandatory requirement for companies seeking to operate concessions within the Park.
In response, Norock Associates Ltd., who operates the Western Brook Pond Boat Tour, became the first boat tour company in North America to be registered to the international standard. Owner, Reg Williams, embraced the notion of certification, convinced that it would mean a lot not only for Parks Canada, but for his company as well. Certification was granted upon successful registration of the boat tour's Environmental Management System (EMS) by BSI Management Systems. Commenting on the registration, Ron Mathis, Senior VP, Marketing and Sales for BSI says the registration clearly demonstrates Norock's commitment to protecting the natural heritage resources upon which all tourism businesses depend.
Ken Kennedy, Manager of Client Services for Parks Canada in Western Newfoundland and Labrador, adds: "Only the most progressive operators have evolved beyond simple regulatory compliance and implemented an EMS". "Through the third-party registration, Mr. Williams is demonstrating Norock Associate's commitment to environmental stewardship and is pledging its desire for continual environmental performance."
By far, the chief environmental aspect of any boat tour operation is the prevention of diesel fuel spills. Although Norock had leak detection procedures in place prior to adopting ISO 14001, the implementation of the standard established very vigilant daily documentation recording procedures aboard the ships, at the underground storage tank and, during fuel deliveries over the trail to dockside. The company believes the standard is delivering the performance goals Norock has set, including no fuel spills and recycling 50 percent of the solid waste generated at the site.
Certification didn't come cheaply for Williams, who wasn't familiar enough with the certification process to make the necessary budget allowances and went beyond the minimum requirements.
When Williams had to replace an existing tour boat on Western Brook Pond, the new one - weighing 17 tons was specially designed so that it could be built in sections. To avoid carrying the pieces over an ice road in the winter, which would have left a scar on the landscape, the pieces were then flown by helicopter, over the three kilometers of coastal lowland situated between the entrance to the trail at the highway and the dock. "The proactive action," tells Kennedy, "helped to avoid damaging a sensitive environment that could have taken decades or hundreds of years to repair."
Despite the costs, today, Williams proudly details the many benefits of his newly documented safety program, formal training for his employees, on-site garbage disposal facilities, separate sorting of recyclables and tabulations of fuel use, storage and water samples.
Williams has also collaborated with Parks Canada to define and work within carrying capacity limits. As a sustainable tourism principle, defining limits to future growth helps to ensure that all aspects of the operation can continue to accommodate a set number of visitors. To ignore the need to manage growth is to invite an undesirable increase in the size of an operation's ecological footprint.
For his efforts Williams won the 2003 Sustainable Tourism Award, which is offered jointly by Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, and Parks Canada. The award recognizes the operator who most demonstrates a commitment to protecting the natural heritage resources. According to Parks Canada, the nominating agency, "the significant effort Williams has made to manage the environmental impacts of his operation make him a leader in the province's sustainable tourist industry." The award further acknowledges that Williams' forward-looking vision is also helping to ensure the sustainability of the region's communities, who continue to enjoy economic benefit as a result of the national park's role as an anchor attraction.
Making wise choices today is an essential part of ensuring the future success of the tourism industry. That includes managing to high environmental standards. Williams and his company are leading by way of example and are setting a standard for others to follow in the Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism industry.
This article first appeared in Volume 30 of CONSENSUS Magazine, 2003. The information it contains was accurate at the time of publication but has not been updated or revised since, and may not reflect the latest updates on the topic. If you have specific questions or concerns about the content, please contact the Standards Council of Canada.