Insights //

Our thoughts about things that interest, inspire, and motivate us.


The quote “think like a moun­tain” has been used to encour­age peo­ple to think about inner strength, wis­dom, and sta­bil­ity … Cor­re­spond­ingly, busi­nesses today need to “think like a glac­ier” to fos­ter resilience and the capac­ity to adapt and they can do this through imple­ment­ing high qual­ity CSR programs.

A view down Kootenay Lake as we headed off to the mountains

A view down Koote­nay Lake as we headed off to the mountains

Glac­i­ers are the stoic icons of the Earth Sys­tem. Their vast influ­ence has shaped the land­scapes we see today through­out geo­logic his­tory. In the prac­tice of Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Assess­ment we look to nature to try and pre­dict and mit­i­gate neg­a­tive effects and in Envi­ron­men­tal Design we attempt to emu­late nature in order to min­i­mize impacts. How can glac­i­ers inform envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment and CSR (Cor­po­rate Social Respon­si­bil­ity), and why?

The Kokanee Glacier - a well-known destination for alpine enthusiasts, as well as being an important part of Canadian natural heritage.

The Koka­nee Glac­ier — a well-known des­ti­na­tion for alpine enthu­si­asts, as well as being an impor­tant part of Cana­dian nat­ural heritage.

Glac­i­ers are enor­mous mounds of ice that are repos­i­to­ries of water in the global hydro­log­i­cal sys­tem. Roughly 15 861 km2 of the Earth’s sur­face is cov­ered by glac­i­ers (Ham­brey and Alean, 2004). Ice caps and glac­i­ers are the sec­ond largest store of water glob­ally with a vol­ume of 27 5000 km3 which com­prises 85% of fresh­wa­ter stor­age (Jones, 1997). The move­ment of water is an energy inten­sive oper­a­tion and the turnover of water in glacial envi­ron­ments is sig­nif­i­cantly slower than in tem­per­ate regions due to the low amount of incom­ing energy. Although they appear to be motion­less they are in a con­stant state of slow move­ment. The two main types of glac­i­ers are those found in the high arc­tic or polar-regions and those in alpine regions. Alpine glac­i­ers are impor­tant to regional ecosys­tems and hydro­log­i­cal dynam­ics but also in many cases fun­da­men­tal parts of the cul­tural history.

Kokanee Glacier from another perspective.

Koka­nee Glac­ier from another perspective.

DE’s recon­nais­sance flight over the Koka­nee Glac­ier gave a bird’s eye view of this majes­tic region but also a bet­ter per­spec­tive on how it has played a cen­tral role in the social his­tory of the Koote­nay region. The Koka­nee Glac­ier is at roughly 1,800 meters ele­va­tion and along with its neigh­bors, the Cari­bou and Wood­bury glac­i­ers, feeds the Koka­nee Lake as well as the head­wa­ters of many creeks and over 30 other lakes. The Koka­nee Glac­ier Provin­cial Park was set aside in 1922 and is a des­ti­na­tion for many alpine enthu­si­asts (BC Parks, 2011). Min­ers cre­ated roads and trails to the Koka­nee Glac­ier thirty years before it was declared a park and this paved the way for recre­ational use which occurs to today. The early sto­ries tell of the silver-rich ore that was extracted from moun­tains in this area in around 1900. Over the course of time the Slo­can Chief Cabin – the main out­post for alpin­ists at the glac­ier – has seen peri­ods of neglect and also times of ener­getic renewal (But­ling, 1986). Per­sis­tent through­out has been the Koka­nee Glac­ier itself.

A wider shot of the Kokanee Glacier that captures its wide expanse.

A wider shot of the Koka­nee Glac­ier that cap­tures its wide expanse.

What role do glac­i­ers play in light of the fre­quent reports and news of cli­mate change and the prospects for a sig­nif­i­cantly changed Earth in the future? Per­haps they will per­sist long past these debates much like the Koka­nee Glac­ier did while human events unfolded below it through­out the 1900’s, but per­haps not. There has been a lot of dis­cus­sion and debate over glac­ier reces­sion and its rela­tion to cli­mate change, even tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion that glac­ier reces­sion is often a purely nat­ural process. One recent study by Molg et al con­nects chang­ing trop­i­cal midtro­pos­phere cli­mate with changes observed with the Ker­sten Glac­ier on Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in East Africa (2009). Their results show that the key dom­i­nat­ing fac­tor in the way cli­mate influ­ences the glac­ier was the amount of pre­cip­i­ta­tion rather than incom­ing energy. This exam­ple shows the intri­ca­cies of con­nect­ing cause and effect in Earth Sys­tem dynam­ics. We can also draw insights related to cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­ity and envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment from this exam­ple and our knowl­edge of glaciers.

There are com­pa­nies in the global econ­omy that could be con­sid­ered glac­i­ers – they are large, they move slowly, they are sta­ble, and they are per­sis­tent. Per­sis­tence is the key word here. Long last­ing com­pa­nies have glacier-like char­ac­ter­is­tics because they weather the changes that sur­round them in order to stick around and pros­per. CSR is an aspect of doing busi­ness that will increase a company’s resilience. Some peo­ple even go so far as say­ing CSR is like an insur­ance pol­icy. In real­ity, it is a sys­tem­atic approach for ensur­ing that a com­pany is abid­ing by their own rules, the reg­u­la­tions of the juris­dic­tion in which they oper­ate, is giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity, and is pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. The pro­fes­sional prac­tice behind CSR is evolv­ing rapidly but there are sound stan­dards such as ISO and the Global Report­ing Ini­tia­tive that pro­vide guide­lines to work from. In tur­bu­lent eco­nomic times one thing any com­pany can ben­e­fit from is the con­tin­ued patron­age and respect of a client base and a com­mu­nity – CSR can help fos­ter this and cre­ate “glacier-esque” companies.

Our envi­ron­ment is chang­ing and soci­ety is itself chang­ing to adapt and to mit­i­gate activ­i­ties that are hav­ing envi­ron­men­tal impacts and busi­ness is part of this process. Glac­i­ers pro­vide us an exam­ple of how to fos­ter resilience and CSR is the roadmap to mak­ing our economies and com­mer­cial activ­i­ties more sus­tain­able. The quote “think like a moun­tain” has been used to encour­age peo­ple to think about inner strength, wis­dom, and sta­bil­ity in order to endure that which they are sub­jected to in life. Cor­re­spond­ingly, busi­nesses today need to “think like a glac­ier” to fos­ter resilience and the capac­ity to adapt and they can do this through imple­ment­ing high qual­ity CSR programs.

Check out more pho­tos from our visit to the Koka­nee Glac­ier on Flickr!