Glaciers — Ice Sculptures of the Earth System Serving as Examples for Business
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? 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. 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. 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.
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.
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!
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