Environmental Policy, Declaration and Overview

Written by: Ryan Connolly, Marketing & Environmental Manager
Reviewed & Updated by: Dagný Björg Stefánsdóttir (CEO), Scott Drummond (General Manager) and Joe Kane (Lead Guide).
Last updated: February 1st, 2022

Hidden Iceland is a carbon negative tour company that works in a predominantly outdoor environment of pristine and fragile beauty. This includes but is not limited; to outdoor nature trails, National Parks, Nature Reserves, UNESCO protected areas and glaciers. Therefore, the utmost care and proactive actions must be taken to maintain all areas that they operate.

Hidden Iceland believe in Sustainable Tourism and continuously work to reduce waste, reuse products when possible, and minimise impact from all tours.

Although Hidden Iceland recognise that they are working hard to run a sustainable tourism organisation they also understand that a lot more can be done and continued and updated action plans are in place to improve. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome from suppliers, partners and customers.

At time of writing (updated February, 2022) Hidden Iceland have focused on the following key areas to maintain sustainable practice on a day to day basis. Further detail of other actions in subsequent sections:

1 | 100% offsetting of all Carbon Emissions from vehicles, and a further 10% for unforeseen and associated personal emissions. In 2021, Hidden Iceland successfully offset 165% of their emissions, as well as offsetting all fuel from their self drive clients and notable secondary service providers such as helicopter rides. Currently partner with Climate Care (climatecare.org) to offset and invest in renewable and environmental initiatives worldwide.

2 | Donating to the Wetland Fund through fuel partners. For every litre of fuel we use, 5kr is donated to the Icelandic Wetland Fund, widely seen as the most effective way to sequester carbon immediately. This alone makes each drive ‘neutral’, even before we fully offset with Climate Care also.

3 | Gold Class Environmental Accreditation. Hidden Iceland were recently awarded Gold Class Certification from the official Tourism quality and environmental body, Vakinn. This requires extensive monitoring, auditing and reducing of environmental impacts to be achieved (we’re very proud of this one!).

4 | Small groups with educated and involved guides. One guide to a maximum of 12 guests. This allows the guide in charge to effectively guide, monitor, and prep all guests on how to interact with their environment.

5 | Appropriate vehicle size and type. Vehicles are chosen for specific use e.g. minibus for 12 or less customers. Smaller vehicles are used when possible for more intimate trips to minimise unnecessary fuel consumption. Environmentally friendly, recycled Green Diamond tyres are in use in winter conditions as of November 2018 on all owned vehicles, as opposed to more damaging studded tyres.

6 | Educating guests on impact. All guides are aware of the impact they are having on the environment and, especially in regard to the glaciers, are well versed on melting rates and changing landscapes. This is an integral part of our educationally focused trips. Guide training and onboarding includes familiarisation with our Environmental policies. 

7 | Choose local when possible and when appropriate Hidden Iceland will purchase locally. This is in regard to operational purchases like bulk buying flyers, equipment and clothing, as well as choosing traditional snacks and drink options for picnics. Locally sourced meals at restaurants and cafes are always favoured over imports.

8 | Reduce, reuse, recycle and environmentally friendly washing facilities. Hidden Iceland recycle all possible waste and encourage guests to leave any waste with the guide at the end of each trip. Since September 2019, Hidden Iceland have maintained their own recycling and vehicle washing facilities (Starfsleyfi accredited) to further reduce waste and prioritise environmentally friendly chemicals, such as Biosativa and Bacoban. All equipment is maintained  and chosen for its durability and quality. 

9 | Social Impact. Hidden Iceland is part of the Family Travel Association (FTA), Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) a. Hidden Iceland is actively working with partner members to share information on Family Travel in outdoor environments and what changes are happening in Iceland due to climate change and how to combat over tourism. This is mainly done through written articles, TV spots and panel discussions.

10 | Over-tourism. Hidden Iceland maintain small groups on every trip. Twelve or less on standard trips. We also create trips that purposefully attempt to avoid crowds and venture further away from the congested Reykjavík area. This is a key selling point of our trips but also an effective way to reduce numbers at each attraction. Taking groups further afield to places such as the Westfjords, Westman Islands, or to the south east of Iceland allows the positive financial and cultural effects of tourism to be disseminated into local areas.   

Strategy Formation & Work Procedures

This Environmental Policy was created initially in November 2018 by the Management team / co-owners and has subsequently been evaluated on an annual basis fully, or whenever material changes are made. The criteria covered was crafted in consultation with the Vakinn Check List – ‘On the way to sustainable tourism’. Ongoing review of the action plan will be monitored by co-owner & Environmental Manager, Ryan Connolly, on a quarterly basis when a carbon offsetting payments are made.

Management Team and Co-owners

1 | The management team / owners will be fully versed in this Environmental Policy and Action Plan and agree to a formal annual meeting to discuss ongoing improvements to business practice. Actions will be formally recorded and delegated as appropriate with specific timelines.

2 | Ryan Connolly is the designated Environmental Manager and can be contacted freely at ryan@hiddeniceland.is for further clarity on any points. 

3 | Scott Drummond is the designated contact in regard to Vakinn requirements & accreditation – scott@hiddeniceland.is

4 | Joe Kane is the designated Lead Guide, responsible for the Safety Management Plan & training. When safety is a consideration in regard to the Environmental Plan, the Environmental Manager and Lead Guide will work in collaboration for the most appropriate outcome – joe@hiddeniceland.is.

5 | It is the responsibility of the Management team (or delegated members) to make all staff members aware of best practices and changes as they happen.

6 | Training of new staff members must include discussion of Environmental Policy impact and the dissemination of this document.

7 | Fostering an open platform, formally or informally, for suggestions by all staff members must be allowed and encouraged by the Management team to facilitate best practices.

8 | This document to be made available online for the general public and by email if requested.

9 | Informal request will be made on a quarterly basis by Management team to suggest any changes to best practices in regard to environmental procedures.

10 | Any material changes that require concrete action by staff must be formally discussed at staff meetings or during further training.

11 | It is the responsibility of the Management team to keep environmental action plans and costs within the budget of financial obligations of normal day to day operations.

Driver Guides and Operations Staff

1 | All staff members must adhere to the statements in ‘Driver, Guide & Guest Interaction’ section of the Environmental Policy at all times. The Management team should provide full training surrounding policies and best practice. If further clarification or information is required an open discussion can be had at any point during employment.

2 | It is the responsibility of each staff member to raise concerns over gaps in best practice or non compliance with the Environmental Policy with Management team.

3 | Acceptance of our Environmental Policy & Declaration with a commitment to sustainable tourism is necessary when working as an employee with Hidden Iceland. This will be confirmed informally during training and from sharing of this Environmental Policy. 

4 | Wilful negligence in regard to environmental best practices can be met with disciplinary action as per disciplinary procedures held in our Safety Management Plan.

5 | It is the responsibility of each staff member to manage all guests appropriately and develop an understanding of how best to interact with their environment. Further detail in subsequent ‘Driver, Guide & Guest Interaction’ section.

Driver, Guide & Guest Interaction

It is essential that every guide within Hidden Iceland is treated as the ‘first line of defence’ when protecting the environment, maintaining group control, and educating our guests about the effects of tourism and climate change. Below covers basic statements for conduct of each guide. These statements are generic within our Environmental Policy. More comprehensive on-the-job training covers these areas in more detail.

1 | Drive in an eco-friendly manner. This includes avoiding idling unnecessarily, driving at a constant speed when possible, avoiding rapid acceleration and deceleration and respecting the rules of the road e.g. only driving on appropriate roads and parking in designated areas. If driving off-road, in an appropriate vehicle, then only designated marked paths are to be used. This includes driving through rivers and weak ground. Attention to minimising impact from tread is to be observed at all times.

2 | Explicit discussion about each area must be delivered prior to approaching new places. This covers areas that can be entered, appropriate conduct and freedom of movement. It is the guides responsibility to leave each area as they found it regardless of whether a guest acted alone. This is especially important in areas where direct guiding is not expected such as at Skógafoss or Geysir.
Example: no food or tobacco to be consumed within an ice cave. The ice cave cannot be used as a toilet while on tour. 

3 | When direct guiding is needed, such as on a glacier, continued group control is needed. For safety reasons, but also to maintain routes that have been carefully created by rangers and guiding companies. These are often in National Park or protected areas. Local regulations must also be adhered to.

4 | The management team will provide additional information if further care is needed in specific areas and how best to manage the groups.

5 | The guide must let guests know about recycling, toilets, and waste facilities at each stop if necessary and be prepared to take waste from guests to properly dispose of if none are available. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable. This is especially important in wilderness areas such as ice caves, glacier hikes and national parks.

6 | If a guide is asked about Hidden Iceland’s impact on the environment they can refer them to our blog post (2019) or explain that the full environmental policy is available online.

7 | As part of a guides knowledge of the area they should understand the basic impact we are having, offer ways for guests to minimise their effect (such as recycling and flight offsetting) and be able to explain the changing climates that the areas have encountered due to macro effects like climate change, or local effects like deforestation.  

Social Impact & Over-tourism

Sustainable Tourism covers a wide berth of activities including the social impact we have from our tours as well as the effects of over-tourism on the surrounding areas and the people living within those areas.

1 | Over tourism is something that Hidden Iceland monitors closely using exact figures from the tourist board to see trends over the past 10 years and forecasts. These trends have shown that although tourism has increased dramatically in the past 6-8 years the dramatic growth is being seen increasingly outside the traditional busy summer months, effectively spreading the influx of tourists. Tourism numbers are expected to continue to grow year round, albeit at a lower rate. Hidden Iceland believe that these numbers are sustainable as long as the tours that are run venture to lesser travelled areas such as the West Fjords, Westman Islands and the South East of Iceland. We note that the trend in rising tourism numbers has reduced dramatically due to COVID-19 and will be monitored for a return to 2019 figures.

2 | A comprehensive update on tourism trends will need to be assessed following the effects of COVID-19. At the time of writing it is expected that tourism numbers will be significantly lower for the remainder of 2020, the whole of 2021, and with some expectation that the following years will still feel these effects too. Regardless of overall tourist numbers Hidden Iceland will maintain the same practice as always.

3 | Our tours have been crafted to cater for guests year round and to avoid the worst of the crowds. We’ve also limited the number of guests in each place at any one time to 12 per guide for any scheduled trip. This is good for the tour experience as well as not adding to the influx of big bus companies. If we decide that a popular attraction is worth seeing despite the tourist numbers, such as the Golden Circle, then we will attempt (if possible and beneficial) to only go to these areas outside of normal tour schedules e.g. Secret Lagoon at opening time.

4 | We are acutely aware that local inhabitants can be affected adversely from over-tourism as well as the wider environment so good relations are essential for sustainable practices. When possible we will work with locals to create new routes and understand developments in the areas we work, e.g. around the South East of Iceland or in the Westfjords.

Procurement, Resources & Waste

1 | Whenever possible Hidden Iceland purchase resources from local vendors to minimise emissions on imports such as flyers, paper, business cards and office supplies. As of April 2018 all flyers and posters are purchased locally. Utilisation of local blacksmiths allowed our Glacier Step Cutting Axes to be manufactured locally rather than being imported from New Zealand, which was industry norm till March 2018. This has affected other guiding companies who subsequently purchased locally following this.

2 | Locally sourced foods and meals using locally caught/ grown food is prioritised e.g. Fridheimar Tomato Farm, Lilja Guest House Restaurant and Narfeyrarstofa Restaurant that all source food locally.

3 | Hidden Iceland understand that the partner operators (e.g. Adventure Vikings) and associated services (e.g. LAVA Centre) have an impact on the environment too as part of our organised trips. As part of ongoing Action Plan Hidden Iceland are committed to reviewing these partners for their Environmental Policy and sharing best practices if appropriate. See ‘Action Plan’ for specific timeline and actions.

4 | Avoiding single use, or short life products is part of our sustainability practice as well as good business sense. Green Diamond tyres wear down less than traditional studded tyres, and affect the road surface less too. This reduces dust issues from road traffic in winter.  

5 | Careful review of equipment is ongoing (at least annually) and only retired / replaced when deemed necessary. Repairs are favoured over repurchase when appropriate.

6 | Hidden Iceland use very little water or organic waste due to operations but understand that guest and guide waste can still be a factor in operations and as such the guide is instructed to educate guests in the most appropriate way to dispose of waste or use local water sources to refill.

7 | Cleaning the vehicles at the end of each trip is a necessary use of cleaning products and water usage, however excessive use of cleaning agents are to be avoided whenever possible if scrubbing and water suffice. As of September 2019 Hidden Iceland have taken full control of cleaning facilities which has reduced waste considerably. Licenced for vehicle cleaning (Starfsleyfi) until 2032. Green cleaning products (Biosativa & Tjoru Heinsir) have replaced environmentally degrading cleaning products.

8 | Driver guides are to either instruct guests as to appropriate recycling disposal areas throughout the tour or provide a means of taking waste directly from them for later disposal. When appropriate waste can be stored in the vehicles until the end of the tour. Staff members and all office staff can then recycle using the normal local means for paper, plastic, tin and other recyclable material (sorted at our base of operations). Specialised recycling (such as batteries, hazardous waste, metal, glass and organic waste) are sorted by office staff and disposed of at Sorpa Waste Facility (5 minutes from the base of operations) when appropriate.

Energy & Fuel Consumption

1 | Energy usage from vehicles is our number 1 impact on the local and global climate. We understand that with appropriate sized / type vehicles and conservative eco-friendly driving this can be reduced. However we accept that this is a material effect directly due to our operations so until such time that appropriate eco-friendly vehicles are available and within budget we have made the choice to offset all our carbon emissions from vehicle and associated personal vehicle use using carbon offsetting company, Climate Care (Climatecare.org).  This also allows us to monitor and record our changing energy needs on a quarterly basis and hence can work towards understanding ways to reduce this further. This is discussed during each quarter at time of payment.

2 | All vehicles are serviced every 15,000km (1-2 months average) to monitor for any issues that may affect performance.

3 | We encourage guests and staff to walk/ cycle when possible out of work hours and proffer information on reducing and offsetting if asked. Carpooling and reduced road driving is also encouraged, though admittedly not enforced.

4 | As of March 2018 all employed full time drivers will be trained as part of the on-boarding process on eco-driving with the following in mind; smooth driving, use of cruise control when appropriate, no unnecessary rapid acceleration / deceleration and aiming to turn off the vehicle when not in use. As of November 2018, wifi will not require the engine to be turned on for customers who remain in the vehicle to use it.  

Nature Conservation and the Community

1 | Hidden Iceland adhere to local authority advice and stipulations during any interaction with the outdoors and nature. Rangers within National Parks and Icelandic Authorities as well as other guiding companies in the area. If further care, or full avoidance is necessary to aid in revegetation or regeneration then Hidden Iceland can and have amended the itinerary of each trip.

2 | Open dialogue, both ways, between other guiding companies and local authorities in the areas we use are maintained for both safety reasons, conservation and best practice. Use of climbing and support equipment is permitted when additional safety is required but must be removed prior to leaving the area and cannot have a material negative impact on the environment (e.g. ice cave and glaciers).

3 | If material effect to the surrounding area will be made due to the actions of the guide, vehicle or guests it is to be avoided entirely.

4 | Guests are prepared prior to entering any new area by the guide as to the most appropriate way to interact with the surroundings. ‘Don’t step on the moss’ is not an effective method of control even when dealing with small groups. Further information in section on ‘Guide and Guest Interaction’. This includes toilet and waste disposal options in wilderness areas such as ice caves.

5 | Hidden Iceland are proud members of the Family Travel Association that promotes sustainable family travel. As part of this membership we have shared best practices and what is happening in the areas we walk. For example, the rapid retreat of the glaciers in the South coast of Iceland.

6 | Being a member of Climate Care also gives us access to a deeper understanding of how offsetting and sustainable investment can tackle climate change and create jobs in impoverished areas.

7 | As part of the Icelandic Tourist Board as Authorised Travel Agent since 2017 we adhere to any guidance and stipulations set in nature reserves and national parks. Further guidance sought by Environmental Agency of Iceland or local authorities is regularly incorporated into our tours.

8 | As a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association since 2018 our Management team have shared industry best practice with the association’s media outlets.

Suppliers and Market

1 | Working closely with, and learning from the following organisations are key to Hidden Iceland maintaining an ongoing sustainable and environmental practice; Icelandic Tourist Board, Icelandic Search & Rescue, The Environment Agency of Iceland, NOLS, Safetravel.is, Icelandic Meteorological Office, Emergency Authorities (112), national park staff; notably Park Rangers in the Vatnajökull National Park.  

2 | Working with Climate Care & Family Travel Association have given us a wider understanding of our own impact as well as influence on wider areas and we will continue to work with these organisations, among others, to continue discussing sustainable tourism in Iceland and externally.

3 | Although we consider ourselves leaders in environmental and sustainable travel we know that others are doing the same. As part of a small sub section of research we see our main competitors have varied policies that partially match our own, but rarely cover all e.g. Arctic Adventures have a policy of leave no trace and give the guide full responsibility for the guests; Green Energy Travel take only small groups to minimise impact in tourist areas, and Icelandic Mountain Guides Invest 1% of profits towards sustainable projects.  

Customer Information

1 | We believe it is our duty to protect the environment and promote sustainable tourism throughout our strategy and day to day operations. However we also believe it is our duty to inform our customers of our current impact and mitigating attempts, beyond requirements of this Environmental Policy. This allows the guest to make an informed decision whether or not to use our organisation over others if environmental effects are a deciding factor. As of March 2018, a blog post covering our commitment to sustainable tourism was released including details of climate care investment fund. As part of our action plan we will be adding a link in our follow up emails that include this environmental policy and links to our Environmental Declaration.

2 | It is also important to teach guests about our personal effects on the environment, as well as historic trends. Glacier melting rate changes, volcanic emissions, changing climate trends, deforestation, soil erosion and physical tourism effects are often covered in our educational tours.

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