SUSTAINABLE TOURISM IN ICELAND

From moss turning brown, to metal bars being raised at popular attractions to keep guests from walking off the walking path, to glaciers disappearing, we are all too aware of the changing environment that has been affected by both climate change and tourism.

It’s been a year and a bit since the Hidden Iceland team opened their doors and decided right away that the only way we would set up the company, was to do so sustainably. Being a sustainable travel company was not as simple as just following a strict environmental policy and leaving each place the same as it was found. This is a great mantra, but there is much more to be done. As Hidden Iceland keeps on growing, we still remain 100% Carbon Neutral through sustainable tourism practices and ethical investing with Climate Care.

Sólheimajökull Glacier | South Coast: Fire & Ice Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman
Sólheimajökull Glacier | South Coast: Fire & Ice Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman

Our ways included reducing our impact when possible, reuse everything we can, and educate our guests about the effects of climate change. Especially when it comes to the ever melting glaciers of Iceland. In fact, many of our trips are punctuated by the passion and knowledge of our guides who care very deeply about the environment. These changes are all too apparent when hiking on a glacier that has lost more ice in the last 10 years than in the previous 100, and physical evidence of the glaciers retreat can be seen as we hike on Sólheimajökull glacier on our South Coast: Fire & Ice trip and even more so on Falljökull Glacier within Vatnajökull National Park on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 Day tour.

Falljökull glacier | Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 Day Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Denny Mcgee
Falljökull glacier | Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 Day Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Denny Mcgee

Reduce and Reuse

These statements are so often overused and under performed. Mainly because they are so hard to quantify.

Hidden Iceland reduces the impact on the environment from our trips by only using vehicles that are appropriate for the group size and activity. It’s very disheartening seeing big bus companies drop off 5 customers out of a 40 seat vehicle, or seeing large gas guzzling super jeeps driving around the tranquil roads of the Golden Circle. Aside from the physical cost being transferred to the customer it is also unnecessarily bad for the environment.

We are committed to keeping waste at a minimum. No unnecessary printing and adhering to strict recycling rules. But it’s easy enough to do this ourselves. It’s another thing to manage your group in the same way. Every time we step into the Vatnajökull National Park for our glacier hike of Falljökull glacier the first thing we do is talk about preserving what we are seeing that day. Ryan often starts this by saying “take only pictures, leave only footprints”. However, the reality is that sticking to assigned paths, understanding the fragility of the flora, and educating the guests about the retreating glacier gives our guests a deeper respect for the environment. Not just for that day, but from then on. It’s all too common that our guests will ask very pointed questions following our trips on what can they can do to help. Simply being a bit conscientious doesn’t seem to be enough following their trip to Iceland.

Gullfoss waterfall | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman
Gullfoss waterfall | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman

Sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism is again a difficult statement to quantify. What is sustainable tourism? Hidden Iceland believe that small groups in appropriate vehicles with guides who are well versed in the area, and who carefully take care of the group is the definition of sustainable tourism for us.

Watching places in Iceland like the hot pools in Mývatn or the waterfall of Brúarafoss be restricted for access due to tourists running a mock gives rises to quotes like ‘Iceland is too crowded’. The reality is that if you flood an area with hundreds of tourists and say, ‘be back in 50 minutes’ then inevitably the area is going to be slowly but surely destroyed.

Educating our guests

We personally take you carefully through some of the most beautiful and pristine places in the country. And we do this with the utmost attention to detail. Educating our guests not only allows us to keep the area preserved and respected. It also adds an extra component of immersion to the trip.

To give an example on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour gives us the incredible chance to stand at the edge of the breathtaking glacier lagoon. But learning that this wonder of nature happened because climate change rapidly shrunk the glacier behind it over the past 50 years leaving behind a glacier graveyard of icebergs makes it much more visceral of a reaction. Natural beauty is temporary. Especially in the ever changing volcanic island of Iceland.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman

Climate change and the glaciers

Even since Hidden Iceland was started a little over a year ago Svínafellsjökull glacier, or commonly known as the Hollywood Glacier after being the set for Game of Thrones and Batman Begins, has become inaccessible due to climate change melting the glacier and leaving exposed rock prone to massive landslides.

The documentary Not OK was released earlier this year referencing one of Iceland’s ice caps now being recategorised as a glacier due to its diminished size.

The team at Extreme Ice Survey created the Chasing Ice documentary on climate change which continuously monitors the depletion of glaciers in Iceland and worldwide. This can currently be found on Netflix.

So for a company that specialises in immersive travel onto glaciers and other untouched terrain it’s a definite concern reading about the new report published by the UN stating that drastic action is needed to stop this onset of climate change. Estimates say that we have 12 years to dramatically change how we create energy, consume meals, and run our businesses or it’ll be too late to ‘fix’.

Every day when we step onto one of the remaining glaciers we see climate change in action. The figures vary in terms of depletion but the cold hard fact is that most of the glaciers not only in Iceland but worldwide have melted more since the turn of the century than in the previous entire century. It’s a scary fact and one that we are careful to educate our guests on. Many people ask if our physical walking on the ice has a major impact in the melting process. It doesn’t. The biggest contributing factor to these glaciers is two fold. Global temperature rises and direct pollution. Sadly flying to Iceland has the biggest impact on the glaciers themselves. So our guests again ask, what can they do to reduce their impact. Our answer, though not all encompassing, is often the same;

Reduce, reuse, educate then offset.

Falljökull Glacier Hike | Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by EJS Creative
Falljökull Glacier Hike | Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by EJS Creative

Ethical investing

Is all of this enough to truly call ourselves an environmentally conscious company? We didn’t think so.

So with the help of the award winning company, Climate Care, we swore to offset every single emission we generate. We’ve reduced as much as we can but zero emissions are impossible while there are still fuel based cars on the roads.

Luckily most of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable sources already which has helped us keep the bill a little lower but the reality is for a brand new company dedicating some of our income to go carbon neutral was difficult. Very difficult at times during the cash hungry summer season. But 1 year on we’ve managed to maintain neutrality.

What is ethical investing and offsetting?

It’s simple. We used the online calculator from Climate Care following sage advice from climate care advisors to determine how many greenhouse gas emissions our small company creates. Whether that’s from vehicles, flights or energy consumption.

The funny thing is that the cost to offset our emissions completely was staggeringly low (at first). So low in fact that the founders had to contact climate care to confirm they hadn’t made a calculation mistake. These days the price has risen, but then so has our customer base. And we’re still committed as ever. It made us question why other companies aren’t doing the same. If the price is minuscule then shouldn’t it just be standard practice. So whenever we’re chatting with our customers and that question of what can be done we can confidently say that offsetting your emissions is an affordable and easy way to help the world.

Once the calculator has given you an offset figure you can choose to add 10% of unforeseen emissions to give you peace of mind that your fully carbon neutral.

Climate Care is an investment fund that takes your contribution and invests it in renewable and ethical projects. This was very important to Hidden Iceland as simply donating cash to some unknown cause didn’t seem beneficial or transparent. This year our contributions have went directly to helping produce efficient cookstoves in Ghana, safe drinking water without the use of fuel to boil in Kenya and wind farms in India.

These projects, among many others create jobs, improve families, protect wildlife, preserve local resources, and fight climate change.

Dynjandi waterfall | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman
Dynjandi waterfall | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman

Hidden Iceland is committed to sustainable tourism and although offsetting, educating, and maintaining sustainable practices is a good start we know that there is still much more we can do to help tackle climate change and the effects of tourism on the environment.

To offset your own emissions go to Climate Care to calculate your emissions.

Ryan (1)

Hi I’m Ryan Connolly, I’ve guided in multiple countries and spent the last three years travelling across the globe. I have spent the past 2 years studying everything related to glaciers, climate change, and Iceland in my spare time.

Hidden Iceland Logo | Hidden Iceland

Sustainable tourism in Iceland | Hidden Iceland

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.