We Put Surf Tourism Operators Under the Microscope.

Using the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria—a globally agreed upon set of standards defined by decades of sustainable tourism research from professionals and scientists around the world—as a foundation, STOKE spent three years working closely with surf resort owners, community leaders, nonprofits, and government officials in surfing destinations to develop a system that quantifies the highest standards of sustainable surf tourism practice.

Consisting of 142 metrics that measure the efficacy of sustainability management systems, surf resource conservation, quality and safety of surf experience delivery, as well as social, economic, cultural heritage, and environmental impacts, STOKE takes a comprehensive multisectoral approach to the assessment of surf tourism operators. STOKE is the only certification program to have three unique compliance indicators per metric that clearly define the next steps for operators moving towards best practices. Currently, 92 STOKE metrics feature this three-tiered approach.

While STOKE Surf demands the best from its members; it is also flexible in its evaluation—metrics deemed “Not Applicable” to a particular operator by the STOKE review board do not negatively or positively impact the operator’s compliance score. In addition, the STOKE Surf standard is refined every two years by the STOKE Board, STOKE Surf Members, and Independent Evaluators to ensure the criteria remain relevant and reflect the latest innovations in best practices. The benchmarking process and three levels of certification are achievable as outlined below:

  • Benchmarked

    Management has completed the self-benchmark tool, or the operation has been benchmarked by a STOKE Certified Evaluator, and the benchmark has been approved by the STOKE Board. The operation is required to undergo an evaluation within two years of benchmarking.

  • Certified

    Operation is compliant with all mandatory metrics and has achieved a cumulative STOKE score between 70 - 79%. The sustainability management system may still be in its infancy, but management continues to follow their RTC and create incremental improvements.

  • Sustainable

    Operation goes beyond the minimum requirements for compliance in a majority of the metrics resulting in a cumulative STOKE score between 80 - 89%. Management has developed strategies and timelines for achieving best practices in all categories.

  • Best Practice

    Operation champions the STOKE best practice standards and is a leader in the surf tourism community with a cumulative STOKE score between 90 - 100%. Management continually innovates and progresses additional criteria towards best practices.

Below is a summary of each criterion, organized by section, to give surfers and operators an overall perspective of STOKE Surf’s standards:

Sustainability Management
Sustainability Management System (SMS)

A comprehensive SMS document is the sustainability equivalent of your tide chart, barometric map, and oceanic buoy readings all rolled into one. It guides all management practices, staff training, policies and procedures, goals and implementation strategies. This is your go-to document. It allows your decision making process to be transparent to your suppliers, community partners and other stakeholders as it relates to environment, cultural heritage, economic considerations, quality, health and safety.

Legal Compliance

In most regions of the world maintaining legal compliance ensures your operation is in accordance with most major labor conventions outlined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) such as equal pay, no child labor, and safe working conditions. STOKE requires its members to demonstrate compliance with local environmental, health, safety, labor, insurance, tax, licensing, and construction laws.

Employee Training in Sustainability

It is critical that your staff clearly understand their role in supporting your sustainability initiatives and achieving the sustainability goals outlined in your SMS. This requires training that educates staff about sustainability and empowers them to devise creative solutions to future challenges. Staff must receive training in each of the following areas: water, energy, waste management, emergency responses, social/cultural information, and environmental interpretation.

Customer Satisfaction

Your guests’ experience is of utmost importance. A unique insight into the efficacy of your SMS and communications strategy can be gained by measuring guests’ perceptions of your operation’s sustainability initiatives, your care for the surfing environment, and your support of surrounding communities. It is best practice to formalize the collection and analysis of guest survey data to enable the development of new goals for incremental improvement of your sustainability performance.

Accuracy of Promotional Materials

No one likes a double fisted claim for a two second head-dip. Don’t overhype your property with false marketing. Show the same etiquette with your promotional materials as you do out in the water. Providing honest representations of your amenities, rooms, activities, wave quality, local culture, and most importantly, your sustainability initiatives—contributes to stoked out surfers with expectations exceeded and a longing to come back.

Sustainable Design and Construction

This criterion includes 15 metrics that encompass sustainable design and construction practices as well as compliance with local zoning and legislative requirements, traditional land use rights and protected heritage sites, in addition to international standards for minimizing environmental and social impacts from development.

Interpretation

Interpretation of the local environment, culture, and heritage is provided. The waves should not be your only attraction—surfers love adventurous travel to surfing destinations because of the unique culture and environment of each area. Providing passive as well as active interpretation of the local flora and fauna, culture, history, and sustainability initiatives enhances the surfer’s stoke and increases your percentage of return clientele.

Communication Strategy

In order to engage all stakeholders and properly inform them of the operation’s sustainability initiatives and goals, management must create and utilize a comprehensive communications strategy. This document should outline passive and active methods for communicating the operations performance as organized by waste management, energy conservation, water conservation, environmental conservation, cultural sustainability and economic sustainability. All stakeholders need to be identified and addressed in this strategy including the local community, employees, and guests so that they understand why the operation’s initiatives are significant and how they can positively contribute to these efforts. Evidence of carrying out this strategy is paramount.

Skilled Guide/Skipper/Instructor

Surfers come for the surf so they can go home stoked with epic stories to tell their friends and talk about how they can’t wait to go back. Their experience depends on the operation’s guidance to the best quality surf based on their needs, skill level, and conditions. Surf guides need to understand and explain to guests the idiosyncrasies of each wave, safety hazards and strategies for avoiding injury. Critical to keeping the stoke alive is explaining and enforcing surf etiquette for safety and reduction of perception of crowding. This criterion also includes metrics related to safety and medical skills required of the guide, as well as knowledge of marine life in the area.

Safety

Surfing is inherently dangerous and surf tourism destinations are often located in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters—surfers want assurance that the operation has taken every possible measure to guarantee their safety in any situation. While local legislation typically addresses most health and safety standards for tourism operations, STOKE enforces these universal and surf tourism specific health and safety standards in case local legislation is not as comprehensive with its requirements. Management must provide documentation for medical emergency and evacuation preparedness and planning, earthquake and tsunami evacuation planning, as well as evidence of regular staff training related to the operation’s safety procedures. If applicable, boats need to be surveyed to national & international standards based on use, length, and tonnage.

Social and Economic Impacts Management
Community Development

Operators should share the stoke of sustainability beyond their properties and contribute to the enhancement of local community development projects in line with community priorities. In addition to supporting established programs, the operation should take advantage of opportunities where new initiatives can be implemented via education, training, or in-kind support. Management needs to provide evidence of their ongoing support for the local community that may include complementary businesses, education, health, sanitation, arts, culture, and sports.

Local Employment

Keeping jobs local engenders community involvement and integration with the operation’s sustainability goals and contributes to low staff turnover rates. An operation’s level of compliance with this metric depends on the proportion of local staff—local is defined as those whose primary residence is within 25km of the operation. Best practice operations will provide internal and external training programs with a view to employing locals in management positions. This will further strengthen community ties, goodwill, and will foster long-term stability.

Local Purchasing

‘Support local’ doesn’t end with your employment choices—it trickles through your entire supply chain. Circulating your business’ dollars in the local economy has numerous benefits including more wealth being distributed amongst the community, providing more jobs, reduced carbon footprint from shorter transportation of goods and services, and a richer visitor experience.

Support Local Entrepreneurs

Beyond the surf, there are a variety of opportunities for you to expose your guests to local businesses who offer goods and services that reflect the local environment and culture. Collaborating with local entrepreneurs in such a way that these experiences (e.g. cultural tours, village visits, wildlife hikes, handicraft and arts) are integrated into the guest’s trip can extend length of stay, increase satisfaction, and increase repeat visitation.

Exploitation

We know that surfers would never align their business with child labor or slavery, but the awful truth is that someone in your supply chain may indirectly or directly support such acts of exploitation. There are many factors that influence how and why this underground industry still exists, but the surf tourism industry can do its part to help eliminate it on a global scale. Beyond implementing an internal policy against commercial exploitation for STOKE compliance, best practices dictate communicating this policy with your secondary and tertiary suppliers and requiring them to sign an agreement that they are in compliance with international labor laws. Such supply chain analysis, communication, and regulation is a long-term initiative. STOKE members have access to materials that make implementing this type of initiative simple.

Equitable Hiring

Contributing to the greater good in society starts with how your business strengthens personal and economic growth in neighboring communities. Equal employment opportunity is fundamental to quality of life for future generations. Although international labor laws address these issues, the problem still exists in many developing nations. Therefore at the minimum compliance level, the business must not discriminate along gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, or disability lines in its hiring policy. Equitable hiring also extends to management positions to further minimize income gaps between different gender and ethnic groups in society.

Employee Protection

You want your staff to be stoked, right? Well, beyond the obvious of treating your employees humanely and fairly as any good-hearted surfer would do, the business must provide living wages to afford basic needs such as health care, shelter, food, and education. Paying above minimum wage with benefits fosters stable working relationships, increases worker productivity, lowers your staff turnover rate and reduces costly recruitment and training of new staff. These best practices also contribute to alleviating poverty and enhancing the quality of life for local communities and future generations.

Basic Services

Unfortunately, epic surfing destinations can be overrun by unregulated tourism growth with no consideration for local populations. This often leads to the degradation of basic services such as water, power, sanitation, transport, education, and health services to surrounding communities. It is imperative that operations do not compromise any of these basic services, and additionally sustainable and best practice operations will demonstrate how they have enhanced local access to basic services through their own initiatives and through their support for relevant third party programs.

Cultural Heritage Impacts Management
Code of Conduct

Nobody likes being dropped in on without any warning. The same goes for local cultures in surf tourism destinations, they need some input into how visitors behave in their home and should have the right of prior informed consent to tourism developments. In order to minimize visitor impact and maximize enjoyment, it is important to maintain open lines of communications with local communities and community leaders to develop guidelines or a code of conduct for tourist visits to culturally or historically sensitive sites so they know how to behave respectfully both verbally and nonverbally within the specific cultural context. Operations should also be cognizant of potential physical damage to important cultural sites through excessive tourist visitation. These practices will lead to an enhanced appreciation of the destination and contribute to community pride in their cultural heritage.

Historical Artifacts

STOKE aims to celebrate and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of each surfing destination. In some destinations, important cultural artifacts find their way onto the black market and are purchased by tourists looking for that awesome authentic souvenir—cool keepsakes, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of cultural heritage. Most destinations have laws protecting these kinds of artifacts, but enforcement is often lax and open to ‘reinterpretation for a fee’. Operations need to do their part to ensure that important historical and archaeological artifacts are not sold, traded, or displayed, except as permitted by law, and should implement a policy to this effect with communication to staff and if necessary, guests.

Protection of Sites

Sacred cultural, historical, and archaeological sites provide additional context for your visitors by framing the history and culture that defines your region. You hate it when kooks come and blow up your favorite surf spot, so don’t do the same to a local community’s sacred site. Regulated visitation to these sites with monitored preservation and enhancement programs ensures that these rich cultural experiences will be enjoyed by your guests and local communities for generations to come.

Incorporation of Culture

Without some expression of local culture in your surf trip, it's just another surf trip that will fade into the background of your memory. Incorporating elements of local culture helps to ensure that guests are ‘grounded’ in the unique experience of a particular destination (research has shown this leads to greater levels of satisfaction and increased return visits), it also gives local communities a sense of pride in their culture and can provide an outlet for the preservation and conservation of cultural practices. It is important that operations maintain communications with local cultural leaders to ensure interpretations of culture are accurate and respectful and that culture is not commodified (turned into just another tourist product). Operations should incorporate elements of local cultural heritage in its operations (e.g. activities, uniforms, staff/guest interactions), design (e.g. architecture), decoration (e.g. art), food, or shops; while respecting the intellectual property rights of local communities (e.g. if operating in Australia, don’t sell didgeridoos and aboriginal art in your gift shop that is made in Bali).

Environmental Impacts Management
Purchasing Policy & Consumable Goods

The way that your operation buys the ‘stuff’ you need to operate can be a powerful lever for encouraging and supporting locally produced sustainable goods and services and reducing the negative environmental impacts that often accompany tourism operations. You can have your cake and eat it if you develop a purchasing policy that gives preference to suppliers who share your stoke on sustainability. Your policy should favor locally produced, environmentally friendly products (certified where possible) for building materials, capital goods, food, and consumables. The purchasing policy should avoid over-packaged, single use, and disposable goods in favor of environmentally friendly products: reusable, returnable, and recycled. Best practice operations will avoid single-use plastics altogether. Where unsustainable product purchases are unavoidable, they should be monitored and measured so incremental reductions can be made.

Energy Consumption

Energy use for a surf tourism operation is inevitable, and while this sector of your business can be one the most detrimental impacts to the environment and society, STOKE believes this can be one of your greatest opportunities to mitigate your impact and reap tremendous operational savings at the same time. STOKE Surf Members achieve this by: measuring and setting reduction goals for their energy use; informing guests on the importance of energy reduction and engaging them in reduction practices; training their staff on energy efficiency measures, frequent preventative maintenance on equipment, and providing incentives for devising their own initiatives; and identifying opportunities for renewable energy use as well as reduced GHG emissions. In addition, if your operation shares the stoke via boat transport, these must be powered by four-stroke engines.

Water Consumption

Even though we spend our days immersed in water, many surfing destinations are struggling to maintain a quality water supply. Climate change is anticipated to make this problem even more profound. In addition to the scarcity of the resource in many destinations, water also comes with a cost in terms of the infrastructure to contain and move it, the power required to heat, cool, and pump it, and the resources needed to treat it and make it safe to release back into the environment without pollution. For these reasons water use should be minimized wherever possible, even if water is locally plentiful. Operations should measure and monitor water consumption, water sources should be indicated, and a broad range of measures to decrease overall consumption should be adopted even if all your water is supplied by rainwater harvesting on-site.

Reducing Pollution

Please select the sub-metrics below.

Emissions Management

Climate change threatens our whole way of life, the waves we love to ride, and the communities that make each surf destination unique. Unfortunately, travel to exotic surfing destinations contributes to climate change—trains, planes, and automobiles constitute the most greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for any tourism operator. And all this before your guest even arrives! That is why it is imperative for STOKE Surf operators to concentrate their efforts on the emissions they can control—everything except air travel. In order to achieve best practice, all GHG sources must be measured with goals and implementation strategies to reduce these emissions. Offsetting emissions can be an effective intermediary solution while your operation strives to be a zero emissions business. However, the legitimacy of offset programs are questionable considering some are unregulated or unquantifiable in their carbon sequestration efforts. Therefore, it is best to partner with certified or local programs that you can monitor. Ultimately, the goal is to foster energy independence from imported fossil fuels while reducing operational costs.

Wastewater Treatment

Proper wastewater treatment is a no brainer—don’t shit where you surf. Subpar treatment systems fail due to mechanical issues or severe weather events and can result in bleached coral reefs and water-borne diseases that affect not only your guests, but neighboring communities and marine wildlife. In addition to it being the humane thing to do, effective wastewater treatment systems can include greywater recycling for irrigation, which decreases your operation’s water use and sewage treatment expenses.

Waste Management

One of the fundamentals for a sustainability management system is a solid waste management plan comprised of reduce, reuse, and recycle initiatives with quantitative goals to measure and minimize waste that is not reused or recycled. Surf tourism destinations often provide insufficient waste management services and/or unregulated landfills that create unsanitary living conditions for locals, and result in land degradation and watershed contamination. Minimizing your operation’s solid waste stream mitigates these impacts in addition to decreasing the amount of GHG’s that are emitted during a product’s life cycle. Your purchasing practices dictate how sustainable your operation is in terms of waste management and efforts should be made to ensure you are engaging the most sustainable supply chain possible. Ideally, the lifecycle of all products that pass through your operation should be considered from a cradle to cradle perspective (as opposed to cradle to grave) this involves considering the product’s extraction (raw materials), manufacturing, distribution, use, and reuse or recycling (as opposed to disposal).

Surfboard Rentals

Surfing brings you such intimate experiences in nature, the nasty chemicals we ride on can be a real stoke-kill. If you provide rental surfboards for your guests, you are well-placed to raise people’s awareness about—and influence their purchasing decisions for—alternative surfboard materials that don’t end up as intractable toxic waste like traditional polyurethane foam boards. There are now a plethora of alternatives such as durable epoxy boards, reforestation certified or reclaimed wood boards, as well as renewable or recycled materials with toxin-free resins and glues (low VOC). Eco-Board certification is a good indicator for determining what boards utilize these alternative materials. In order to cut down on GHGs associated with transport and to support local businesses, where possible your boards should be made by a local shaper. Broken boards or old boards being phased out should be donated or recycled through our partner organization—Returning Wave.

Harmful Substances

Your property is in a beautiful setting amongst fragile coastal and marine environments. It's really important that the use of environmentally harmful substances and those harmful to human health are minimized, or even better, substituted, by innocuous products. Through evaporation, leaks, run-off and overuse, toxic materials like pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, paints, swimming pool disinfectants, cleaning materials, etc., can contaminate the local environment and impact plants, animals, and community water supplies. If you can’t access safe alternatives, it’s important to follow proper storage, handling, and use procedures to minimize accidental contamination of the environment potentially compromising the surf breaks your guests access.

Other Pollutants

Beyond the pollutants identified in previous metrics, there are other impacts that most operations do not consider that are just as detrimental, but usually easier to remedy. Most notably for surf destinations, is light pollution of marine nesting sites, sedimentation or eutrophication of nearby waterways, and noise pollution for local wildlife (e.g. lets not run an all-night dance club with huge speakers, strobe lights, and a lazer light show on the beach in a turtle nesting site). Your operation must implement practices to reduce pollution from noise, light, runoff, erosion, as well as air and soil contaminants. Frequent audits of your property are necessary to identify these other pollutant sources and in turn, these assessments can equip your staff with the tools necessary to come up with creative solutions organically.

Conserving Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Landscapes

Please select the sub-metrics below.

Wildlife Species

It is great, in fact we encourage you to deck out your guest room and dining area furniture with beautiful hardwoods, display locally crafted souvenirs harvested from the wild in your gift shop, and serve dinner with the local catch of the day. BUT, you have to be sure that these are sustainable. Therefore, such resources must only be harvested from the wild, or consumed, displayed, sold, or traded, in a regulated way that ensures that their utilization is sustainable. Regulations vary across cultures, oceans, forests, governments etc but the operation must adhere to regional and international standards.

Wildlife in Captivity

Rarely do surf tourism operators maintain wildlife in captivity, but we have seen instances where, for example, baby turtles have been held so that guests can release them. This should only be attempted if you have training in handling turtles and as part of a legitimate and regulated conservation program (reach out to a local conservation agency and make it legit!). Other situations may arise that involve the handling of injured or threatening wildlife in need of rehabilitation or relocation. These activities must be administered by those authorized and suitably equipped to house and care for wildlife as mandated by local regulations and international conservation standards. If this is something you are interested in being a part of, be sure to receive the appropriate training first so you can perform these procedures properly.

Landscaping

In line with designing your operation’s buildings with locally appropriate architecture and culturally appropriate decor, it’s not good practice to use exotic decorative plant species from the other side of the world. The use of native flora in landscaping contributes to compliance with other criteria because these species are adapted to the local environment, which means they require less water and less chemicals to thrive. It is also required for your operation to actively prevent and remove any invasive species that threaten local ecosystems.

Biodiversity Conservation

By virtue of being located in coastal and marine environments, surf destinations are located in some of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. These areas enhance your operation’s appeal to surf travelers, which is another reason why you should support the protection and enhancement of these natural landscapes. Your operation must contribute to the support of biodiversity conservation through either financial means, or to achieve best practice, through active participation with staff and guests.

Interactions with Wildlife

Picking up baby sea turtles or lifting sea snakes by their tail may be unique experiences for your guests, but these types of interactions must be mitigated with passive (e.g. signage) and active (e.g. wildlife tour) interpretation by management and staff. You must inform your guests about all of the local wildlife they may encounter to prevent dangerous or harmful interactions for both your guests and the wildlife. Staff training is necessary so they know how to educate visitors and handle wildlife experiences during properly regulated activities.

Reef Conservation

If your business depends on taking guests to world class waves that break over pristine reefs, then it should be apparent that your operation must do everything in it’s power to protect and enhance these precious ecosystems. Not only should you install and maintain moorings at your frequented breaks, but other operators in the area should be educated about how to use the moorings properly and how to install their own moorings. In addition, educate your guests about the significance of these moorings and reef conservation. Obviously you would never intentionally cause coral bleaching, but best practices dictate that management facilitate in testing the health of nearby reefs by a qualified third party to assess reef health and identify any threats. These reports need to be publicly available to further strengthen awareness for guests, staff, and other operators.

Coastal Conservation

Regardless of whether your surf assets are reef breaks or beach breaks, protecting the coastline is applicable to any surf tourism operator. From the most basic level, staff participate in a weekly beach clean up and report their findings to a coastal conservation organization. Guests should be encouraged to participate in these beach clean ups. Where appropriate, ocean water quality tests are conducted near the property by a qualified organization and test results are released publicly. Best practice would be working with a reputable and capable organization to establish Marine Protected Areas.

We Put Ski Tourism Operators Under the Microscope.

Using the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria—a globally agreed upon set of standards defined by decades of sustainable tourism research from professionals and scientists around the world—as a foundation, STOKE spent three years researching best practices in the ski tourism industry to develop a system that quantifies the highest standards of sustainable ski tourism practice.

Consisting of 153 metrics that measure the efficacy of sustainability management systems, alpine resource conservation, quality and safety of the riding experience delivery, as well as social, economic, cultural heritage, and environmental impacts, STOKE takes a comprehensive multisectoral approach to the assessment of ski tourism operators. STOKE is the only certification program to have three unique compliance indicators per metric that clearly define the next steps for operators moving towards best practices. Currently, 104 STOKE metrics feature this three-tiered approach.

While STOKE Snow demands the best from its members; it is also flexible in its evaluation—metrics deemed “Not Applicable” to a particular operator by the STOKE review board do not negatively or positively impact the operator’s compliance score. In addition, the STOKE Snow standard is refined every two years by the STOKE Board, STOKE Snow Members, and Independent Evaluators to ensure the criteria remain relevant and reflect the latest innovations in best practices. The benchmarking process and three levels of certification are achievable as outlined below:

  • Benchmarked

    Management has completed the self-benchmark tool, or the operation has been benchmarked by a STOKE Certified Evaluator, and the benchmark has been approved by the STOKE Board. The operation is required to undergo an evaluation within two years of benchmarking.

  • Certified

    Operation is compliant with all mandatory metrics and has achieved a cumulative STOKE score between 70 - 79%. The sustainability management system may still be in its infancy, but management continues to follow their RTC and create incremental improvements.

  • Sustainable

    Operation goes beyond the minimum requirements for compliance in a majority of the metrics resulting in a cumulative STOKE score between 80 - 89%. Management has developed strategies and timelines for achieving best practices in all categories.

  • Best Practice

    Operation champions the STOKE best practice standards and is a leader in the ski tourism community with a cumulative STOKE score between 90 - 100%. Management continually innovates and progresses additional criteria towards best practices.

Below is a summary of each criterion, organized by section, to give surfers and operators an overall perspective of STOKE Surf’s standards:

Sustainability Management
Sustainability Management System (SMS)

A comprehensive SMS document is the sustainability equivalent of your trail map, barometer, master plan, and avy beacon all rolled into one. It guides all management practices, staff training, policies and procedures, goals and implementation strategies. This is your go-to document. It allows your decision-making process to be transparent to your suppliers, community partners, and other stakeholders as it relates to the environment, cultural heritage, economic considerations, quality, health, and safety.

Legal Compliance

In most regions of the world maintaining legal compliance ensures your operation is in accordance with most major labor conventions outlined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) such as equal pay, no child labor, and safe working conditions. STOKE requires its members to demonstrate compliance with local environmental, health, safety, labor, insurance, tax, licensing, and construction laws.

Employee Training in Sustainability

It is critical that your staff clearly understand their role in supporting your sustainability initiatives and achieving the sustainability goals outlined in your SMS. This requires training that educates staff about sustainability and empowers them to devise creative solutions to future challenges. Staff must receive training in each of the following areas: water, energy, waste management, emergency responses, social/cultural information, and environmental interpretation.

Customer Satisfaction

Your guests’ experience is of utmost importance. A unique insight into the efficacy of your SMS and communications strategy can be gained by measuring guests’ perceptions of your operation’s sustainability initiatives, your care for the surfing environment, and your support of surrounding communities. It is best practice to formalize the collection and analysis of guest survey data to enable the development of new goals for incremental improvement of your sustainability performance.

Accuracy of Promotional Materials

No one likes a crazy weatherman claiming the storm of the century when it only ends up dropping a couple inches of snow or worse yet, raining. Don’t oversell your ski area or sustainability initiatives with false marketing. Show the same etiquette with your promotional materials as you do out on the mountain. Providing honest representations of your terrain, facilities, activities, events, local culture, and most importantly, your sustainability initiatives—contributes to stoked out skiers and riders with exceeded expectations and a longing to come back.

Sustainable Design and Construction

This criterion includes 14 metrics that encompass sustainable design and construction practices as well as compliance with local zoning and legislative requirements, traditional land use rights and protected heritage sites, in addition to international standards for minimizing environmental and social impacts from development. If the initial development or renovation of the property is LEED Certified at any level, then consult the LEED Certified report to cross-reference compliance for these credits.

Communication Strategy

In order to engage all stakeholders and properly inform them of the operation’s sustainability initiatives and goals, management must create and utilize a comprehensive communications strategy. This document should outline passive and active methods for communicating the operations performance as organized by waste management, energy conservation, water conservation, environmental conservation, cultural sustainability and economic sustainability. All stakeholders need to be identified and addressed in this strategy including the local community, employees, and guests so that they understand why the operation’s initiatives are significant and how they can positively contribute to these efforts. Ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page in terms of the ski area’s sustainability initiatives results in consistent and accurate messaging across all mediums and audiences, which prevents one of the most detrimental impacts to a brand’s reputation—greenwashing. Mitigating this risk will increase credibility, exposure, and attendance as an authentic, sustainable ski area.

Skilled Guide/Skipper/Instructor

Skiers and snowboarders come for the epic terrain so they can go home stoked with epic stories to tell their friends and family and talk about how they can’t wait to get back on the hill. Their experience on the mountain, whether they’re beginners or experts, depends on the operation’s ski school, ski patrol, and backcountry guides (if applicable) ability to cater these experiences based on the individual’s needs, skill level, and conditions. Guides need to understand and explain to guests the idiosyncrasies of each trail or backcountry zone, safety hazards, and strategies for avoiding injury. Critical to keeping the stoke alive is explaining and enforcing proper mountain etiquette for safety and reduction of perception of crowding. This criterion also includes metrics related to safety and medical skills required of the guide, as well as knowledge of alpine ecosystems for best practice compliance.

Safety

Skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous and ski areas are often located in high alpine environments that are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and natural disasters—skiers and riders want assurance that the operation has taken every possible measure to guarantee their safety in any situation. While local legislation typically addresses most health and safety standards for ski areas, STOKE enforces these universal and ski-specific health and safety standards in case local legislation is not as comprehensive with its requirements. Management must provide documentation for medical emergency and evacuation preparedness and planning, earthquake and avalanche evacuation planning, as well as evidence of regular staff training related to the operation’s safety procedures. Terrain parks should be creative and promote responsible progression from a highly trained park and grooming crew, but the parks need to be clearly marked off and designated by skill level.

Social and Economic Impacts Management
Community Development

Ski areas should share the stoke of sustainability beyond their mountain and contribute to the enhancement of local community development projects in line with community priorities. In addition to supporting established programs, the operation should take advantage of opportunities where new initiatives can be implemented via education, training, or in-kind support. Management needs to provide evidence of their ongoing support for the local community that may include complementary businesses, education, health, sanitation, arts, culture, and sports.

Local Employment

Keeping jobs local engenders community involvement and integration with the operation’s sustainability goals and contributes to low staff turnover rates. An operation’s level of compliance with this metric depends on the proportion of local staff—local is defined as those whose primary residence is within 48km/30mi of the operation. Best practice operations will provide internal and external training programs with a view to employing locals in management positions. This will further strengthen community ties, goodwill, and will foster long-term stability.

Local Purchasing

Support local’ doesn’t end with your employment choices—it trickles through your entire supply chain. Circulating your business’ dollars in the local economy has numerous benefits including more wealth being distributed amongst the community, providing more jobs, reduced carbon footprint from shorter transportation of goods and services, and a richer visitor experience.

Support Local Entrepreneurs

Beyond the slopes, there are a variety of opportunities for you to expose your guests to local businesses who offer goods and services that reflect the local environment and culture. Collaborating with local entrepreneurs in such a way that these experiences (e.g. backcountry tours, wildlife hikes, events) are integrated into the skiing experience increases satisfaction and repeat visitation.

Exploitation

We know that skiers and snowboarders would never align their business with child labor or slavery, but the awful truth is that someone in your supply chain may indirectly or directly support such acts of exploitation. There are many factors that influence how and why this underground industry still exists, but the ski industry can do its part to help eliminate it on a global scale. Beyond implementing an internal policy against commercial exploitation for STOKE compliance, best practices dictate communicating this policy with your secondary and tertiary suppliers and requiring them to sign an agreement that they are in compliance with international labor laws. Such supply chain analysis, communication, and regulation is a long-term initiative. STOKE members have access to materials that make implementing this type of initiative smooth and effective.

Equitable Hiring

Contributing to the greater good in society starts with how your business strengthens personal and economic growth in neighboring communities. Equal employment opportunity is fundamental to quality of life for future generations. Although most labor laws address these issues, the problem still exists in many developing nations where remote alpine communities are more vulnerable. Therefore at the minimum compliance level, the business must not discriminate along gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, or disability lines in its hiring policy. Equitable hiring also extends to management positions to further minimize income gaps between different gender and ethnic groups in society.

Employee Protection

You want your staff to be stoked, right? Well, beyond the obvious of treating your employees humanely and fairly as any fellow skier or snowboarder would do, the business must provide above minimum wages in most positions with benefits. Paying above minimum wage with benefits fosters stable working relationships, increases worker productivity, lowers your staff turnover rate, and reduces costly recruitment and training of new staff. These best practices also contribute to healthy mountain communities and economies.

Basic Services

Unfortunately, epic skiing destinations can be overrun by unregulated tourism growth with no consideration for local populations. This often leads to the degradation of basic services such as water, power, sanitation, transport, education, affordable housing, and health services to surrounding communities. It is imperative that ski areas do not compromise any of these basic services, and additionally, sustainable and best practice operations will demonstrate how they have enhanced local access to basic services through their own initiatives and through their support for relevant third party programs.

Cultural Heritage Impacts Management
Code of Conduct

Nobody likes being dropped in on without any warning. The same goes for local cultures in mountain communities. In order to minimize visitor impact and maximize enjoyment, it is important to maintain open lines of communications with local communities and community leaders to develop guidelines or a code of conduct for tourist visits to culturally or historically sensitive sites or events on, and around the mountain, so they know how to behave respectfully both verbally and nonverbally within the specific cultural context. Operations should also be cognizant of potential physical damage to important cultural sites through excessive tourist visitation. These practices will lead to an enhanced appreciation of the destination and contribute to community pride in their heritage.

Historical Artifacts

STOKE aims to celebrate and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of each skiing destination. In some destinations, important cultural artifacts find their way onto the black market and are purchased by tourists looking for that awesome authentic souvenir—cool keepsakes, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of cultural heritage. Most destinations have laws protecting these kinds of indigenous or geological artifacts, but enforcement is often lax and open to ‘reinterpretation for a fee’ in developing nations while developed countries still have a hard time tracking this type of illegal trade. Operations need to do their part to ensure that important historical and archaeological artifacts are not sold, traded, or displayed, except as permitted by law, and should implement a policy to this effect with communication to staff and if necessary, guests.

Protection of Sites

Sacred cultural, historical, and archaeological sites provide unique characteristics to each ski area by framing the history and culture that defines the region. Regulated visitation to these sites with monitored preservation and enhancement programs ensures that these rich cultural experiences will be enjoyed by your visitors and local communities for generations to come.

Interpretation

Vertical feet, the number of lifts, and average annual snowfall are typically what we look for in a ski area, but the terrain should not be your only focus. Your visitors can get just as stoked on the culture, heritage, and environment that will keep them coming back for more than fresh turns. Providing passive as well as active interpretation of the local flora and fauna, culture, history, and sustainability initiatives enhance the stoke and increase your percentage of return clientele.

Incorporation of Culture

Without some expression of local culture in your ski area, it’s just another trail, lift, or village that skiers and snowboarders can check off their bucket list. Incorporating elements of local culture helps to ensure that guests are ‘grounded’ in the unique experience of a particular ski area while also giving local communities a sense of pride in their culture and an outlet for the preservation and conservation of cultural practices. It is important that operations maintain communications with local stakeholders to ensure interpretations of culture are accurate and respectful. Ski areas should incorporate elements of local culture and heritage into its operations (e.g. activities, uniforms, staff/guest interactions), design (e.g. architecture), decoration (e.g. art), food, or shops; while respecting the intellectual property rights of local communities.

Environmental Impacts Management
Purchasing Policy & Consumable Goods

The way that ski areas purchase the ‘stuff’ they need to operate can be a powerful tool for encouraging and supporting locally produced sustainable goods and services while reducing wasteful byproducts. You can have your cake and eat it if you develop a purchasing policy that gives preference to suppliers who share your stoke on sustainability. Your policy should favor locally produced, environmentally friendly products (certified where possible) for building materials, capital goods, food, and consumables. The purchasing policy should avoid over-packaged, single use, and disposable goods in favor of environmentally friendly products: reusable, returnable, and recycled. Best practice operations will avoid single-use plastics altogether. Where unsustainable product purchases are unavoidable, they should be monitored and measured so incremental reductions can be made.

Energy Consumption

Energy use for a ski area is inevitable, and while this sector of your business can be one the most detrimental impacts to the environment (and your bottom line), STOKE believes this can be one of your greatest opportunities to mitigate your impact and reap tremendous operational savings at the same time. STOKE Snow Members achieve this by: measuring and setting reduction goals for their energy use; informing guests on the importance of energy reduction and engaging them in reduction practices; training their staff on energy efficiency measures, frequent preventative maintenance on equipment, and providing incentives for staff to devise their own new initiatives; and identifying opportunities for renewable energy use as well as reduced GHG emissions.

Water Consumption

Climate change is anticipated to make water security issues and low snowpacks even more profound. In addition to the fragility of the resource going forward, water also comes with a cost in terms of the infrastructure to contain and move it, the power required to heat, cool, and pump it, and the resources needed to treat it and make it safe to release back into the environment without pollution. For these reasons, water use should be minimized wherever possible, even if your ski area is fortunate enough to have an abundance water source locally. Operations should measure and monitor water consumption, water sources should be indicated and monitored (especially those used for snowmaking), and a broad range of measures to decrease overall consumption should be adopted.

Reducing Pollution

Please select the sub-metrics below.

Emissions Management

Climate change threatens our entire way of life, but ski areas and mountain communities are one of the many canaries in the coal mine who will feel the impacts first, which is why STOKE members measure their greenhouse gas emissions and take every effort to reduce their footprint. In order to achieve best practice, all GHG sources must be measured with goals and implementation strategies to reduce these emissions. Offsetting emissions can be an effective intermediary solution while your operation strives to be a zero emissions business. However, the legitimacy of offset programs is questionable considering some are unregulated or unquantifiable in their carbon sequestration efforts. Therefore, it is best to partner with certified or local programs that you can monitor. Ski areas who support local, national, or international climate policy reform also earn best practice. Ultimately, the goal is to foster energy independence from imported fossil fuels while reducing operational costs.

Alternative Transportation

Getting up to the mountain is inherently very carbon intensive in most skiing destinations around the world. Some countries have better infrastructure for public transit, but others require the ski area to develop its own alternative transportation programs or incentives with local governments and business partners. STOKE expects all ski areas to create a comprehensive shuttle and carpool system to mitigate transportation impacts from visitors and employees. These programs should include incentives for staff and visitors to carpool or take mass transit to and from the ski area such as lift ticket discounts, priority parking, or free/reduced parking. Best practice calls for priority parking designated to low emissions vehicles or electric vehicles and partnerships with third party shuttle providers who use CNG, hybrid, biodiesel, or other alternative fuel systems to shuttle guests and staff to and from the ski area to reduce the need for single-passenger vehicles and large parking lots. All emissions savings from these initiatives should be recorded and released to the public to increase ridership.

Wastewater Treatment

Proper wastewater treatment is a no-brainer—don’t dump on your pristine alpine environment. Subpar treatment systems fail due to mechanical issues or severe weather events and can result in contaminated watersheds not only your visitor’s alpine experience but neighboring communities as well as alpine ecosystems. In addition to it being the humane thing to do, effective wastewater treatment systems can include greywater recycling for irrigation, which decreases your operation’s water use and sewage treatment expenses while also irrigating revegetation or slope stabilization efforts if striving for best practices.

Waste Management

One of the fundamentals of a sustainability management system is a solid waste management plan comprised of reduce, reuse, and recycle initiatives with quantitative goals to measure and minimize waste that is not reused or recycled. Minimizing your operation’s solid waste stream mitigates land degradation impacts and reduces GHG emissions associated with landfill waste. Your purchasing practices dictate how sustainable your operation is in terms of waste management and efforts should be made to ensure you are engaging the most sustainable supply chain possible. Ideally, the lifecycle of all products that pass through the ski area should be considered from a cradle to cradle perspective (as opposed to cradle to grave). This involves considering the product’s extraction (raw materials), manufacturing, distribution, use, and reuse or recycling (as opposed to disposal).

Ticketing

How a ski area distributes lift tickets and season passes can have large impacts on their waste stream as well as their guests’ perceptions of the ski area’s sustainability initiatives. At a base level, online ticketing should be available with discounted lift tickets offered to guests who use public transportation or carpool. Going above the minimum compliance requirements calls for reusable lift tickets and season passes that are made from recycled plastic or other alternative material. Guests are given the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions from driving to the resort by purchasing a REC or carbon credit with their lift ticket. Best practice operations use RFIP gates at main ski lifts to efficiently organize lift lines and record guests' usage stats online while also displaying the ski area’s environmental performance across all sectors.

Ski and Snowboard Rentals

Skiing and snowboarding bring you such intimate experiences in nature, but the nasty chemicals we ride on can be a real stoke-kill. Leverage your ski school and rental shop as a way to inform your staff and patrons about alternative ski and snowboard manufacturing materials that don’t end up as intractable toxic waste like traditional snow planks. There are now a plethora of alternatives such as reforestation certified wood cores and stringers as well as renewable or recycled materials with toxin-free resins and glues (low VOC). Broken boards or old boards being phased out should be donated or recycled through local partners.

Snowmobiles

While snowmobiles are imperative to operations (and can save lives for ski patrol), until electric snowmobiles become viable, the best we can do here is require ski areas to transition their whole fleet to 4-stroke as opposed to 2-stroke snowmobiles which are far less efficient and have higher emissions (and noise pollution). Compliance increases as the ski area’s fleet moves towards 100% four-stroke.

Snowcats

After the lifts stop spinning, the grooming crews go to work. While you’re resting and dreaming about your epic day on the hill and what you want to explore the next day, snowcat operators are hard at work making sure you wake up to fresh corduroy, safe trail mergers, fun terrain park features, and ample snow coverage. Unfortunately, snowcats are inherently very impactful on the environment, but new GPS technologies are increasing efficiency, spill kits and environmentally friendly hydraulic fluids mitigate contamination risks, biodiesel has proven to be viable at ski areas in sub-zero temperatures, and hybrid powertrains are marking their way onto the market. STOKE is pushing the market to reduce the impacts from their grooming fleets one step at a time.

Snowguns

While the irony of using water and energy intensive machines to produce artificial snow due to impacts on snow levels from climate change may be too much to bear, it is a necessary evil for some ski areas to be able to sustain economically until they can transition to year-round operations to account for drought years. That said, there are highly efficient snowmaking systems available now that use far less energy so we do encourage the replacement of old and/or energy inefficient snowmaking guns with automated systems that minimize the use of compressed air (e.g. newer 3 stage centrifugal compressors and mounting guns on towers) and that take advantage of real-time controls, sensors, and monitoring systems to optimize the system. Next in consideration is the water source, in which case, dedicated on-mountain reservoirs receive compliance.

Harmful Substances

Your ski area is in a beautiful setting amongst fragile alpine environments. It’s really important that the use of environmentally harmful substances and those harmful to human health are minimized, or even better, substituted, by innocuous products. Through evaporation, leaks, run-off and overuse, toxic materials like pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, paints, cleaning materials, etc., can contaminate the local environment and impact plants, animals, and community water supplies. If you can’t access safe alternatives, it’s important to follow proper storage, handling, and use procedures to minimize accidental contamination of the environment potentially compromising the mountain your guests access.

Other Pollutants

Beyond the pollutants identified in previous metrics, there are other impacts that most operations do not consider that are just as detrimental, but usually easier to remedy. Most notably for ski destinations, is light pollution, sedimentation or eutrophication of nearby waterways, and noise pollution for local wildlife. Your operation must implement practices to reduce pollution from noise, light, runoff, erosion, as well as air and soil contaminants. Frequent audits of your property are necessary to identify these other pollutant sources and in turn, these assessments can equip your staff with the tools necessary to come up with creative solutions organically.

Conserving Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Landscapes

Please select the sub-metrics below.

Wildlife Species

This criterion is straight and simple. Any wildlife species or resources that are harvested from the wild, or consumed, displayed, sold, or traded; must be done in a regulated way that ensures that their utilization is sustainable. Regulations vary across cultures, forests, governments etc. but the ski area must adhere to regional and international standards.

Wildlife in Captivity

Rarely do ski areas maintain wildlife in captivity, but we have seen instances where, for example, summer ops crews (or even winter) have had to rescue injured wildlife, rope them off, or even secure them at the lodge while they wait for the proper authorities to handle the situation. This should only be attempted if your staff have training in these interactions and as part of a legitimate and regulated conservation program (reach out to a local conservation agency and make it legit!). These rescue activities must be administered by those authorized and suitably equipped to house and care for wildlife as mandated by local regulations and international conservation standards.

Landscaping

In line with designing your operation’s buildings with locally appropriate architecture and culturally appropriate decor, it’s not good practice to use exotic plant species from the other side of the world for landscaping or revegetation efforts. The use of native flora in landscaping contributes to compliance with other criteria because these species are adapted to the local environment, which means they require less water and fewer chemicals to thrive. It is also required for your operation to actively prevent and remove any invasive species that threaten local ecosystems.

Biodiversity Conservation

By virtue of being located in alpine environments, ski destinations are located in some of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. These areas enhance your operation’s appeal to skiers and snowboards, which is another reason why you should support the protection and enhancement of these natural landscapes. Your operation must contribute to the support of biodiversity conservation through either financial means, or to achieve best practice, through active participation with staff and guests.

Interactions with Wildlife

Watching bears get their heads stuck in miscellaneous trash bins may be quality content for a deranged person’s Facebook feed, but these types of interactions must be mitigated with passive (e.g. signage) and active (e.g. wildlife tour) interpretation by management and staff along with wildlife proof dumpsters and other receptacles. You must inform your guests about all of the local wildlife they may encounter to prevent dangerous or harmful interactions for both your guests and the wildlife. Staff training is necessary so they know how to educate visitors and handle wildlife experiences during properly regulated activities for summer operations. Best practice dictates that trails and facilities are designed to link gladed skiing areas and ungladed areas to maintain blocks of forested corridors and intertrail islands to reduce fragmentation.

Snowmaking

This criterion differs from 4.4.9 Snowguns in that we evaluate the water source for snowmaking instead of the technology. Snowmaking operations must be conducted in a manner that protects minimum stream flows and is sensitive to fish and wildlife resources. Ideally, water sourced for snowmaking is from a multi-use reservoir and/or from snowmaking storage ponds that store water for use during times of low stream flows to help protect aquatic habitats. All water sources for snowmaking must be tested regularly for water quality concerns.

Ski Terrain Expansion

Ski areas sometimes include expansion as part of their master plan and we understand that sometimes there is a need to offer more terrain or services for a growing market as long as all of the right steps have been taken to ensure responsible growth. Therefore, we examine whether the proposed (or existing) expansion is on undisturbed land adjacent to the existing ski area and whether it is under 300, 150, or 75 skiable acres. Through careful review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and any other pertinent documentation or economic analyses related to the expansion, it must be clear that the ski area engaged all stakeholders during the planning process and has/is proceeding with best practices identified in the EIS and/or SEIS while consulting with all possible environmental conservation professionals and third party NGO's to guide this development in mitigating impacts as much as possible and enhancing socioeconomic benefits to the fullest degree. Clearcutting through old growth forests disqualifies compliance regardless of the above.

Real Estate

Real estate developments by the ski area are compliant if they follow sustainable development principles, provide affordable housing for staff, and ultimately if the demand for housing or commercial space is warranted after reviewing economic analyses and demographics data. All EIS and/or SEIS documentation will be reviewed by the independent evaluator and any third party consulting or organizations that the ski area engaged for various environmental or socio-economic impact reports will be analyzed as well. Lastly, If at least 10% of the proposed residential development includes low-income housing or employee housing, and local entrepreneurs are granted first access to commercial spaces, then base compliance is awarded. If at least 30% of the proposed residential development includes low-income housing or employee housing and zoning is for mixed residential and commercial with a public transportation master plan, then increased compliance is awarded. Best practice also considers if all buildings are LEED Certified or alternatively recognized for their sound environmental design and construction practices.

Roads

Safe access to ski areas sometimes requires the construction of roads if public transit infrastructure is not developed (unlike in the European Alps). If the ski area is proposing, has initiated, or completed road construction on undisturbed land to enhance access to the ski area in response to public safety concerns and public transportation needs, then evidence of this demand must be presented to the evaluator along with the environmental impact reports. In most cases, though, the road has multiple uses and is maintained by local transit authorities. In which case, the ski area still has a responsibility to actively monitor road conditions in conjunction with the local transportation municipality to maintain safe driving conditions, set up snow tire/chain checkpoints, and update visitors on road conditions. For increased compliance, management must implement anti-erosion techniques with native vegetation restoration, catchment basins, and watershed restoration projects while staff regularly pick up trash on the roads. Best practice compliance requires permeable surfaces and/or bioswale ditches on the sides of the road to mitigate runoff pollution and natural bridges have been constructed for wildlife crossings over roadways where deemed necessary by the proper authorities.

Parking Lots

While we encourage the ski areas to increase alternative transportation efforts to reduce the need for increased parking lot space, sometimes there is still a need for parking expansion to safely enhance access to the ski area in response to a steady trend in rising number of skier visits in recent years, or as deemed necessary by economic projection models. All EIS and/or SEIS documents related to the development will be reviewed and evidence of mitigation plans required from the EIS process must be presented to the evaluator. For new or existing parking lots, we encourage the use of permeable surfaces to mitigate runoff pollution, dedicated EV charging stations and priority parking for low emissions vehicles and carpool drivers. Best practice requires that snowmelt from the parking lot is gathered in catchment basins for snowmaking and/or bioswales have been implemented in high runoff zones to mitigate pollution. Lastly, parking lot banks have been, or are undergoing soil restoration or erosion mitigation projects with native vegetation.

Alpine Recreational Resource Conservation

Regardless of whether your ski area operates year-round, protecting the alpine environment even after the lifts stop turning is applicable to any ski area. From the most basic level, staff should conduct daily mountain cleanups during the winter and guests should be encouraged to keep the mountain trash-free with interpretation and collection centers located in high-traffic areas on the mountain. Summer mountain ops should do a sweep of the entire mountain once the snow melts and perform routine maintenance on slopes for runoff management with water bars, trimming, and other erosion control practices. Where appropriate, stream and river water quality tests are conducted near or on the ski area in the summer by a qualified organization and test results are released publicly. Best practice calls for an extensive watershed management plan with wildlife habitat restoration projects and public reporting on the efficacy of these projects.