When you get close enough to the community dock at the BC Ferries Buckley Bay terminal on Denman Island, you’ll see a piling with boxes attached to it. You may also notice dark purple birds flipping and diving overhead.
The birds are purple martins, the largest species of North American swallow, and on the piling are nest boxes that were installed by BC Ferries employees back in 2003. Purple martins are a vulnerable species; the employees who installed the boxes wanted to help them out.
Individual efforts like this one have been happening at BC Ferries for decades. The company thought it could do an even better job by putting its existing conservation, sustainability and community-building activities, along with new initiatives, under a single banner called SeaForward.
Corrine Storey, vice-president of customer service at BC Ferries and executive sponsor of SeaForward, says the program embraces efforts employees have been making for years.
“There were so many initiatives,” she says. “We said, ‘We have to wrap our arms around this.’”
— Leslie James, BC Ferries Manager, Environment
CLEARING THE PATH FOR NEW IDEAS
More than 80 BC Ferries employees have stepped up as SeaForward volunteers, and they’re split into teams led by “champions.” When employees have ideas they want to pursue, they can formally request resources, such as time or funding, to move the idea forward.
Storey says employees drive about 80 per cent of ideas. There’s an increased awareness that small efforts yield big results — such as one employee carrying a garbage bag to collect debris on her walk to work on Salt Spring Island, or another initiating the use of owl nest boxes instead of pest-control chemicals at Tsawwassen.
Biologist Leslie James, BC Ferries Manager, Environment, says she’s seen some truly creative solutions proposed by employees. “SeaForward has empowered our employees to work on initiatives that they’re passionate about in their communities and throughout the organization,” James says. “I think that’s been a big part of the success.”
Currently, BC Ferries is focused on giving all employees the opportunity to participate in the program; in the future, the company plans to invite customers to contribute to a variety of environmental and conservation initiatives.
In May 2015, BC Ferries became a certified member of Green Marine, a voluntary environmental certification program for the North American marine industry whose members include ship owners, ports, terminals and shipyards.
Membership in Green Marine helps to formalize the company’s commitment to constantly improve its environmental performance. The SeaForward program is helping BC Ferries to realize this commitment, and it’s already smoothing the path for larger projects.
Currently, BC Ferries is eliminating paper plates company-wide, while expanding a composting and recycling program for the fleet and terminals. Storey says it’s a massive undertaking that requires collaboration between management, employees and SeaForward volunteer teams. “The employees are the ones that work on the ships and at the terminals,” she says. “We want to ensure that the solution meets the needs that they’ll have to deal with on a daily basis.”
COLLABORATING FOR CONSERVATION
James says BC Ferries is also taking unprecedented steps in the conservation of cetaceans (which include whales, dolphins and porpoises). BC Ferries is the first ferry operator in Canada to write a policy/best management practices around cetaceans, and the company is working closely with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO, to monitor whales in the region.
BC Ferries has worked with the DFO to install hydrophones (underwater microphones) to track whale populations in habitats like Tsawwassen and Sturdies Bay. Meanwhile, the fleet is recording real-time whale sightings, and sharing this information with researchers at the DFO. “We’ve been capturing sightings since 1975,” James says. “Now it’s gone fleet-wide.”
The SeaForward program is a year old this summer. If you’re on a BC Ferries vessel, its impact will be apparent in what you don’t see — plastic bags and Styrofoam cups, for example. In the future, when you’re aboard one of the fleet’s vessels powered by natural gas, you won’t notice the smell of diesel.
What you will notice, James says, is the enthusiasm and pride of the crew. “People are happy and excited and they’re talking about it — which is great!”
For Storey, SeaForward is an expression of what have always been the company’s deepest values. “This program is going to be the future of BC Ferries.”