Interview with Simon Birkenhead Chief Executive Officer of International Volunteer HQ, New Zealand
We interviewed Simon Birkenhead, Chief Executive Officer of International Volunteer HQ, a volunteer travel provider based in New Zealand that aims to create regenerative travel experiences.
How have you gone about measuring your carbon footprint across your organisation and the experiences you offer?
For our head office business operations in New Zealand, we track every employee's method of commuting to the office on a daily basis, in addition to our energy usage. We already have solar panels for most of our electricity and we use a renewable energy supplier for any excess electricity required. We also record every employee's domestic and international business travel so that we may calculate the total miles travelled each year. At the end of the year we calculate our carbon impact (with independent verification of our calculations by Ekos), and purchase carbon credits so we may be certified by Ekos as Zero Carbon Business Operations.
How important do you think it is to involve customers (in IVHQ’s case the volunteers) in your climate action plan and how are you doing this? As the world's largest volunteer travel specialist, IVHQ's mission is to enable every volunteer to leave the world in a better shape than they found it. We were one of the first companies in New Zealand to become a Certified B Corporation (back in 2015) and minimising the negative impact of our operations and our volunteers on the planet is an important goal for us. We offer dozens of volunteer projects around the world that are specifically focused on climate action to allow our volunteers to support this plan directly. However, as a travel company the biggest impact we have on the planet are our volunteers' flights, and therefore we felt it was important for us to encourage our volunteers to take ownership of this negative consequence through the voluntary purchase of carbon offsets. Our goal is to motivate 100% of our volunteers to do this by 2025.
One of your commitments is to continue to partner only with small, local organisations in the delivery of your volunteering services, how does this support your climate goals?
Smaller companies generally have lower emissions than larger organisations because their offices are smaller and they require less infrastructure to operate. Many of our partner organisations don't have an office at all. Therefore, we support organisations that have a smaller impact on our planet and avoid working with larger organisations that have a higher pollution profile.
Do you have any advice for tour operators, particularly those starting out on their climate action planning journey?
Give people a reason why they should care about the carbon impact of their travel. If you show how passionate you are about climate action and involve your customers in your mission, you can bring them on your journey and create a feeling of feeling of responsibility so that it is more difficult for them to choose not to offset activities like their flights.