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  • Writer's pictureStephen Connelly

Sustainable Business Development .. what does that mean?

In this post I’d like to explore why the Zip Wire is not only a good commercial choice for Kinlochleven and the surrounding area, but also an ethically and environmentally sound choice for the development of a “Sustainable Business” in the area, and promoting Sustainable Tourism in the area too.

Firstly lets look at what we mean by a Sustainable Business (SB). Generally now days SB’s are expected to operate a Triple Bottom Line. This is actually an accounting framework for businesses whereby they monitor their performance against three criteria, Social Impact (People), Environmental impact (Planet) and Financial (Profit).

Being an SB means that you measure your impact in all of these areas, minimising negative impacts wherever possible (more efficient equipment or new technology for instance) and maximise the positive impacts you have (staff training, habitat improvement). It absolutely does not mean that you don’t start a business or stop trading. This is a real world coping strategy designed to ensure that we can all carry on living a rewarding and enjoyable life while minimising and/or mitigating the impact we have on both the environment and communities we live in.

So lets look at the Zip Wire from a triple bottom line (People, Planet, Profit) perspective.

People (Staff) - The Zip Wire will provide 35 full-time jobs in a rural village. All of those jobs will pay over Scottish Living Wage (and some of them substantially over). Male and female, young and old staff will all be paid the same rates for the same or equivalent jobs (unlike in many other industries). Every full-time member of staff will have an annual training budget and every member of staff will be encouraged to volunteer for local environmental or community projects during the low tourist season.

Let’s also look at some of the secondary benefits of the Zip Wires being set up in Kinlochleven. If you currently work in Fort William, working in the village will save you about 90 minutes of commuting time each day. Over a month that is about 33 hours you won’t spend in your car (or on the bus) and will be able to spend with your family, walking the dog or just pursuing your favourite hobby, winner there I think!

You would also save about 100 litres of petrol. That’s over a £120 in your pocket (winner again I think) and 239Kg’s of CO2 saved (every little helps). If you equate that to all the staff at the Zip Wire then over 100Tons of CO2 would be saved annually (winner again I think).

People (Community) - Lets take this weekend as an example. On Friday I heard that the Skyline events would bring over 1500 people in to the village and surrounding mountains. The Skyline events have set up in the middle of the village with a reception area, PA systems (which can be heard well over 500 meters away), supporters shouting and ringing cow bells, used the same area we intend to for parking (in fact they’ve very nearly filled the whole of the old smelter site).

Why have I brought this up under community I hear you ask, well lets looks a some of the accusations brought by the Zip Wire Opposition Group.

It’s been claimed that the noise of the Zip Wire will disturb village life and create an unacceptable environment for people with mental health issues. The Zip Wire isn’t installing a PA system in the village, the equipment has been designed to be almost imperceptible from 40m away and other venues have shown that very few people using the Zip Wire will be shouting while they go down it. Even on their own opposition site prominent members have posted how they have spent an enjoyable evening talking to these many visitors.

I don’t believe anyone has been unduly hampered by the extra traffic and if anything this weekend has shown what an excellent parking venue the old smelter site is. It will be interesting to see the figures after the event to see if there has been a huge spike in the number of traffic accidents in the village and surrounds due to the influx of 7 times the number of people we are predicting (and with hundreds of people running across roads etc.

With all these extra people in the village (and the mobile fast food outlets) there doesn’t seem to be the vast mountains of waste that has been predicted that the Zip Wire customers would bring. Indeed the proposed cafe’ at the Zip Wire reception area will not be selling any takeaway food so (plates, cups and glasses are far more environmentally and commercially robust, multiple use, reduced waste) so less waste will be produced than has been this weekend. I’ve also heard it said that the Zip Wire will generate huge amounts of theme park style waste. I must admit I’ve only been to a few theme parks and every one of them has been pristine with well- kept areas and plenty of bins provided (very few of which will have been marked on the plans submitted for their planning application I expect).

What will the Zip Wire be doing for the community if it won’t be doing all of the above? We’ve already stated that we will be donating 1% of turnover to the village for charitable use and the improvement of the community and environment. Above we have stated that staff will be able to support community and environmental projects while on full pay (during the low season). By increasing the number of visitors to the village we will hopefully be making it more viable for other businesses to open in the village to take advantage of the increased footfall.

Overall I think it could be said that the above can be seen as a positive output under the people part of the triple bottom line.

Planet - Firstly being a Sustainable Business does not mean having no environmental impact. It does mean reducing your impact where possible and when you do have an adverse impact mitigating that where possible. So lets look at the impact of the Zip Wire on the environment and some of the mitigation that we will be carrying out. Firstly the Old Smelter site (brown field) is being used for the very thing it is being used for this weekend, Parking. The area has lain derelict for years at heart of the village. The entrance will be re-worked to make this safer for all users of the area. This area has been identified for redevelopment and its partial use as a car park for the Zip Wire will not stop any future events or development.

Next the Pier Site. Again a brown field area, again derelict with fly tipping common in the past. The railings designed to stop people falling into the water, allowed to fall in to disrepair and the road suffering the ravages of time. In siting the reception at the pier we will be repairing and renovating this area, making it more pleasant for all who do and will use the pier and surrounding paths. There is no intention of restricting access in fact access will get better as the road will be repaired and maintained. Yes there will be more vehicles using that road but there is plenty of room for all users of the area.

So the potentially contentious bits, the launch and landing zones. Yes these are planned for previously undeveloped areas. However as said above it is not expected that an SB has no environmental impact. The footprint of all of these sites has been kept minimal. This has lead to some of the paths being designed so that unaided disabled access would not be as easy as we would like. However, by providing assistance to disabled users of the Zip Wire, new path construction can be kept to a minimum. We believe that sacrificing a little independence while taking part in an adventure activity is a small price to pay to minimise the environmental impact. We will be using the very same strategy used at many National Trust venues and even using the same type of assisted wheelchair they use. I think most of us would agree this to be acceptable.

How else could thousands of people access the mountains, see views that presently can only be seen by outdoor enthusiasts and cause virtually no damage to the mountain side. Nobody will cause extra erosion of fragile hill paths or soil compaction. Gravity provides the energy for the rides and the hillside is not damaged by overhead riders passing. Yes, riders are transported up to the launch points by busses but lets look at this phase of the ride. The roads and tracks that will be used are already there (no new construction just maintenance).

If we assume that the busses as a worst case scenario are run on ordinary diesel (and we’ve already stated that we will be using biofuel). We can offset the CO2 produced by the busses by working with the estate and planting trees directly on the estate. Over the last 18 months the estate has planted over 100,000 trees including 2000 iconic Scots Pine and this is an on-going process.

Not only does this offset our Carbon Footprint (and within the calculation we’ll include our total power usage) we will be helping to create/sustain further employment and improve/regenerate the local environment.

We will also be offering our customers the opportunity to offset the CO2 generated by their journey here (another win-win I think).

As to displacement of protected species, again this is very unlikely as no trees at the launch site are planned to be removed. Over the past year there have been trucks, building plant and machinery passing within 50m of the launch site. There are electricity pylons within 40m and a regularly visited telephone mast in the area. There is even a wooden bench to allow walkers to stop and rest. So, any wildlife that was likely to be scared off has probably already gone (and to be honest I doubt any have as wild animals seem eminently able to adapt to human presence).

As many of you know, disturbing any protected species is illegal so we really have already checked (and will check again before we start construction) that there are no resident protected species.

Down at the loch side, yes Otters are spotted in the loch from time to time. However, Otter spraint (poo) to mark their territory not necessarily resting spots or holts (which are protected). Again it is illegal to disturb Otters intentionally so guess what, we’ve checked to ensure we were planning a legal project.

It’s unlikely that the operation of the Zip Wire or the landing craft that will facilitate rider transfers (for both able bodies and those with restricted mobility) will overly worry the Otters as they are used to boats in the loch and people at the old pier site.

Between the environmental regeneration and improvement projects the estate (our landlords) are carrying out and those projects we will partner in, overall the future is looking bright for local wildlife. So not bleak as some would have you think.

By re-use of brownfield sites, minimal built footprint, carbon footprint offset, environmental regeneration and improvement again I believe win for wildlife, the community and a sustainable company.

Profit - so why is profit part of the triple bottom line and what has profit got to do with sustainability? I’m sure everyone reading this article accepts that unless you are a charity every SB needs to make money. To be able to generate 35+ jobs, contribute funds and manpower to the village we have had to find investors who do, quite rightly, expect a return on their investment. To get to the point where we are not only self sustaining but profitable we only need a tiny fraction of the visitors and tourist who are already in the area. Hopefully we’ll be profitable very quickly enabling us to improve upon the already better than many existing companies people and planet credentials.

This has been a fairly large post and if you are still reading well done! As with any project this size there is still plenty of detail not included here (I’m sure there will be questions that come out of this post). We’re still working with the planning case officer and all is quietly moving forward behind the scenes. The planning process is doing exactly what it is supposed to, looking at all the aspects of the project and assessing the overall benefit. I’ll update as things progress.

Lastly a special thanks to the local lady I met in Fort William last week who started the conversation with “ your the Zip Wire Guy aren’t you?” I wondered what’s coming next, especially after some of the things that have been said online lately. She then said “Good luck, I hope it all goes well its exactly the sort of thing we need here”. Thanks very much as it reminded me just how much support the project has in the local area.

Thanks for sticking with us,


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