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Director of Sustainability

Dave Butler

Dave Butler’s career epiphany occurred when he first spoke with Hans Gmoser, founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), and its then president and CEO, Mark Kingsbury. At the time, Butler was a senior official with British Columbia's lands administration, overseeing tourism tenures for businesses operating on Crown land. Now he is CMH’s director of sustainability, a position that has evolved over his 14 years there.

Dave Butler - Director of Sustainability, Canadian Mountain Holidays

CMH is an adventure-travel enterprise that provides heli-skiing, heli-hiking and mountaineering experiences far off the beaten path. “I was very impressed with the sincere way in which those men approached the world and their deep commitment to their guests and the places where they operated,” says Butler, who has a forestry degree and once worked as a warden at Banff National Park. Intrigued, he decided to apply his skills to this company with a conscience.

Operating out of Cranbrook, BC, Butler now oversees for CMH the licences it needs for use of Crown lands, park-use permits, forest tenures, and community and government relations. “I liaise with forest companies,” he explains, “because how they do their business can affect our product. A forest company can change the way it logs and get out the wood it needs and actually create better skiing for us. I work with a lot of groups, like snowmobile clubs. If we work well together, we can both be successful. But if we have conflicts, we can have both safety and quality-of-experience problems.

“About 10 or 12 years ago, we began to focus on using the word 'sustainability' more broadly than just the environment. We began to pull things together from the community, environmental and fiscal side of things to make a clearer package for us.”

Butler says that about five years ago the rest of the tourism industry caught up with the sustainable practices philosophy and that it is now “a formal focus for the industry, a rallying point.” Thus, while Butler’s job was fairly unusual when it was created, there are now similar positions opening up throughout the tourism industry.

For those who envision themselves in a position like his, Butler points to post-secondary programs. “I’d start with a good grounding academically from a sustainability perspective,” he says. “There’s lots of good programs in our colleges and universities around BC on how sustainability links with tourism and business. Young people coming out of sustainable business practices programs are certainly going to have a leg up on others who haven’t had that exposure.”

He also recommends courses in human dynamics, such as psychology and dispute resolution. “I’ve always felt that success in this field, to a large degree, depends on one’s ability to work with people. You can come out with lots of technical skills, but if you don’t have a sense of how to work with people you can really struggle in this field.”

Butler’s second course of action would be taking an entry-level position with a tourism company, regardless of size, that is committed to sustainability. “Getting a sense of how a business is run and how sustainability is woven into the DNA of the company is really important.” Volunteering in sustainability-oriented activities is a third way to gain experience. “Many communities are working on sustainability plans, and that’s a heck of an opportunity.”

Providing a breathtaking mountain adventure while preserving the environment is an admirable occupation, but Butler says his job also allows the satisfaction of changing clients’ perspectives. “We have an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of our guests and an opportunity to change the way they look at themselves and the world around them.”  And there are no routine days in the constantly evolving field of sustainability. “There are many days when I smile at the end and say, ‘That was one of the most interesting days I’ve ever had.’”

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