05 Apr Business Ethics – How We Do Things Around Here
WHAT, WHY …. But Perhaps Most Important is the “HOW”
Maybe the most fundamental question when starting a business is: what product or service will you offer? At Tundra Travels we offer authentic, badass, primarily human-powered, guided adventures in Alaska’s wild spaces.
I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners also think nearly as much about the why. Why are you starting a business – to create jobs? To build personal wealth? To fill a need? To share something you love with the consuming public? Our ‘why’ is simple: we love exploring Alaska’s wild places, we want to protect them and we think that sharing immersive backcountry experiences can convince other folks of their value as well.
But as I started this business, I realized the how was just as important to me as the what and the why. Every step of the way in building this business we’ve had to make choices about the types of trips we offer, the other businesses we support when we buy goods and services, how many trips we’ll offer (aka – how busy do I want to be? 🤔) and if/how we’d work to make our trips as low impact as possible on the places we love. Some of these decisions took a lot of soul searching, but others were pretty easy. Because, how I run this business matters and if I can’t run a successful business in line with my values, then I’d rather not do it at all.
One of my favorite parts of running this business is our commitment to supporting other local, small businesses. When I needed to build this website, I reached out to OTC Web Design. They’re based in Girdwood, Alaska and I walk past the owner’s house on my morning dog walks in the winter. Likewise, when it came time to design a logo we hired Meg Smith. She’s a local artist, I love her art, and it makes me happy that a neighbor designed our logo. The list goes on: last summer we greeted guests in the morning with coffee from Chugach Mountain Roasters, we served meals from Heather’s Choice, and we stayed at the warm and hospitable Arctic Getaway Bed and Breakfast. Were there cheaper options for most of these goods or services? Of course. But that’s not the point. All of these businesses are owned and operated by local folks and it feels good to be supporting other small businesses in our small way.
Another important piece of how we run this business is the work we do to make our trips as low impact as possible. Some things are super simple, like our fully paperless reservation system, because shit it is 2022 and who needs to be dealing with paper? Or our mostly vegetarian menu, because it is super tasty and the data shows that a primarily vegetarian diet is demonstrably better for the planet. Choosing to fly less – or not at all – for our trips was also an easy choice, it reduces our overall emissions and it lowers the cost of our trips, making them accessible to folks from a slightly wider socioeconomic range. When we do fly, we offset our emissions, which was a more complicated decision. Carbon offsets are not perfect, but my hope is that they are better than doing nothing at all.
The most fun part of this business is obviously the time spent outside with cool people in amazing places. But a close second, and a foundational aspect of how we do things, is our nonprofit partner program. Every trip makes a meaningful donation to a nonprofit organization working to minimize the impacts of industry and development on Alaska’s wildest places. I’ve built our business plan to include these donations as a mandatory cost of doing business – just like insurance, accounting, or advertising. The way I see it, healthy, intact ecosystems are the very foundation of our trips and it is our responsibility to help protect them. Would we have a higher profit margin if we didn’t make these sizable donations? Sure. But again, how we operate matters more than money, growth or any other capitalistic measure.
I hope as we grow, learn and improve, this business model can serve as a model for regenerative tourism and recreation businesses. We’re aiming to not just do no harm to the places we visit, but also to leave these places, and our communities, better than we found them. If these values resonate with you and our style of wilderness travel is something you’re interested in, we’d love to share a backcountry trip with you! Thanks for being here with us on this adventure! ~Haley