Four Pillars of Sustainability
Here at Arizona Raft Adventures (AzRA), we rely on Grand Canyon, and its side canyons, tributaries, and tribal lands to work and play, which is why we find it so important to protect it. To do so intentionally, we use the four pillars of sustainability as defined by the Global Sustainability Tourism Council to guide our philosophies and operations.
1. Effective Management – How are we implementing and managing sustainable practices across our business?
2. Social and Economic – How are we helping the places where our tourism operates?
3. Cultural – How do we support cultural heritage?
4. Environment- How are we protecting, conserving, educating, and being a net positive steward of the environment and ecosystem in which we operate?
1. EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT
Each year, we focus on how our operations and community presence can be made more sustainable socially, economically, culturally, and environmentally. We do this for our company and at individual levels many of our employees follow similar decisions and principles. We report on these annually to Grand Canyon National Park Service at the end of each year. We realize we are both privileged to do so and responsible to do so, and we understand that we always want to grow and improve our sustainable practices year after year. To manage this:
- We submit an annual audit to the Grand Canyon National Park Service of our environmental practices
- In 2019, we embarked on specific tasks forces and plans for Respect & Inclusion, Leadership & Communication, and Risk Management
- The Respect & Inclusion task force meets twice a month during our off-season (November-March)
- The Leadership & Communication task force meets biannually, or more often as needed
- Our management team meets monthly, reviewing progress of Respect & Inclusion, Leadership & Communication, and Risk Management
- Annually, our employees evaluate themselves and each other in the areas of Care, Competency, Participatory, and Wonder (our Guiding Principles)
- We hire, retain, promote, and terminate employees based on our Guiding Principles and Respect & Inclusion
2. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC
Our goal is to have a positive impact at the local and national level – including with our staff, our community, our region, and with key national issues. Our current efforts include:
- Our Code of Conduct: to preserve this experience for everyone, we ask that guests and staff alike treat each other with dignity, integrity, and respect
- A robust reporting system for harassment and discrimination
- Respect & Inclusion task force within AzRA
- Training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and implicit bias for AzRA staff
- Consistency in messaging across the AzRA family to create safety
- Leading in trainings and various cultural change topics specific to Grand Canyon outfitters
- Attracting, hiring, mentoring, and retaining a more diverse employee base
- Actively taking steps to attract a more diverse clientele with our DEI work as a basis for understanding our next steps
Other Ways We Give Back:
1% for the Planet Membership: Through 1% For The Planet, of which we have been members since 2005, we can put our money where our mouths are and give back to groups doing great work in the sustainability sphere.
AzRA staff are involved in local community organizations as board members for:
- Whale Foundation
- Grand Canyon River Guides – a recreation member of adaptive management working group on the operations of Glen Canyon Dam.
- America Outdoors
- America Outdoors DEI Task Force
- Grand Canyon Equal Access and Inclusion Committee
AzRA will match staff and guest donations up to $100 per person. Some of the organizations supported this way are:
Staff Volunteer Hours
Many of our staff are actively engaged in Citizen Science for the United States Geological Survey Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, and participate in projects like:
- Animal tracking
- Bat species monitoring
- Bug species monitoring
- Water sampling
We respect the area’s ancient history, and current community, both internally with relation to Grand Canyon National Park, and externally in how we share this place we love with those outside of this community, with thoughtfulness and care. We do this by:
- Recognizing and including the Native American culture and history of the Grand Canyon itself and the surrounding region in our interpretation provided on river trips. This includes current, as well as archaeological stories.
- Facilitating intentional decisions on trips stopping at Little Colorado or not, to respect Native Americans’ wishes and interests.
- Respecting the wishes of the Native Americans whose land we recreate in. Specifically, in the era of COVID, the Havasupai Tribe has asked river runners NOT to stop at the Havasu Creek along the confluence of the Colorado River. We wish to honor their request, and foster a respectful relationship, and have made the conscious decision to tell our guides and guests that we will not be stopping there on our trips.
- Maintaining regular contact with the Navajo Nation about stopping on their lands on our way to Lee’s Ferry (where our trips begin), in which we traverse many miles on their land along the way, in order to respect their wishes in how to best support them.
- Annually creating and sending a Land Acknowledgment document to our guests prior to their trip, which explains what Native Tribes call Grand Canyon home to begin advocating prior to the launch of a trip.
- Creating a more detailed Land Acknowledgment specific to our guides to help them provide the best and most up to date interpretation of Grand Canyon, and the tribes represented there.
- Having an active role in the Native Voices program.
- Requiring our guides to submit Continuing Education each year to maintain employment at AzRA, with the Native perspective being a required component.
- Financially supporting guides to attend the Guide Training Seminar annually, which some of their trainings offer Native perspectives, speakers, and cultural elements.
- Being active in the Grand Canyon Equal Access & Inclusion Committee.
- Actively creating and promoting a mentorship program with Grand Canyon Youth.
- Posting on our social media platforms about environmental and cultural issues to help raise awareness to our followers.
- All of our equipment is reusable and we avoid single-use items: dishes, utensils, etc.
- We repair, reuse, upcycle all river gear possible: boats, frames, supplies, etc.
- Recyclables are collected and taken to be recycled in Flagstaff
- Food waste is composted post-trip
AzRA Operations in Flagstaff
- We provide mostly electronic information for guests and staff
- Bike-to-work incentives for employees
- We compost as much as possible
- Donate leftover food and gear to in-town organizations
- Solar Panels are installed on-site
- Green procurement – actively purchasing retail items that are more sustainable, and locally produced purchasing/using sustainably created packaging
Guest & Staff Education
We educate our guests about how to be good stewards to the Grand Canyon, and how this translates to their home environments as well.
Citizen Science Participation
As mentioned earlier, many of our staff are actively engaged in Citizen Science for USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center participating in projects like:
- Animal tracking
- Bat species monitoring
- Bug species monitoring
- Water sampling
Environmental Advocacy Efforts
- We have advocated for blocking uranium mining in the Grand Canyon
- We are active in blocking/opposing the various Escalade Development Projects that arise
- We have been active in restricting overflights to specific corridors over the Grand Canyon
We are Actively Working to Make Grand Canyon A More Diverse & Safe Place
Why This is Important to Us
Immersion in Grand Canyon—for a full week or two, or even more—is such a gift. The views are extraordinary, the wildness of the terrain awe-inspiring, and the adrenaline stimulating. But an adventure through the Canyon becomes so much more than those things. It’s about the simplicity of thinking about heat and cold, how much better dinner tastes after a long day outside, connecting with other people, being away from technology, coming home to the sound of your own voice inside of you, and the convergence of all of these things. We have the privilege of providing raft trips through Grand Canyon, and we want to share it.
Historically, the privilege to travel through Grand Canyon has gone to mostly white, mostly wealthy, originally male, outdoor enthusiasts—those with the money, those who knew about the experience, those for whom and by whom recreation for pure recreation’s sake was crafted, those who set aside these places of wilderness. Often times, this reserving of wilderness meant removing the people who were already living there, indigenous folks like the Havasupai, the Hopi, the Dine, and others. Often times, this reserving of wilderness also meant people of color stewarding the land, initially as slaves and later as employees. The people who labored to create the infrastructure on these landscapes were often people of color, like the famous Hualapai who hiked many miles into the Grand Canyon carrying sections of bridges and pipelines to cross the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch, and to haul water from the North Rim to the South Rim.
AzRA owners’ predecessors came to Grand Canyon in 1965. Alex and Fred both went on their first trips before they could drive. Their children went on trips as soon as the Thevenins thought it was safe to take them.
We have a ton of privilege, and more so in Grand Canyon than anywhere else. We feel it’s our responsibility to invite, to share, and to make safe these trips for people who aren’t white, wealthy, and experienced. And we want to listen deeply to how we can make Grand Canyon continually more inviting for people who haven’t historically been here.
Why Are We Doing this Now?
In the past few years, we as a company have worked really hard at making some internal changes to Grand Canyon rafting as an industry. We have battled against sexual harassment and discrimination, changing the culture of overdrinking, allying more for the Indigenous tribes that call Grand Canyon home, and just in general, focusing on how to make Grand Canyon a safer place to work and recreate for our employees and guests alike.
While there is still much work to do to continue this shift, which evolves daily on what needs to change toxic culture, we wanted to start approaching changes external to Grand Canyon. Not only did we want to see a change in what’s happening IN Grand Canyon, but also WHO is getting to experience Grand Canyon.
We started actively working on DEI in 2016, and in 2019, we started AzRA’s Respect & Inclusion task force. This task force is made up of all different levels of employment at AzRA from management-level to part-time warehouse and seasonal guides. This allows us to have voices from all different areas of AzRA. When we first started working on DEI in general, and later with the task force, we thought we had to do it in three stages, 1) create a safer workplace, 2) mentor more diverse guides, and then 3) invite more diverse clientele. After years of thinking this way, we had a lightbulb moment where we realized we could work on all three of these simultaneously instead of individually.
We realize that this goal in changing Grand Canyon’s culture internally and externally is going to take time, and that it takes a lot of learning, having difficult conversations, and listening deeply. We are going to make mistakes, but we’d rather work hard at something, make mistakes and learn from them, than give up and not try to do anything. We want to continue to see the change in landscape, and are willing to put in the work it takes to do so. It’s important to us to the current generations we serve, but it’s also something we want to see change for the generations to come. We know how truly life-changing and healing the outdoors provide, and we want to see those benefits available safely, for anyone wanting to have this experience.