Eric Williamson spends a lot of time behind the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser. But unlike his counterparts cruising along the scenic North Shore roads or braving gridlock traffic over the Lions Gate Bridge or en route to Whistler, he can boast that when he’s driving, he’s not polluting a whole lot.
The owner and currently sole operator of NorthVan GreenTours (*Now “Vancouver Eco Tours“), Williamson says he has the only tour operation on the North Shore that offers services using bio-fuel. The hybrid Land Cruiser has a converted engine that runs on recycled vegetable oil Williamson collects from local restaurants.
It still requires diesel to start up and idle. It’s his small contribution to the greenhouse gas issue now making headlines, while earning a few bucks to feed his growing family, Williamson said.
“This whole problem is so overwhelming, and this business inspires people to believe everybody can do something,” Williamson explained during a recent tour of North Vancouver. “I reckon most people trying to do something think it’s a waste of time.”
But according to Williamson, change starts from the actions of one person. It’s a belief he’s held since he was a boy and his father told him of an old Chinese saying: “Peace starts within yourself then extends to your family, then your neighbourhood… and then the world.” Already, Williamson said people are noticing his contribution with the tour business.
“When people see this vehicle, they’re pretty happy,” he said while driving the Land Cruiser along Main Street towards Deep Cove, just one of the stops in his daily tours.
In operation for just over a year, Williamson said he chose to offer green tours of the North Shore after his larger ambitions to start a green cab company fell through.
But he’s more than happy with what he has now, showing tourists the natural beauty of the North Shore and Whistler, and being able to tell his clients that he’s doing it in a environmentally sensitive manner. Included in his stops are the locations where he collects his used cooking oils – the concession stand at Cates Park and the Lynn Valley Café.
Being a small operator, and since the Land Cruiser only seats four with Williamson behind the wheel, he can also offer a personalized tour, letting his clients choose which sights in the itinerary they’d like to spend more time at. Although Williamson has found using a bio-fuel vehicle works for him, he’s quick to point out that it’s not for everyone. The technology isn’t at the level where everyone should be switching over.
For one thing, there isn’t enough used vegetable oil to go around, and using new vegetable oil takes away from the food supply, he said.
While governments have recently shown interest in environmental issues, from rhetoric in the House of Commons to an ambitious Throne Speech from the provincial capital, Williamson says any green solutions have be well thought out.
Encouraging cycling in Vancouver is one example, he said. On the surface it may sound great, but factor in the city’s rainy reputation, and it loses its appeal.
“Everybody drives their car because they don’t want to get soaked,” he said.
But Williamson is believes he’s on the right path, and has hopes to expand his operation by finding newer and better ways to filter used vegetable oil. He also plans to add a 25-passenger bus to his business in the near future – which also runs on the recycled cooking oil.