I'll be the first to admit that my carbon footprint is through the roof from traveling since the age of 18 all the way through the Expedition until now. The love I have for travel has obviously outweighed my desire to live a completely zero carbon footprint lifestyle. Since the age of 18 though, I've been dedicating my carer towards sustainable tourism, first studying Environmental Studies in College, and then advising hotels for several years on how they can become more sustainable. But at the end of the day, it's on me to decide how much I'm either adding to the degradation of our environment, or the thriving of it.
Enjoy life, explore, try new things, but be aware of our planets environmental and ecological needs. As long as we're aware, we can begin to make small changes that will add up in the long run. - Cassie De Pecol
Let's be honest, change begins now, but it is only accelerated through the efforts of future generations.
Educating The Youth on The Importance of Incorporating Sustainability Into Their Careers
Over the course of the past several years, I've had the opportunity to speak to over 16,000 university students across 40 countries on the importance of the two pillars of responsible tourism, that being regeneration and sustainability. Just a quick recap. Sustainability involves sustaining the land; ecology and environment through taking actionable measures to halt any further degeneration that can be done. Regeneration is actually regenerating the land and ecosystems through growing thriving environments and re-planting what you dug up, in other words.
During my Expedition, I found there to be a massive gap when it came to high school and university students understanding what sustainability even was. Many were oblivious as to what was going on around them. The students in Vanuatu did not know that they were experiencing a rise in sea levels, and this lack of knowledge alone, knowing that they could one day be underwater, is devastating. But how are they to know? Who are they to care? This is where professionals in the industry, such as myself, go over there and educate them, or create programs that will do so. They might not have the knowledge or financial means to change their situation, but some of us do.
First, it's crucial to identify the problem, which is a lack of education in third world countries of what sustainability even means. Next, is to educate, that's been my job, and so far, students have really taken a fascination towards the notion of sustainable tourism and how they can incorporate it into their careers for the rest of their lives. The students of two classrooms I spoke to in Bhutan stared at me with blank faces when I asked them what sustainable tourism was. Again, it's not their fault. Living in a world where connectivity and an abundance of information is at our fingertips, gives the advantage of positively educating our world and future generations to come, with ease.
The Sampling of Micro Plastics
Early on in my Expedition, I partnered with an organization called Adventure Scientists, where I would collect as many water samples as possible from our worlds waterways in a 1L plastic water bottle that surprisingly, I'd always find washed ashore. I'd then send the sample back to the lab in the states to test for the presence of micro plastics. Adventure Scientists received a grant from National Geographic Explorers, and are on their way towards solving the worldwide micro plastics problem. Volunteers such as myself, have a chance to contribute in their dire research, moving one step closer towards combatting climate change. It takes nothing to grab a sample during your travels, and honestly, it led me to some pretty remote, beautiful natural locations in order to do so.
Whether it's micro plastics sampling or being involved in a different environmental/ecological initiative, it doesn't take much and it's possible to help "save the planet" for little to no money at all, even during your travels. Many sustainable hotels and even airlines have an option to get involved with a specific program that helps to reduce your carbon footprint. Which brings me to my next couple of points.
Staying in Sustainable/Regenerative Hotels
I get that staying in sustainable/regenerative hotels can be on the more expensive side, however, there are cheaper options if you're willing to rough it a bit more. Believe it or not, there are plentiful, economical lodges and hostels that are sustainable/regenerative, especially in the regions of Southeast Asia and Central America. Millennials crave a more authentic and raw travel experience that incorporates both sustainability and luxury (for some), so for the sake of this article, I want to discuss the more higher end resorts and the generations that precede the Millennials and hopefully the ones that follow thereafter (although, they'll probably have climate change under control by then through some technology gadget).
Hotels are recognizing that the greater market demands a more eco-friendly travel experience, so they're making big changes, or else they lose the consumer. If you're a hotel establishment, you likely had to chop down a ton of trees and most probably disrupted the living environment of a certain species. In order to be a "sustainable" hotel, you'd probably have energy efficiently initiatives, solar panels, and a little sign in the bathroom telling guests to reuse their towels. If you're a "regenerative" hotel, you probably have all of the above, including a reverse osmosis systems in place, a farm with which you harvest to grow produce to use in your kitchen, plant trees - the ones you cut down to build the place, hire local employees - adding to their economy, you probably have a partnership with a local nonprofit organization to help those in need where you are based, and you most importantly, will encourage guests to travel sustainably as well. Change begins with educating the public and helping them to travel sustainable in a fun and engaging way, and one that doesn't interfere with their vacation too much (they are paying a pretty penny to visit you, after all).
Quick example. When I worked at a small, regenerative luxury hotel in Juluchuca, Mexico (Playa Viva), they had partnered with a non-profit organization called Pack for a Purpose. This organization was a wonderful one, and through the hotel, guests were encouraged to pack a few school supplies such as pencils, paper, ink and English literary. Once the guests arrive, myself or the next intern, would take them to the local elementary school in the village of Juluchuca to then distribute the supplies to the classrooms and interact with the children. The kids loved it and so did the guests. This was one of Playa Viva's "Excursion" options, and took no more than an hour. Badabang-Badaboom! Doesn't it feel good to have volunteered 1 hour of your time during your 7 day relaxing beach vacation to help better the world? I'd say so. These sort of concepts should be implemented in every hotel, Four Seasons, Marriott, or the motel next door. It doesn't take much, and it doesn't cost much, either, yet makes the world of a difference.
Airline Carbon Offsetting Program
There are many organizations that one can contribute to in order to offset their carbon footprint such as the Nature Conservancy, Terrapass, or the IATA. But let's be honest, do we really know where our hard earn money is going when we dump it into these companies? I'll have to do more research on this. In the meantime, I'm making it a personal goal to make it easier for individuals to offset their carbon footprint and actually see the effects of that happening. While I'm working on a concepts and the blueprint, I won't say too much except that there will be a better, easier and more economically efficient solution. Until then, contribute where you can, or in my case, plant trees?
Planting the National Tree (or any tree, for that matter) in the Place with which you Visit
Many people have blamed me that I'm not a sustainable traveler for flying over 250 times over the course of the Expedition, but I bet you that 100% of those people have never planted a tree to offset their carbon footprint. That's the difference between what I've dedicated my life to in regards to responsible travel, and what they haven't. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to sound harsh, but the immense effort and regulation loopholes that one must go through in order to plant just one tree to offset their carbon footprint in countries around the world, is immensely challenging. So, while I've only planted roughly 200 trees around the world over the course of the past several years, it's 200 more than the next guy who's been to every country, and that's something I'm proud of. But you don't have to plant trees to feel better about your sustainable impact, there are many other ways to make a positive impact on the environment and ecology, and I'm dedicated towards making offsetting ones carbon footprint through travel, a household chore :).
It is hard to plant trees anywhere, let alone ones home country. The best advice I can offer is to contact a local environmental organization, church, or Ministry of Tourism. It will take jumping through loopholes and making connections in order to organize a tree planting (and I encourage you to involve others, too!), but it will be worth it; for you, that community, and the environment.