In 1970, the idea was born: a global initiative that devotes a day, April 22nd, each year to raising public awareness around the active role each of us can play in protecting and preserving the world we live in. EARTH DAY.
Fortunately, the volume of the call-to-action is getting louder and louder, and today, Earth Day mobilises over 190 countries around the world over to take action against the growing threat of Climate Change.
Irrespective of the naysayers, as I travel the world, there is no doubt that the ravages of Climate Change are become increasingly unmistakable. Living in Switzerland, I see the glaciers in the Alps literally shrinking before me; we all experience the heat waves caused by the rising of the planet’s average surface temperature; and according to the World Meteorological Organization, the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years. One sees the greater frequency of extreme weather events; rising sea levels, floods, deterioration of the reefs through ocean acidification, and arctic ice sheet erosion.
This is startling, and unless rapidly addressed, its influence on both safety as well as the stability of the global economy and our social wellbeing will have a direct impact on how we live and evolve into a worldwide crisis.
Despite Earth Day 2016 marking the historic signing of the UNFCC’s ‘Paris Agreement’, which aligns 120 nations around “a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so”, the need to do more, at all levels – government, business, citizenry – is required, now.
Earth Day is now celebrated by more than a billion people and is the largest secular observance in the world. It has become a day of action to stimulate changes in human behavior, hopefully foster policy changes in turn. But, while this one day has been successful in raising awareness, the focus needs to shift from inspirational words to taking action, every day of the year. I subscribe to the philosophy of Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Each of us doing our share can make a world of difference.
Therefore, for my part, my goal is simple. First, I want to raise the bar for awareness. Second, I want to encourage individual action: not just acknowledging the problem and paying lip service but actually making thoughts meaningful and turning words into actions. Finally, I believe we should focus on those who are believers and assist in translating their desire into action. And then through their actions, they will inspire others to do their part too.
In 2019, as a key undertaking for the business as well as in my personal life, I have increased focus on the elimination of the use of single-use plastics (SUP). As we continuously see, the SUP problem is considerable and escalating – beaches and open waters are being overrun with plastics, sea birds and mammals dying from ingesting, becoming impaled on or trapped in plastic waste. In fact, on the very day I began writing this blog, I read of another tragically painful story of a whale washing up on the beaches, this time in Italy, her life lost due to the ingestion of 48 pounds of plastics. This beautiful creature could no longer carry the burden of our wasteful lifestyle. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/02/world/europe/plastic-whale-dead-italy.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share.
Trafalgar’s focus on helping reduce SUPs has been guided by a vision to try and make an individual difference. I give full credit to my cousin and The Travel Corporation (TTC) CEO, Brett, for opening my eyes a decade ago. In 2009, he convinced our family that we needed to ensure our company’s living legacy – our love for travel – could be passed on to future generations so they too could experience the gift of travel. We needed to ensure that the literally millions of guests we take around the world through TTC’s portfolio of brands (https://ttc.com/brands/) play their part in making travel matter.
And so, 10 years ago, the TREADRIGHT FOUNDATION (https://www.treadright.org/(, our not-for-profit foundation, was created. Its name was carefully chosen to emphasize that as we journey out into our increasingly fragile world, we must take care to do it the right way. Today, over 50 projects later, we know we can’t do it all, but we can do our best. Our focus is on having a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, helping them to preserve their cultural heritage, working with them to protect their natural environments, and empowering them to personally reap the benefits from travellers visiting the places they call ‘home’.
It was through this vision that JoinTrafalgar was created, powered by TreadRight’s philosophy and expertise, with the goal to assist in using use the positive power of travel to make a difference for a sustainable future. And, we now have over 80 experiences on our itineraries, each making a direct difference to the people and places we visit, across all seven continents.
Brett believed in the mission of Earth Day, acknowledging the dangerous path the world was headed on, and he prompted us to see where we were going and where we could end up. With our eyes opened, reducing any negative environmental or social impact from our business, and in our personal lives, became not just a nice-to-have, but the core of much of what we do.
It is clear that SUP, our greatest, most used, most durable convenience is having a debilitating effect on the globe. I was recently with Celine Cousteau, a TreadRight ambassador, who shared with me that there are an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic – the equivalent of 630 billion single-use plastic water bottles – finding their way into our oceans every year. On this trajectory, by 2050, there would be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Last year, whilst in Auckland, I met Ryley Webster of Sustainable Coastlines and heard one of the disquieting impacts of plastics. When ingested, they cause fish to release excess estrogen which, in regions with a high seafood diet, causes young girls to enter puberty prematurely and boys to develop breasts. These facts are too alarming to ignore, and it was time to put our commitment to action.
On World Environment Day 2018, TTC and all of our 29 brands committed to the elimination of all avoidable SUP in our operations by 2022. We implemented an immediate ban of more than 60 types of single-use plastic items such as straws, coffee stirrers, water bottles, plastic bags, and cutlery in our 30-plus offices around the world.
And, already, the result has been encouraging. It was wonderful to see Mae Chae, who directs our Asian sales team, give our Singaporean as well as Malaysian agent partners a gift of a reusable set of biodegradable crockery and chopstick (which I use here in Geneva). In my South Pacific travels, the Australian and New Zealand Tribe put me to work alongside them for a beach clean-up, which we’ve also done around Lake Geneva. Nowhere is immune from this need. If you haven’t participated in a clean-up of your local area, do so. Volunteer, because you will be surprised at how neglected many of these places are.
But we are not stopping there – we continue to push further.
Central Park – Photo by: Michael Marmora
For Trafalgar’s 2019 operating year, the sale of SUP bottles has been eliminated across Europe, USA and Asia trips, and we will be encouraging guests to bring or buy their own reusable water bottles. We will also disclose where potable water is available on all trips. And last month during our European Travel Director meeting in Seville, I was shown an app, TAP, which allows you to find the closest place to refill your water bottle so one never has to buy bottled water again.
Even before taking these actions, we had already decided to eliminate SUP name badges and changed to a multi usage luggage tag. And on trip tote bags, we stopped using recycled-plastic tote bags and chose to order cotton canvas bags instead. We also dropped our wallet order by 70% thanks to our guests selecting paper-free documentation. In 2018, for each of the 74% of our guests who selected paper-free documents, we planted a tree with our partner One Tree Planted in Northern California or Tanzania. By the end of the year, we had planted over 150 acres of trees. And for those who still prefer hard copy documents, their trip wallets are now cotton canvas over recycled plastics.
With this momentum, we have prepared a document to enable our contractors and operational personnel to begin the process of identifying and working with suppliers who will join us on the elimination of SUP in their area of our trips. It is still early days, but the response has been extremely encouraging. There is no turning back – the future is right in front of us.
Which is why, even with all of these waves of positive change, our commitment continues. In New Zealand, Trafalgar is the first corporate partner to sign up to an initiative with Sustainable Coastlines (http://sustainablecoastlines.org/) which will eventually see 110+ monitoring sites around the country gathering data using the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) methodology. The data will be publicly available for use by policy makers, environmental lobby groups and, very importantly, to educate the public about the state of our shores, providing solutions for improvement in each unique bio region of our coastlines. In addition, seven of Trafalgar’s Tribe have undergone training to implement Sustainable Coastlines’ new citizen science project (The Litter Project) which will see them lead groups of colleagues and industry partners to collect beach litter data at Little Shoal Bay four times per year for the next three years.
Change comes in many forms, I was recently inspired by a young lady, Lauren Smith with whom I worked for a number of years. She will soon be launching SustainableTravelStore.com to offer tips, resources and a carefully-curated collection of eco-friendly, low-waste and made-from-recycled goods for responsible North American travelers.
Our journey is underway, but ultimately, the belief that our planet is our responsibility – and the degree to which that responsibility is taken – is a personal one.
On this Earth Day, I would like to sincerely commend and applaud so many of my fellow TTC team members on the strides we have made, together and within our own brand environments as well as ffriends and associates in our industry, who share our vision. I believe strongly that, cumulatively, our actions will start to have an impact. And we can then begin to pressure our respective governments to do the right thing. But it needs to start with us, one by one by billions. I hope you join us on this journey of making a difference, making travel matter.
After all, Celine’s grandfather Jacques Cousteau once said: “The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it.”