04/30/2013 04:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013

In Support of 'Not Quite' Sustainable Travel

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I've had the good fortune of globetrotting, much of it however, was spent (checklist in hand) performing hotel and resort site inspections. I was looking to identify properties that met a 'triple bottom line', while managing to deliver high quality guest experiences. From Zanzibar to Tamarindo, and seemingly all points in between, I would spend an average of 1-2 nights in back kitchens, front houses, my head stuck inside waste bins, and my eyes stuck reviewing the hiring process' at more properties than I will ever recall.

I was damn thorough. I had a take no prisoners attitude, and a comprehensive checklist of grading criteria in my holster with the safety set to off. I've seen it all. I've snuck into rooms and alleys that were so completely out of bounds my life would have been in danger. I've been lied to, green-washed, and threatened physically. I've also been inspired, grateful and heart-broken; and I've seen every shade of green from the washed-out, to the vibrantly pure.

But it was in this exploratory process that I changed as a person. I formed a deeper understanding of the industry, the operational challenges, and perhaps surprisingly (at least to me), I came out the other side with an appreciation, and a commitment to support those 'not green enough'. That's right, I said 'not green enough'.

Now let me start with what I looked for at the time.

Being holistically focused, I looked for properties that were operating under core philosophies of social empowerment, environmental stewardship, and financial prudence -- the basis for the aforementioned 'triple bottom line'. I wanted to be impressed by true sustainability, and not just green ribbons on tar-stained birthday presents. Among the list of things I looked for, were where the food orders were coming in from, what detergent was being used in the laundry room, where their electricity originated, their waste terminated, how did they engage with their in-destination communities, and if locals (especially women) held positions of authority.

These are all equally important factors in my book, as every choice has both a network, and a life cycle of impacts. No property ever scored 100, but I'm happy to say that I did find places that came close. In my mind, they were hitting 'sustainable grand slams', and believe me, they were well-earned. These are not easy accomplishments, especially in the developing world, and the extra effort and cost, is worthy of our support. But I'll ask you this, is that where our support should go?

I saw many places that earned 50-60 percent of the check marks. Not amazing, but I knew they were trying. They weren't hiding anything, they were making honest attempts, I could see it in their eyes. Their hearts were in the right place, and they had green goal posts in their future. Some were off-grid properties that had no choice but to use diesel generators. Yet they grew their own organic food, were locally owned, and were strong corporate social citizens. On the eco-continuum they were barely past the half way mark, but they were sliding in the right direction. I knew that if supported financially, that their noisy diesel generator's days would be numbered, gone forever in favor of a more renewable, and hopefully quieter alternative.

Herein lies our collective dilemma.

Do we, as stewards of this planet, support only the efforts of those that got there. Those hitting the 'sustainable grand slam'? Or, can we enact greater global change by supporting those that are rounding second base? In a sense, it's akin to a teacher paying extra attention to an A-level student. But what about the pupil sitting right behind that A-level student. She could be trying just as hard, and sharing of the same goals and intentions, but perhaps she's not as blessed with the same natural abilities. What about her? What happens to her?

If we want true wholesale change, we must give merit to those that have earned it, but we must also support those that are trying, especially in these difficult economic times.

They are what we need for the future. Collectively, you and I, are what they need right now.

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