THE BLOG

Earth Day: A Reminder to the Tourism Industry for the Need for Education and New Planning, Policy and Management.

04/18/2013 11:42 am ET | Updated Jun 18, 2013

The first Earth Day in 1970 took place in the form of educational activities across the nation. It was chaired, though, not by educators, but by two politicians, Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson from WI and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey from CA.

The event united both political parties, labor and business, the rich and the poor, urban and rural populations, and student movements across the land. Remarkable results were achieved through this educational consciousness raising, including the creation of the U.S. EPA, passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Act, and it laid the foundation for many environmental initiatives still active today.

That first Earth Day, Dave coordinated a week-long Earth Day program at California Lutheran University that provided intergenerational education for the entire city of Thousand Oaks, CA. It was a life-changing event for him and launched his life-long career in both environmental education and environmental planning, policy, and management.

For Reese, Earth Day has always meant planting trees, rejoicing another springtime and celebrating our bees. It's a time when our beehives are back to the full swing of pollinating and also when the native bumble- and solitary-bees are awakening and beginning to pollinate most of our plants throughout the nation.

Today, about a 1/3 of a century later, we both have actively engaged in educational efforts as well as planning, policy, and management for the tourism industry.

Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world.  The U.N. World Tourism Council predicts international visit days will increase in the next few decades from 900 million tourists a year to over 1.5 billion.

The environmental impacts from this increase are so great that education for guests and clients must be part of any serious sustainable tourism program.

While there are different perspectives on what is most important, on how far the tourist industry can go with its guests in pursing sustainability, there is little argument that education is an important strategy for transforming the tourist industry.

For tourism in the future to retain their credibility as pristine places to visit, more attention will need to be given to best sustainable tourism practices.  This in turn will include the need to provide education to employees, guests, and the larger community.

Some strategies to consider for sustainable tourism education include:

  • The importance of fostering a culture of sustainability in the tourism resort.
  • Setting environmental sustainability standards.
  • Using GSTC eco-certification programs as an educational tool.
  • Partnerships with College and University sustainable tourism programs.
  • Developing in house programs for guests. 
  • Helping employees to see their roles as educators will both educate employees and guests and increase enthusiasm for the educational efforts.

Positive cultures are a powerful way to influence change in behaviors and practices toward sustainability. A systematic program to change the culture of a resort can go a long way to implement sustainability.

We have found in our work in resorts around the world that many are well intentioned and engage in many positive environmental activities without ever setting any goals, objectives, or standards to achieve. As a result, when other priorities emerge in the business, environmental programs are often put aside. A successful program is results-oriented, not activity-oriented.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria provides an excellent framework for tour operators, accommodations, resorts, and destinations to be recognized for achieving globally accepted sustainable tourism standards. When a resort meets this global criteria, tourists from around the world can know that the resort is committed to sustainable tourism practices and is not just green washing.

Partnerships with Colleges and Universities can assist in education for sustainability and improving sustainable practices. For example the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, where Dave teaches, is sending three interns to Malawi this Summer to work on a Master Plan for one of the countries national parks, sending students to the Caribbean Tourism Organization to conduct case studies on best practices for low carbon programs, and having students do comparative studies on best practices for sustainable buildings in U.S., Europe, and New Zealand. These are all examples of how partnerships with educational institutions and the tourist industry can work together synergistically, and obtain greater results than either could do independently.

In-house education programs for guests not only inform guests about what the resort is doing to be more sustainable, they also can encourage their participation to make sustainable tourism efforts successful. When guests are engaged in the sustainability process, the educational program is on its way to success.

Coupled with good educational programs is the need for new planning, policy, and management strategies in the tourism industry based on principles of sustainable tourism.

Planning, policy, and management are the trail map, guide, and logistical preparations, for a successful journey to sustainable tourism.

Like any adventure even the best plans, analysis, and preparations at times need to be modified to meet changing circumstances. Planning including goals and objectives for sustainable tourism need to include major issues such as:

  • Energy
  • Waste Management
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Water
  • Land Use
  • Health & Safety
  • Productive Workforce

Walt Disney Company provides an excellent model for environmental education and planning, policy, and management with both its cast members and guests.

Environmental departments throughout The Walt Disney Company educate cast members and employees through multiple outreach efforts, including special events, marketing promotions, and communication materials like Disney's Annual Environmental Stewardship Report

Externally, partnerships with local and federal agencies have led to the development of education programs such as Disney's Friends for Change.

Disney's Friends for Change is about taking steps together with your friends and family to make a positive impact on the world and the people and animals that live here. Our mission is to provide you with the information, tools, encouragement and inspiration to become stewards of change. As more kids across the globe become involved, through even the smallest of actions, we can begin to make big changes.

Walt Disney World® provides a model for planning, policy, and management.

Some sample planning guidelines include:

  • Goals to promote wildlife habitat conservation through cooperative efforts with scientific and academic communities and organizations committed to preserving the Earth's biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
  • Goals to effectively plan and manage conservation lands for the conservation of native plant and animal species and to integrate conservation into future planning, development, and operations activities.
  • Setting aside nearly one third of the 25,000 acres at Walt Disney World to be set aside for wildlife and conservation. 

Walt Disney Company long term environmental policy goals include:

  • Zero net direct greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce indirect greenhouse gases from electricity consumption
  • Zero waste to land fills
  • Net positive Impact on ecosystems in all development
  • Minimize water use
  • Minimize product footprint
  • inform empower and activate employees, business partners, and consumers to take positive action for the environment.

Walt Disney Company interim goals include:

Waste
- By 2013, decrease tons of solid waste to landfill to 50% of 2006 baseline level
- By 2013, increase percentage of purchases that include post-consumer recycled material

Climate & Energy
- By 2012, achieve 50% reduction of net carbon emissions. The 2012 target was achieved in 2012
- By 2013, reduce electricity consumption by 10% compared to 2006 baseline in existing assets
- Develop plan to aggressively pursue renewable sources of electricity to reduce emissions from electricity

Ecosystems
- By 2010, develop and implement an integrated approach to design, engineering and habitat protection for all  new construction projects
- Increase the level of support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund each year for the next 5 years

A sample of other education and policy programs that Walt Disney is implementing is found in the Blue Community Video Series Part 6

The Walt Disney Company model for taking climate change seriously, its commitment to educating youth around the world, and its Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund that has contributed $20 million to projects in over 105 countries is a shining example of what sustainable tourism can mean for the planet. It is also a reminder that Earth Day is every day and each day we all can make our own contributions as well.

Dr David W. Randle - Director USF Patel College of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President & CEO WHALE Center.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and author of The Insatiable Bark Beetle.