Earth Day 2020: Seizing an Opportunity for Climate Action


Earth Day is particularly poignant this year. In its 50-years of championing Mother Nature, it’s never had such a captive audience. Not only because most of the world is on lockdown, but because the Coronavirus crisis has brought so many environmental truths and questions to the fore. Although the world is grieving and suffering on an unimaginable scale, perhaps, for our future survival, we also need to recognise that we’ve been handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 


As Earth Day reminds us, “Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.” Two intertwined crises, biodiversity and climate, have required urgent and collective action for years. Just like Coronavirus, these crises have hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and stem from the pursuit of short-term economic growth over long-term sustainability.   


Now that our world has indeed been brought to its knees, we have an opportunity to put it back together better — to find equilibrium, readdress our relationship with nature, slow down and think longer-term. For the travel industry, this means scrutinising how, why and where we travel. It means putting community and conservation first, not as a sideline justification. It also means using commerce to drive positive impact for the many, not only a few. 


This ethos is what guides our work at The Long Run, helping conservation-led lodges around the world meet the highest standards in sustainability. While we know that choosing the sustainable path requires commitment (there are no shortcuts), we also know this doesn’t equate to sacrifice. Strong environmental management often goes hand-in-hand with cost-efficiency, which can have a knock-on effect on raising staff wages, employment retention, quality of service, and the ultimate success of a business. For those lodges running a purpose-driven operation, this means more disposable income for conservation projects and community empowerment. It also ensures resilience for future crises. 


As travellers increasingly scrutinise how and why they travel, these are all things that hospitality businesses will need more than ever in a post-Covid world. In preparation and celebration of Earth Day’s 2020 theme, here are three ways to plan for Climate Action right now: 

Measure, Monitor, Act


According to Patricio Gonzalez Morel, founder of Affiliate member Efisur, the majority of lodges and hotels overlook the most straightforward solutions when it comes to environmental management. He comments, “When I consult hotels and lodges, 75% of my recommendations will lead to between a 200 – 1000% return on investment, but still people are slow to take them up.” One problem is that hospitality businesses often default to three ways to increase revenue: cut staff; increase sales; increase prices. The more sustainable option is to improve environmental performance. 


Like The Long Run, Patricio believes that the key to successful environmental management is regular data collection and monitoring, which must lead to action. Only when lodges and hotels have data on their water and energy use, can they improve efficiency. He comments, “Without regular data collection, you might as well be working in the dark.” 


Piet Van Zyl from environmental consultancy Positive Impact Forever comments, “Measure your impact and communicate it to everyone in a way that makes sense. To communicate the daily total electricity use has no impact on the staff during morning briefings, they cannot visualise that figure. But if you break it down to the energy use per available room and have a target to achieve, most people will understand it.”


Although investing in new technology might be difficult, this is a good time to start planning what you need to measure, how you can best gather data, and what to do with it.


Get Employees on Board 


Sustainability can only go so far without employees onboard. Every member of the team needs to know why energy and water efficiency is necessary, and how to do their bit. This might involve training staff to identify leaks or to cook and clean using less water.


Piet Van Zyl comments, “The most important question is: “What is the consequence of our consumption?” Our consumption or use of infrastructure will lead to wear and tear and has to be maintained. Maintenance is a part of sustainability that we overlook. Although we cannot change the design of the hotel or change the equipment, what we can do is maintain what we have to the best of our abilities.” 


There’s no better way to drum this home than to make sustainability part of targets or Key Performance Indicators. Several Long Run members go one step further by tasking employees to dream up innovative solutions to save more energy or water. As Hans Pfister founder of Cayuga Collection (former manager of Long Run member Lapa Rios) once said, “Employees are your ears and eyes on the ground — if they’re on board with what you’re trying to achieve, then they can support it every day.” 


Downtime might be the perfect opportunity to draw up new staff targets and create and run sustainability training sessions.


Declare a Climate Emergency 


In January 2020, The Long Run was delighted to become a founding member of the movement Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency. The collective hopes to bring together the travel industry to recognise and work towards carbon reduction in line with the current IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) advice. This means cutting carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. 


Although Covid-19 has forced all of our hands to some extent, we mustn’t lose sight of the climate crisis and our role within it. When it comes to Climate Action, there’s no better motivation than making a public declaration side by side with fellow travel businesses.


Use quiet time to reflect on priorities; plan for a future business that operates in line with IPCC advice and make a declaration.

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