By Lauren Blickley
For the travel industry, the balance between promoting a natural resource and contributing to over-utilization is a difficult chord to strike. From snowmobiling in Yellowstone, to trekking to Machu Picchu, mass tourism is leaving behind a lasting – and ailing – legacy. Even locales like Mt. Everest are not immune. Despite its extreme remoteness, thousands of pounds of rubbish, debris, and even human excrement scar the peak’s harsh and isolated landscape.
While corporate conglomerates such as Etsy and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream may at first seem far removed from the troubles of travel, these companies are part of a growing international trend that promotes businesses as “forces of good." Known as Certified B Corps, this new spin on the way businesses operate could very well be the answer to sustainable travel.
The idea of Certified B Corps – utilizing business to solve environmental and social issues – was first conceived in 2006. Today, the number of Certified B Corps has surpassed 1,700 companies spread across 50 countries. Certified B Corps must undergo a rigorous, third-party evaluation and meet certain standards with regards to the environment, employees, transparency and suppliers. Although less than 1 percent of Certified B Corps are considered to fall within the travel/leisure category, adopting the B Corp model is a move that tour companies – from kayak adventures to wine tasting - are increasingly beginning to embrace.
Tour companies challenge the status quo
On the island of Maui, Hawaii, where ocean-based tourism generates millions of dollars in annual revenue, the boutique adventure company Hawaiian Paddle Sports jumped headfirst into B Corp territory. The company recently became the first B Corp on Maui and only the seventh in the State of Hawaii, not to mention the only Hawaii-based B Corp that is a tour company.
Specializing in private paddling tours, Hawaiian Paddle Sports prides itself in offering guests a unique and authentic experience – one that foregoes the masses in favor of intimate connections and environmental sustainability. Founder Tim Lara, a champion outrigger canoe paddler and fixture in Maui’s nonprofit community, was inspired to launch Hawaiian Paddle Sports after working for years as an ocean guide and surf instructor with many of Maui’s tour companies.
Determined to build a company that went beyond just profiting from the ocean, Lara developed Hawaiian Paddle Sports as a way to create a lasting legacy of ocean stewardship. Tours are conducted in a way so as to minimize impacts to wildlife (meaning no touching the sea turtles!), mini-beach cleanups are conducted before each tour, and single-use plastics have been eliminated from the company's waste stream.
HPS has also launched a monthly community give-back program. Known as Malama Maui ("to care for Maui"), HPS employees volunteer one day each month with a local nonprofit -- whether it's pulling invasive weeds or providing surf lessons to underprivileged youth. And in an industry where tour guides can be severely overworked and underpaid, Hawaiian Paddle Sports provides continuing education, training and team-building opportunities for its employees.
Three thousand miles away, off the coast of California, Channel Islands Outfitters is forging a similar path. A B Corp since 2013, Channel Islands Outfitters combines ocean adventure with environmental change. It’s a company with a mission statement that doesn’t even mention profits and a business model that's instead grounded in saving the ocean.
The company even went so far as to do away with its sale of hundreds of plastic kayaks each year, opting instead to form Adventure Co-OP, a community-based system of sharing paddle sports equipment. Why all this effort to be a leader in saving the ocean? In the company's words, “We cannot in good conscience … stand by and watch anymore”.
A solution for travel, a solution for the planet
Of course changing the trajectory of the travel industry does not rest on the shoulders of tour operators alone. Many have suggested that it is a three pronged approach, with governments, tour operators and tourists themselves each taking on roles and responsibilities. Yet in the absence of government oversight, difficulties in defining sustainable travel standards, and failure to regulate potentially misleading terms such as “eco-tour," much of the burden inadvertently falls to those in the industry.
Ultimately, what the travel industry needs are companies who will revolutionize the way we travel – from how we reach our destinations, to our outlooks and experiences upon arrival. If Certified B Corps can fundamentally change the world of business, then it should be no stretch of the imagination that they can also redefine global tourism. And who knows, maybe the answer to saving this planet will come down to the simple act of snorkeling on vacation.
Image credit: Hawaiian Paddle Sport
Lauren Blickley is a professional outreach and communications specialist, environmental scientist, and writer. Founder of Swell Consulting, her work focuses on helping environmental nonprofits and businesses effectively communicate their message. Lauren holds a bachelor's degree in marine science/biology and a master's in environmental science and management from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. Her “free time” is spent indulging in her seashell obsession and traveling to far flung lands with her husband, always in search of perfect waves and the next great story.