NOW was launched on Earth Day, 22nd April 2017, a year after 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We celebrated the 2nd anniversary of NOW in New York this year and the lack of general awareness about this special day and the lack of gatherings urging the Trump government to act on the Climate Emergency spoke volumes about the distraction and division we have today.
Our decision to launch NOW with a mission to boldly advance sustainability with accountability and transparency was triggered by a conversation that took place in Paris with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in the background. My millennial son pointed out that the growing climate crisis is the fault of ‘older generations’ and IT MUST BE NOW that we must act to help their generation to fix it. The same valid conclusion and demand for urgent action has been loudly voiced by millions of Gen Y & Z supporting the Strike 4Climate and Extinction Rebellion movement since the beginning of this year. They are not wrong since the ‘older generations’ have been aware of our growing negative impacts causing heavy deterioration of the human environment and natural resources for decades and few changed lifestyles or ‘business as usual’ mentality. We should refrain from defensive responses and instead show our support and step-up with conscious and immediate actions because it is the right thing to do.
Earth Day was created 49 years ago as a day of environmental education and awareness after people experienced the devastation after the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969. The many environmental disasters that followed prompted people to recognize the costs of environmental negligence, disease, and air and water pollution. It became personal.
Earth Day was also the 3rd anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement which marked a critical turning point toward a zero-carbon and resilient world. It calls for enhanced action prior to 2020 in the 195 countries that signed it on carbon mitigation, transparency, loss/damage and support; and full implementation of carbon policies and initiatives on the January 2020.
Since the launch of NOW, I’ve often wondered about what a sustainable world would be like. A breakfast meeting to celebrate World Environment Day in London with the inspiring, charismatic and down-to-earth Sir Jonathon Porritt (who prefer to simply be called Jonathon) led to my first glimpse of this world after reading his insightful book THE WORLD WE MADE. Jonathon is the founder of Forum for the Future and a legendary environmental campaigner. The book was written from the future (2050) and looking back to today, a story of how we got our world back from the brink of collapse to a more sustainable world. He picked an arbitrary date of 2050 for the book, but also noted the reality that we really don’t have a clue how long it will take and that it will take as long as it takes.
NOW is a platform about inspiring conscious travel, so I was most fascinated with the chapter on Travelling Differently and reading about travel in the near future – DLs (Destination Lotteries) that make travel possible every three or four years for keen travellers which even the mega rich cannot bypass, and virtual travel holidays, a $500 billion industry promoting next generation VITES (virtual travel experiences) to protect special places by enabling people to enjoy them from afar.
Jonathon tells us something that most of us already know – that ‘the gap between what is actually happening and what needs to happen remains deeply disturbing; and that the windows of opportunity don’t stay open forever – and this one is closing fast.’ Most of us who care share the roller coaster of emotions he described – the anger when we see our planet systematically abused and how seeing the misery of billions of people constantly ignore day after day makes it harder and harder to bear, the excitement about the prospects of learning to live sustainably, and the frustration that so few actually share this excitement. (Read Phaidon interview with Jonathon Porritt about The World We Made HERE … and order the book as well.)
According to our strategic partner South Pole, if travel and tourism is a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon in the world today, contributing up to 8% of global carbon emissions with 20% coming from the hospitality industry. It is forecasted to grow by 4% per year and so will its carbon emissions unless we travel differently and sustainably NOW. Yet the travel industry is the slowest to commit to rigorous sustainability or make it a priority. In the last two years, we have spoken with many hotel owners and senior management executives in hotel companies and schools for future hoteliers, and it is disappointing that many only ‘talk the talk’ but don’t lead or act, or feel the need to be accountable and transparent at this most urgent of times. Properties that prefer programmes that are cheap and easy, or settle for CSR contributions, or still greenwash, or choose to be in the ostrich camp are clearly choosing to do less or nothing. In 2019, more consumers with the wallet and vote want a sustainable travel experiences and they are demanding more urgent actions and rigorous commitment to sustainability, and hotels who want their business be the first to change.
Very few in the travel industry and others have responded early to the terrifying Climate Emergency and the need to mitigate carbon emissions, and few universities and colleges are preparing students to deal with the crisis ahead. This is deeply felt by young people today who are getting angry, fearful and concerned about their future. To Generation Y & Z, it is personal.
NOW is a legacy project to help the travel industry we love to transform and thrive. In late spring this year, the first Sustainability Week Switzerland project was launched with a vision to bring sustainability into all aspects of Swiss higher education institutions. NOW assisted a group of inspired future hoteliers (Max Gurney, Stefano Abedum de Lima, Sofia Buzzonetti, Ruber de Wit, Alina Kroeger, Daan VosKuil and Alexander Egger) to put together the first student led Embracing Sustainability Forum at Ecole Hotelier du Lausanne (EHL) focused on the urgent need for rigorous sustainability with accountability and transparency in the hospitality industry. It was attended by hotel industry leaders, supportive alumni and several hundred future hoteliers who later reflected with concern on the absence of EHL’s CEO and professors even though they were invited. Lively discussions emerged on everyone’s expectations of the ‘best hospitality school in the world’ to seriously ‘walk the talk’ on sustainability and to prepare their students for a future career that will be impacted gravely by climate emergencies. Many of today’s Gen Y&Z students who aspire for a better world know that the entire system must seriously change from most higher education institutions to governments, that we need leaders that lead, and that it is time for action. Those that act NOW will be the much-needed leaders of tomorrow.
Our growing consciousness and the recent ‘flight shame’ initiatives prompted many travellers to take a sobering look at the impact of air travel and the hotels they stay at. Many of us are taking a deeper soul-searching look at our values and the values of the companies we support. Our urgent actions or lack of it today and in the coming years will determine how gravely affected we will be. As we experience another hottest summer on record, the climate emergency is affecting all of us … it is becoming personal!
NOW is not anti travel or anti flying. We boldly inform travellers so they can better understand the climate emergency and the need for more rigorous sustainability and conscious travel; and we inspire and empower action by providing tools to make smarter choices on what to do, where to go and who to stay with, and to use their spending power to change our world. It must be NOW!
Travel sustainably with these traveller tools.
May 7, 2019 Embracing Sustainability Forum at Ecole Hotelier du Lausanne, Switzerland