The Walt Disney Company
When the company behind the Happiest Place on Earth makes a commitment to becoming completely carbon neutral (and reaching 50 percent of that goal by 2012), it’s more than a step in the right direction. It’s a far-reaching plan that’s guaranteed to change the landscape for mega-corporations around the world. In the past year, Disney has pledged to reduce its solid waste by 50 percent by 2013, conserve millions of gallons of water, invest in renewable energy, and step up its eco-educational programs for students—proof that companies can be forward-thinking, sustainable, and profitable all at once. Disney.com/responsibility
Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia
Just two hours from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat lies the lesser-known—but no less majestic—stone temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. Commissioned in the 12th century by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII, the site in recent years has fallen victim to vandalism, looting, and disrepair. Since 2008, Global Heritage Fund, a conservancy based in Palo Alto, California, has led efforts to stabilize the complex and its elaborate bas-relief galleries. The nonprofit’s mission is dual: protect one of Cambodia’s great historic treasures and engage the neighboring community by employing Khmer specialists and developing a model for sustainable tourism in the area. globalheritagefund.org.
EcoVentura, Galápagos Islands
This small Ecuadorean cruise company is charting a new course for travel to Darwin’s famous islands. Not only was it one of the first to attain the Rainforest Alliance’s stringent Smart Voyager eco-certification, but it’s introduced initiatives to conserve the area’s biodiversity, funded university scholarships for local students, offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions, and, most recently, committed to converting its fleet to hybrid energy boats by 2015. ecoventura.com.
Element Hotels, United States
By now we’ve seen plenty of properties that use reclaimed woods and renewable energy, incorporate natural light and recycled materials in guest rooms, and place vegetable gardens on rooftops and near bike paths. Yet what impresses us the most about Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ new eco-hotel brand is the company’s commitment to achieving LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council at all of its properties (currently six are open, with 28 more in the works). Element also serves as an important green laboratory, testing sustainable innovations that may find their way into future Elements—and any of Starwood’s 1,000 other hotels worldwide. starwoodhotels.com.
Spear of the Nation, Johannesburg, South Africa
A tour guide and amateur historian who first visited Johannesburg’s impoverished townships in the 1990’s as a peacekeeper, Robin Binckes has since devoted himself to bringing attention—and travelers—to the often-overlooked township of Alexandra, in the city’s north, through his company, Spear of the Nation. It’s a tribute to his passion that his global clients are frequently inspired to give back, and with their donations, Binckes has been able to build and run a day-care center, sponsor the care of local AIDS orphans, and even establish an area soccer team. spearofthenation.co.za.
Sassi di Matera Albergo Diffuso, Italy
Daniele Kihlgren, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and budding hotelier, is on a mission to save Italy’s forgotten heritage, one inn at a time. It started with the rustic but stylish Sextantio Albergo Diffuso—Kihlgren’s attempt to bring tourism (and money) back to the neglected medieval hamlet in Abruzzo where the inn is located. His latest project is even more ambitious: carefully transform the abandoned cave dwellings of the UNESCO World Heritage site Sassi di Matera, in Basilicata, into guest rooms, creating a living museum that allows travelers unparalleled access to the region and its rich history. sextantio.it.
Vane Farm Sanctuary, Scotland
Thirty Miles from Edinburgh, on the North Sea, lies a blossoming, 20-acre meadow filled with ponds, trails, and wildlife—including thousands of bumblebees. The new sanctuary, the first of its kind to be completely devoted to the pollinators, was established by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for the endangered insects, which are crucial to the world’s environmental health as keystone pollinators. The experiment is working: Now more than 10,000 bumblebees flitter around the park, as visitors bird-watch and hike through the serene Scottish preserve. rspb.org.uk.