Consider the curious cases of Jamie Sweeting and Adam Werbach, two of the judges for our Global Vision Awards. Both have extensive experience on both “sides” of the field. Both garnered impeccable green credentials: Sweeting as a senior business advisor and senior director of travel and leisure with Conservation International, Werbach as the youngest-ever president of the Sierra Club, from 1996 to 1997. But to the consternation of many in the eco-tribe, both found roles in the corporate sector. Sweeting is now vice president of environmental stewardship for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, where he helped develop the new Celebrity Solstice, which, in addition to its revolutionary, energy-efficient hull design, will be the first commercial cruise ship to use solar power. Werbach has consulted on sustainability issues for Wal-Mart and directs Saatchi & Saatchi S, the “sustainable branding” division of the advertising giant. Both men insist that the future of environmentalism lies in promoting change on a broad scale—by engaging the corporate “big guns” rather than labeling them as beyond repair and hoping they’ll just go away.
Going green can mean huge savings for a company’s bottom line, from lower electric bills to tax credits. The image of virtue certainly doesn’t hurt, but neither Werbach nor Sweeting is overly concerned with PR. “We tend not to work with companies who approach us from within a social-responsibility framework,” Werbach says. “Those interests generally don’t have a lot of power within their organizations. We prefer when they say, ‘We want to save 30 percent on our fuel costs’ or ‘We want to make our employees happier at work.’ These are core business challenges that in some ways have nothing to do with being green—they have to do with making money. And there’s never been a time in our lives when financial interests were so closely aligned with the needs of the planet.”
Sweeting concurs. “Green concerns are not seen as a competitive advantage among the cruise lines—we’re all trying to work together,” he says. “As an industry we recognize that maintaining a safe and clean environment on the oceans is vital to our business.”
Reforming the big guns may prove as slow as, well, turning a cruise ship around. Yet on this scale even incremental changes can have a sizable effect. Not only do these companies have the most impact and influence within their fields; they also reach the widest audience of the unconverteds we talked about earlier. So if a cruise line makes the decision to offer marine-life conservation lectures alongside the obligatory melon-in-your-cleavage relay races on the lido deck, maybe it’s time to see that not as greenwashing but as a measure of…progress?“Every gesture counts,” Werbach says. “Even replacing paper towels with hand-dryers in a casino helps remind people what we’re up against.”
The road to salvation, in other words, may lie not in that eight-room eco-resort in the Costa Rican jungle, but in Las Vegas, where 750,000 of us go in a single week to forget our troubles and forgive our earthly sins. If just 1 percent of that number can learn to live without high-pressure showerheads and subzero air-conditioning, maybe we can all learn to shift our priorities and be a little more mindful than mindless. Perhaps one day fluorescent-lit honeymoons will be the norm, and we’ll no longer pine for the alternative. We won’t feel guilty and resentful for not complying or smug for doing so; we’ll just do it, because that’s what we do.
In the meantime, we’re going to need a little help from on high. So could we please switch off the @#$%ing poolside misters?
Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure’s editor-at-large.