Five People Changing the Way We Think About Sustainable Travel
A visionary president leading his nation in the face of rising sea levels. A wine scion bringing together climate thought leaders. An activist galvanizing youth all over the world. These Global Vision Awards honorees are the voices we need now.
The Travel + Leisure Global Vision Awards aim to identify and honor companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences. Not only are they demonstrating thought leadership and creative problem-solving, they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. What’s more, they are inspiring their industry colleagues and travelers to do their part.
The majority of our Global Vision Awards list is made up of nonprofits, consortia, companies, and institutions — but what is any organization, really, without its people? In the past year, we’ve seen the power a single voice can have in moving others to make a change through social media, activism, and sheer persistence. Greta Thunberg, Time’s Person of the Year for 2019, is perhaps the most well-known sustainability advocate, and we would be remiss to not include her among our honorees — but we are also glad to shine a spotlight on other leaders speaking up and speaking out in their respective fields. — T+L Editors
As a child in Ecuador in the 1990s, Daniela Fernandez frolicked in the clean, cold waters of the Pacific. Years later, when she attended a UN environment meeting as a Georgetown first year, she realized that the oceans were in jeopardy. She heard about collapsing marine ecosystems, withering reefs, acidifying oceans, and warming waters. She also noticed that she was by far the youngest person in the room. Within months (at just 19 years old) she founded the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to educating her peers about the world’s waters — and empowering them to help. The SOA global network brings leaders under 35 together to devise economically viable initiatives that protect and improve the health of the oceans. Through its accelerator program, it has boosted nearly two dozen marine technology-focused start-ups with seed funding and mentoring. Among them: Loliware, which makes disposable straws and cups from seaweed-based bioplastic.
Through passionate speeches and social media savvy, climate-change warrior Greta Thunberg has helped galvanize other young activists and, critically, bring attention to the need for environmental action on the part of world governments.
Effects of this worldwide movement on the travel industry are unmistakable, especially in the Swedish teen's proverbial backyard, with passenger-rail companies across Europe posting record-high earnings in recent years. But to Thunberg, this is only a start. Her mission is to mount a collective global effort to address carbon emissions and climate change. She’s also concerned about equity — about quality of life in the developing world, as well as addressing environmental problems that threaten irreversible effects for future generations. “What we do or don't do right now will affect my entire life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren," said Thunberg at the TEDx Stockholm conference in 2018. "What we do or don't do right now, me and my generation can't undo in the future.”
Thunberg clearly understands the power of leading by example, but at the same time, she has been up-front about the fact that she, alone, cannot make the difference. Rather, it’s up to each of us to make informed choices in our own travels and, together, urge our politicians and business leaders to do better, too.
President Thomas Remengesau, Jr.
Under Remengesau’s visionary leadership, Palau, a nation of 340 islands in the western Pacific, has become a standard-setter in marine conservation. His administration has banned single-use plastics; outlawed reef-damaging compounds in sunscreens; and curbed runoff of agricultural chemicals into the sea. This year, Palau established a marine sanctuary to protect the majority of its waters, an area larger than the state of California.
Palau is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, and Remengesau has been a powerful voice in calling on world leaders to address the climate crisis. “Our environment determines our health. Our environment determines our economy,” he said in 2016 at Palau’s first- ever conservation symposium. “Our environment is the basis of our cultural heritage and identity.”
The recent bushfires that swept vast parts of Australia highlighted the increasing fragility of the country’s delicate ecosystems — and, in turn, drove home the importance of environmental initiatives like those pioneered by Charles Karlow and his Aussie safari outfitter Wild Bush Luxury. These are exemplified by Arkaba Station, a Wild Bush eco-lodge set on a 60,000-acre preserve in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges that was not affected by Australia’s fires. Arkaba dedicates at least 2 percent of revenues from the lodge to conservation projects. These include a program to relocate thousands of non-native feral cats, goats, and foxes and the replanting of native plant species — which provide crucial habitat for the vulnerable fauna, such as the yellow-footed rock wallaby, on Arkaba’s land. Guests at Arkaba can even take an active role in conservation efforts by helping to perform land surveys and set up wildlife-monitoring systems like camera traps.
“I ask you to be a steward of the earth,” Julia Jackson said last April to the 250 attendees of the inaugural Grounded Summit in Sonoma, California. “We need to collaborate, and we need to move quickly. Your task? Spread the word and get grounded.”
There are, of course, plenty of conferences on climate change. What makes the Grounded Summit different is the Kendall-Jackson wine heiress’s remarkable ability to bring important, sometimes idiosyncratic voices into the same room. Among those on the intentionally eclectic roster were venture capitalists funding eco-revolutionary technologies, indigenous leaders battling Big Oil in the Amazon, Arctic ice researchers, and top foundation executives.
One major topic of discussion was the global rise in wildfires, an issue that hit home soon after. In October, the Kincade fire swept across Sonoma County — tearing through the Jackson family vineyards and destroying her Geyserville home. But the loss only bolstered her resolve. Later this year, in wine country, she plans to host the second Grounded Summit. The theme? “Accelerate and Connect.”