Tag Archive for Eco Tourism

2012 – a very Responsible year!

I’ve been trying to look back on some of the things that we have achieved over the last year in our efforts to always act sustainably, responsibly and ethically, and give back to the local communities that welcome us so generously on all of our challenges. It was only when I started looking through everything that has happened that I realized what a long year it has been! From our Essex2India cycle ride with Lydia Bright and Denise Van Outen, to launching the business in Canada and landing two Canadian exclusive challenges in 2013 with UNICEF and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, not to mention the team changes with the leaving and hiring of several new staff members… 2012 seems to have passed in a blur!!
Looking back has been useful; because it has given us all a chance to plan forward… we can see what we have achieved, and what there is still left to do. With that in mind, here are my top 5 Responsible Tourism highlights of 2012. Enjoy!

5. The Rainforest Alliance conference
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to a conference hosted by the Rainforest Alliance, celebrating their 25 years. I wrote about the conference in my blog shortly after, but what impressed me the most (and why it deserves to be in my top 10) is that the conference went right to the heart of what sustainability will mean for future economies, focusing in particular on South American and African countries. It showed the important part that western businesses play in supporting other economies… not through charity, but through buying ethically produced goods and on the understanding that this benefits everyone involved.

4. Building schools in Brazil and Nepal
Little known fact about Charity Challenge – most of our business used to be made up of running Community Challenges for exclusive charity or corporate groups, all with the aim of contributing to schools, homes and other building projects, in the developing world. Sadly the call for these types of challenges decreased as the more adventurous trips to Kili and Everest took over, but this year we sent two groups out to Brazil and Nepal to contribute to building projects in some of the poorest areas of the countries. Significant progress was made, with houses being re-roofed, proper windows put in, ceilings plastered and walls painted, not to mention the houses that were completely started from scratch. Everything is done with the help of a proper construction supervisor, group leader and trained crew – to make sure the houses are well made and sturdy.

3. Climate Care and ‘Carbon for Water’
This year we made a payment to Climate Care of just over £23 000 to offset our carbon emissions. Since 2007 we have offset over 10 000 tonnes of fuel, which is the equivalent of taking more than 3000 cars of the road for a year… hmmm fresh air! The money goes to fund carbon reduction projects like the Kenyan project Carbon for Water. This short video will tell you more in a few minutes than I could explain in the next ten pages, but in short, the project distributes simple gravity fed water filters, providing safe water to 4.5 million people in Kenya. It was recently featured in the Guardian, and we are incredibly proud of having contributed to it.

2. Local project support
For each participant that takes on a challenge with us, we make a donation to a local charity or project that works and concentrates aid in the country that the participant is travelling to. This is a long-term commitment of ours, and one that deserves to be at number two on the hit list! Projects who have thanked us and benefited from the support are as wide ranging as the International Porter Protection Group for our Nepal and Stok Kangri trips (IPPG); a small orphanage in Romania for our Trek Transylvania; Community Projects Africa for all Kili adventures and the Sumatran Orangutan Society for our Sumatran Jungle Trek. To read more about the projects that we support, click here. Needless to say we are pleased and proud to have supported so many this year.

1. The Deepen Rai foundation
A sobering note on which to end the round up, but a fitting end nonetheless. We sadly lost one of our most amazing and talented guides this year, Deepen Rai. He has led many, many of our Stok Kangri and Everest Base Camp challenges, and he sadly died in a plane crash while taking a group of British trekkers from another UK tour operator. We had thought to set up a fund in his name, and by cooperating with the other operator in question we have contributed a great deal, with the help of some extremely kind donations from YOU. We are still in talks with Deepen’s wife regarding where the money should be used. Deepen was the sole earner, and he had a wife and children who depended on his income, as well as helping to support a project in the Himalayan region of Nepal. The money will continue to support them, although it still cannot replace the loss of a husband and father.

So a year of ups and downs, providing lots of food for thought. I haven’t even mentioned World Responsible Tourism day on the 7th November, but that’s another story. It has been, on the whole, a good year, and we are looking forward to some exciting things ahead for 2013 so watch this space!

From all at Charity Challenge we wish you a very Happy, Healthy and RESPONSIBLE Christmas period!!

25 years of the Rainforest Alliance… where will they go from here?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to a conference celebrating the Rainforest Alliance’s 25th anniversary. I’m not usually the person in the office who looks after our relationship with the organisation, so learning about what they had achieved since their beginnings in 1987, and their visions for a sustainable future, was a welcome learning experience for me. The list of invitees was impressive, including several big shots within the corporate world of Kraft, Nestle, Marks and Spencer and Costa among others, and left me with the impression that I was rather a small fish in a big pond (or a small tree in a large Rainforest…).

To give you a potted history of the Rainforest Alliance’s work through the years, their main aim in the beginning was to conserve biodiversity by transforming land-use practices and changing consumer behavior. Their system of Certification of farms and forests – RA helped to establish the Forest Stewardship Council. Think you don’t know the FSC? Check your orange juice packaging, or the toilet roll you buy. Their logo is instantly recognizable, once you know where to look – has led to tangible benefits for ecosystems and human populations. In the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, the ape population density is significantly higher in FSC certified forests. That’s a win for ecology! Elsewhere, yields in certified cocoa farms are higher than in non-certified farms, which have lead to an improved productivity of 30-40%, and therefore an increased income. This incentivizes farmers, who have better access to healthcare, higher pay and a better quality of life.

I could go on and on. That would, however, mean glossing over the more uncomfortable subject of the work that is left to do. Recently the Rainforest Alliance launched their ‘Follow the Frog’ campaign (watch the below hilarious video for the finer details), which directly targets consumer attitudes towards responsible buying. Ie, what can WE do, actively, and what should we do? Is it reasonable to believe that, instead of buying your usual coffee/tea/chocolate, if you purchase a bag of coffee with a Frog on it the world will suddenly undergo a significant change? I’m not sure about that. But what if 50 people did it? And then 100? These are the kind of large-scale behavior changes that can engender positive repercussions.

If there is one thing that I learned from the conference, it’s that big businesses such as the aforementioned powerhouses have a responsibility to offer the right things, rather than expecting customers to buy them. I rather enjoyed the thoughts of one of the ladies on the panel, who impressed upon her audience that the value of kindness was going to be good business in the future. Consumers are tending towards better products, better service, a better ethos, and going away from the value of ‘more’ that was so predominant in the Noughties. So why not transfer this sentiment to tourism too?

Indeed, surely kindness should be one of the most important values in an industry that connects many millions of people across the world each year, forcing disparate cultures into contact and bringing many tourists into the world’s most fragile ecosystems. As a tour operator, we hold a role of great responsibility within the industry, and it is our duty to ensure that our expeditions benefit the host communities so that these destinations retain their natural and cultural treasures for future generations to enjoy. The tourism section of Rainforest Alliance is small but growing. To be a member of the international community of tour operators, TOPS (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability), we signed an agreement committing to encourage our suppliers out in country (lodges, hotels, restaurants etc) to become verified and to give priority to certified and verified suppliers always. It is, admittedly, really difficult to police and enforce this, but like the directors and officers at companies such as Costa and Marks & Spencer, we realize that a big change is necessary to get long-term results.

I have had many things to think about after the conference, as both an employee of an organization whose mantra is to be responsible, and also as a consumer whose duty it should be to buy responsibly. Perhaps the best thing I learned was the phrase ‘Net Positive’ (never heard that before). It means that we are striving not to be ‘less bad’, not just to dilute negatives with one positive action, but to strive to produce 0 carbon; 0 waste; to buy food that you know has come from sustainable sources, whether from Waitrose or from your local butcher; to research your holidays and ensure that they are being operated responsibly; to try and make real, verifiable changes to human life with your actions.

No pressure then!

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with responsible tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.