Structures and Systems for Change
Clearly, none of these environmental elements stands alone. Carbon mitigation, biodiversity conservation, waste management, and an adequate and clean water supply are all interconnected and interdependent — much like the ecosystems they aim to protect. Poor waste management can lead to the emission of harmful gases and can also lead to the contamination of the water supply, both of which have the potential to threaten biodiversity. A sustainable waste management program may require additional energy, thereby increasing a destination’s carbon footprint. For this reason, a holistic approach to sustainability investment is essential.
Furthermore, none of the key environmental issues can be addressed effectively by policymakers or business leaders unless systems and structures are in place that both regulate and promote sustainability. A destination may be deeply committed to embarking on a sustainable path, but without private- and public-sector systems and structures that enable environmental change, that path may be too chaotic to navigate. These systems and structures include the following.
• Regulations and governance. Legislation should be ambitious in breadth and specific in depth, protecting the environment and limiting potentially harmful development in addition to encouraging positive behavior. Destinations can implement measures including green taxes, park entry fees, and pollution penalties, and can also subsidize investments in sustainable projects. In addition, they can implement smart capacity-management principles that limit the number of tourists and optimize the yield per tourist in capacity-constrained areas. In the Maldives, for example, to protect the nation’s fragile ecosystem, tourism is limited to selected zones and a subset of uninhabited islands.
Similarly, in the Republic of Kiribati, a tropical nation in the central Pacific where unregulated fishing was decimating the island nation’s stock, the government introduced regulations to monitor and control fishing enterprises. These businesses are now required to provide the government with an annual environmental impact assessment.
As these examples demonstrate, the highest levels of government must sponsor sustainability programs, with appropriate bodies at the national, regional, or local level spearheading and facilitating implementation.
• Stakeholder participation. The term tourism sector is widely used, but tourism encompasses a wide variety of business sectors. With that in mind, any truly holistic sustainability program requires the engagement of many different stakeholders. It is absolutely vital that government, the private sector, and civil society collaborate to create and implement sustainable policy. Sustainability efforts can be driven by a wide range of stakeholders, including national, regional, and local governments; commercial or civil interest groups; and private players. (See “The Megacommunity Approach to Tackling the World’s Toughest Problems,” by Fernando Napolitano, s+b, Autumn 2010.)
At the government level, the ministry of tourism should collaborate with private- and public-sector entities responsible for the environment, energy, agriculture, transport, health, finance, security, and other relevant areas, as well as local municipalities. This type of collaboration plays a critical role in aligning national and local interests, and helps speed up execution.
For example, the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) is the U.K.’s only sustainable tourism certification program validated by the national tourism board. Businesses opting to join the GTBS are assessed against a rigorous set of criteria in areas including energy and water efficiency, waste management, and biodiversity. Those that meet the criteria receive a bronze, silver, or gold award based on their level of achievement.
As the GTBS example shows, the entire financial burden of sustainability does not have to rest on the shoulders of local businesses or the backs of taxpayers: Public–private partnerships can act as highly efficient sustainability program initiators. For example, a hotel can participate in a technology initiative by buying shares in a government-built solar plant.