Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Things To Think About on Earth Day

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day and with that a lot of organizations are celebrating by observing sustainable environmental practices. Some do it all the time, and some do it once a year. On Earth Day.

Last Fall, I was invited to speak to the annual gathering of the International Eco and Sustainable Tourism Society on how Thunder Bay, a major city of 120 000 people, embraces the outdoor environment in our marketing. Its a remarkably unique approach for a major city and one that has been winning praise in an international tourism arena. I wasn't quite sure what the organization stood for and wondered if I would stand out. I like driving around aimlessly in my convertible on sunny Sunday afternoons and own, admittedly, every gas powered garden tool ever produced. The principles of the promotion of eco and sustainable tourism are simply this.
"The promotion of tourism that conserves the environment and promotes economic and social well being of local populations." When one looks at this in the tourism and community development fields, it encompasses so many things we can do to meet the definition.

Managing a sustainable tourism economy is essential to success today. Employing sustainable practices within organizations is good for the environment and its good for business. In the accommodation sector for example, low flush toilets and high efficiency lighting are the standard norm and result in significant operational savings for operators annually. Sustainability comes in many creative forms and its easy for everyone to do their part. It can mean removing bottled water where quality potable tap water is available. It means replacing those small individual creamers with refillable jugs of cream. It means installing programmable thermostats, using solar powered exterior lighting and maintaining gardens and green spaces. I have even had some great discussions with snowmobile and ATV enthusiasts about employing sustainability principles without having to give up their passion for their sports. sustainability doesn't have to mean we give up or destroy alements of our tourism industry, just that we undertake our operations in a way that is efficient and looks to preserving the future of it.

Sustainable tourism also means supporting local artisans. Everyone knows I like my food. Everyone likes food. Promotion of locally produced, grown and raised meats and produce is one of the biggest things local tourism industry can do. Locally produced foods does not have to travel far to reach the plate, meaning less fuel is burned. local foods are often produced with far less pesticides, if any at all. Local food often tastes, just a little better. One need only visit one of the City's two farmers market to see the plethora of local producers and savour some of the unique culinary ingredients produced in our own backyards by our own neighbors. Thunder Oak Gouda and Both Hands Bread are two of my favorites and news this week that local beef producers are branding their product as locally made is a fantastic addition.

I read an letter this morning by someone complaining that locally produced food is priced uncompetitively. That argument misses the point behind the production, promotion and consumption of local food and are ignoring the benefits of locally produced foods and the production realities of small operations. More importantly, they are confusing value with cheapness. In my travels, I don't find locally produced food expensive at all. I find, like thousands of others, fantastic value in the experience of going to the source, picking out my meal for the evening, talking with the producers themselves and creating something special for my family knowing that I'm serving something healthy and is sustaining local small businesses.

I'm going to be blogging on sustainable tourism on an ongoing basis, sharing success stories from partners and showcasing new trends in promoting a sustainable industry.

...and as for my garage full of fuel burning garden tools, I don't fire them up nearly as often as I used to.

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