“Poverty, income inequalities and access to healthcare” were noted as top social obstacles, while “high levels of CO2 emissions and pollution” marked as top threats to biodiversity are issues that “will require major transformations to achieve the SDGs by 2030”. The rate at which the United States generates “negative and environmental externalities”, abstract from the other countries' achievements towards reaching the SDGs by 2030.
With the recent change in the United States governmental administration, along with President Biden's Build Back Better Plan, many feel that there is optimism ahead. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration rolled back over 100 environmental rules, such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, loosened emission standards for cars and trucks, decreased methane standards for oil and gas companies, and even blocked the rule to phase out insufficient light bulbs.
As the environment and social standards are now being reinstated and awareness of many issues such as Black Lives Matter are being brought forward, the time to educate and empower Americans is moving forward. Change is not always easy, but hopefully through informing the public as to why overcoming these issues is important and teaching governmental and business stakeholders how to achieve solutions, progress will be measurable.
Organizations calling for change
Throughout the decades, many American non-profits have been battling endlessly to save valuable land and steer the public and government towards more responsible actions. Founded in 1892 by John Muir, the Sierra Club was created with purposes such as to “explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth” and to “promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems”. Decades later with over 3.8 million members and the supporters, the organization is calling on citizens to unite and influence businesses and infrastructural stakeholders that can make a difference.
The Sierra Club’s website features a large bank of initiatives including “ The Ready For 100 Activist Toolkit” which is a blueprint for citizens “who want to move their community to 100% clean, renewable energy”. Currently over 170 cities nationwide have signed up for the campaign, which offers online tips and resources, so that citizens can organize their own local campaigns “and win!”
Additionally, the grassroots organization, advocates for rallies to fight for the protection of public lands and wildlife. As stated by the Sierra Club, to reverse the path to both wildlife extinction and the climate crisis, “30 percent of the undeveloped land” in the United States needs to be protected by 2030. To accomplish this goal the organization proposes such measures as “protect and restore large, intact landscapes and wildlife corridors, implementing land conservation strategies, support the conservation of Tribal Nations and open lands and parks near communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities”.
Tourism actors embracing sustainability
Actors in the tourism industry are also embracing conservation ideals and beginning to shift their operations and management tactics to support sustainability. Jet Blue, a major American low cost airline, is exchanging its traditional gas and diesel vehicles for electric equipment, composting and reclaiming fabric and electronics and launching other initiatives such as Transatlantic Economy, farm to flight meals. The new dining program will soon offer economy passengers traveling to London, fresh locally sourced meals that will be served in reusable containers and cutlery.
Discover Moab, is a destination management organization in Utah that promotes protection and preservation. The town of Moab sits as the gateway city to five large national parks. The city has banned plastic bags, introduced charging stations for electric vehicles and its “Green to Gold Program” is helping educational institutions, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits transition to sustainable practices and management. The program offers facility audits, rebate programs and impact assessments, all of which are pushing the destination to become carbon neutral.
One such business in the Moab community that is collaborating with the DMO on sustainable issues and leading by example, is the ACT Campground and Environmental Learning Center. The Campground’s objective is to provide a green integrated park for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Buildings on the premises are constructed from straw bales of hay and recycled materials, the staff encourages guests to use a clothes line for drying their personal belongings so as to minimize electricity and a community kitchen prompts the exchange of ideals and information. A project to salvage rainwater is currently underway along with a study of how to conserve more energy from the aquifer that runs below the campground. The owners hope that clients will see that “comfort and joy are still possible with less energy” when enjoying a camping experience.
In Wyoming, The Riverwind Foundation is working to unite efforts to reverse negative impacts created by visitors and residents in the Greater Jackson Hole and Yellowstone Region. The goal of the organization is to unite the efforts of the overall community to become more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. As education is key, sustainable workshops on such topics as energy efficiency and renewable energy are offered to provide local businesses with the toolkits they need to further their initiatives and overcome challenges. The foundation offers one location where information can be shared and collaborated so as to extend coherence.
The Bentwood Inn is an exemplary partner of the Riverwind Foundation who offer sustainably focused lodging in the beautiful area. The Inn sources local organic food for meals, naturally and locally sourced products for guest rooms, is eliminating plastics and even offers guests complementary use of bicycles on the property to utilize. The establishment states that it is a work in progress, but continues to improve upon its impact and hopes to maintain a “below threshold relationship with the environment”.
With a purpose of not only providing travelers with outstanding adventures, tour operator Kind Traveler aims to provide benefits to one of the many causes that it supports from human rights, animal welfare to education, so that the traveler will have a positive impact towards the communities where they travel. One of the many charities featured is the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which is an organization that addresses hunger, providing a responsive emergency food system for those local residents in need.
The “Give and Get Hotel Room” platform on Kind Traveler’s website allows for the customer to receive an “exclusive hotel rate when giving a $10 nightly donation to either the locally highlighted charity that positively impacts the visiting destination, or a charity of choice”. Making a donation not only brings awareness to causes that may otherwise go unnoticed near the community where a hotel room may be booked, but enables tourists to know that they are contributing towards social and environmental needs and choosing responsible tourism establishments..
Education and change
The United States still faces many obstacles, education being one of the most important both to generate a more positive social impact and for environmental motives. Now in 2021, the overall poverty rate in America is continuing to grow to one of the highest levels in history, according to Human Rights Watch, and the division between classes continues to spread. Addressing social problems is vastly needed and at an emergency status, in that many low income households are struggling to meet very basic needs and face difficulty in escaping from poverty.
One community based project, The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, was created not only to supply healthy fruits and vegetables to those that could not afford it but to teach youth how to produce sustainable food and appreciate the land. The initiative aims to introduce young adults from diverse backgrounds to good practises, where the mission is to use “urban agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community. ” The hope of the organization is to empower the less privileged and provide tools that they may use in the future for both themselves and the environment.
On the governmental side, the Bureau of Land Management has been operating a successful wild horse training program, where correctional inmates train wild horses so they may be publicly adoptable. The effort is to reduce the size of the world horse herd in order to protect public lands, simultaneously the program helps prisoners to re-establish themselves by developing a new skill and gaining social therapy through their care of the horses.
Hope for the future
Tourism stakeholders have the ability to be leaders in the sustainable movement, as many are committed to support the protection of open landscapes, wildlife and responsibility towards creating a more positive social climate in the United States however there is still work to be done. As the tourism industry is engaging in sustainable practices and are creating new innovation, many more measures need to be adopted in order to reverse the damage that has accumulated.
From banning the use of single- use plastic, educating youth and staff, creating more fertile working conditions and overall raising awareness on the critical issues at hand, many powerful steps can be commenced all the way from a personal basis in making conscious decisions, to policy changes as leaders call on government and business officials to make responsible management and legislation. Small gains can collectively amount to big gains, so if tourism leaders embrace sustainability and lead by example shifting America to a more sustainable future.