World Responsible Tourism Day – Environmental Education

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Demonstrating an environmentally sustainable firewood plantation
Forests are a significant natural heritage asset for tourism, it seems only logical to conserve them
Use this annual event to mobilise tourism operators to take responsible action to care for their destination

If society is aiming to become more sustainable, then I would argue it is critical that we must better engage with the next generation, to grow our capacity for the future. To explain, much noise is made of the tentative steps towards a more sustainable future through mitigation by using technology. This ignores the footprint of creating those new technologies and it does not necessarily change consumer behaviour to be less wasteful. Therefore, we need to move to adaptation and jump over psychological hurdles to build social transitional capabilities. In other words it has “got to be cool to do things differently”, more sustainably.

Our holiday accommodation business is going through these elementary steps of change. For World Responsible Tourism Day (the UN supported call to action) we invited St John the Evangelist High School in Nowra for a field trip to see environmental adaptation and behaviour change policies in action. The field trip included two groups of 10 students, the top Year 9 science students. We were assisted by our work experience student from the UK.

Significantly, althought the students were bright, 90% of them saw the future negatively. They quoted problems like coal seamed gas mining and pollution as reasons to see their inheritance with gloom. Not particularly motivating state of affairs if you are 15 years old! This response took me by surprise. I accept that teenagers can be a little moody (I have two and a third approaching teenage), and I don’t think the children's response reflected the field trip activity’s content!  Rather it reflects the scale of negative media stories and adult conversation which is creating negative thoughts, i.e., a future seen as environmental crises and no happy solutions. This is not a good place from which to expect positive future contributions from teenagers.

One of the keys to our future survival is stimulating far greater social change and the acceptance of sustainable practices as not niche, crazy or “greenie activism”, but mainstream responsible practice in a world moving to 8 billion people very very soon. We believe that using practical demonstrations promoting positive practical advances in the school curriculum is a good place to start. Interestingly, at the end of the field trip we sat and had a brainstorming session discussing reusing waste (the packaging discards of products purchased to feed and provide for our guests). The kids started to contribute positively and put forward ideas like using old cream containers for growing tree seedlings, turning wine glass bottles into vases and cups, using the inside of cereal packets for making wildlife cutout (that guests would see on our property) and so forth. The experience showed what a creative source of lateral thinking children are, and demonstrates how this could be harnessed by Small and Micro Enterprises (SME).

At the end of their trip we gave each student a gift of a long lasting personal water bottle (with sustainability message inside), a tree certificate (for the tree they had planted for conservation) and some locally made fudge. Next day to my delight I heard that these same children proudly brought their water bottle containers to school instead of just buying their regular soft drink packaging solutions (and a week later they still brandish their containers!). For next year’s World Responsible Tourism Day we are considering encouraging our local council and other sustainable businesses to participate in a campaign involving students to come up with great new ways to reuse discards (the packaging items that go to landfill). The would be a social transformation project to get government, business and homes to see sustainability in a new positive way.

Attached is a copy of the field trip work sheet the St Johns kids used. The focus was on trees as this is The International Year of Forests. The children are making a video film of this event, which may help to lodge the event in their mind, share with the rest of the school and families and hopefully move sustainable practice to being a little more “cool”. There are a great many fun environmental activities that tourism business could introduce as part of their experiences.

St John's Worksheet.pdf299.57 KB