by Matthew Sterne on March 24, 2011
5 min read

All this green business really started with what is one of the most widely distributed pictures in history. This famous snapshot (not much different from the one above) was taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft and became etched in the general consciousness of the human race.

Green became linked with Earth Lovers, Tree Huggers and that most special of human sub species; the Hippies. The joke is on us though. It is hard for any rational human to deny the effects of the changing planet without sounding ridiculous. IT HAS TO END. I know capital letters mean that I am shouting and you know what? I am, this cause is worth it.

I may not live in a tree or wear tie-dye but I am proud to call myself a 21st century hippie. And it is for this that I am punting the critical importance of Earth Hour!

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries/territories participating. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum and Cape Town’s Table Mountain all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

Cape Town LIGHTS ON…

Cape Town Lights Off…

On Saturday 27 March, Earth Hour 2010 became the biggest Earth Hour ever. A record 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas switched off. People across the world from all walks of life turned off their lights and came together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.

This year’s Earth Hour is drawing near and on Saturday 26 March at 8.30PM (local time) I will be joining the MILLIONS already committed to this cause by turning off my lights. It is so very simple. Rhino Africans will be in the dark… will you?

This Earth Hour we want you to go beyond the hour, so after the lights go back on think about what else you can do to make a difference. Visit http://www.beyondthehour.org/# to find out what else you can do to save our planet. But for now, here are 10 tips on sustainable tourism:

–    Don’t believe everything you read
At times the negativity around news from Africa reaches comic levels.  If there’s a destination you’re thinking about visiting, read up on it, get informed and make up your own mind.

–    Do your homework
Find out and support the tourism initiatives, which employ local people, invest in their communities, train them up and give them a stake in the business. Hit and run setups that bring in outside help are not interested in the long-term viability of a region if they do not invest in skills training and permanent infrastructure.

–    Fight your footprint
When you arrive, offset your carbon footprint at the new kiosk in the arrivals hall in Cape Town and Johannesburg, which is being funded in part by the Danish government.

–    Who owns what?
Wherever possible, try to support tourism initiatives where the local community has a real stake in what happens. When they don’t, the long-run result is often that not only do the communities miss out on skills acquisition and share holding, but the vast earning potential of each country’s huge and beautiful wilderness expanses are not correctly harnessed to their full extent. Everyone loses.

–    Ask questions
If you find yourself on a guided tour or visiting an area where a lack of investment in local communities is obvious, ask questions of the group guiding you. Ask about the people they employ, what they give back to the community and how they are investing in the human capital of the area. Even if they have not made sustainable tourism a priority, applying pressure to the situation can instigate change.

–    Watch out for Greenwashing
It’s fashionable to care about the environment these days so both sustainable and eco tourism are labels many companies are eager to slap on to their products or services whether they comply or not. If a tourism company claims to follow “green” guidelines don’t take it at face value. Find out how they operate. Ask about their renewable energy sources, what they do with grey water and other eco-friendly tactics they should be employing.

–    Support the local economy
Wherever possible buy local products from local stores and by interacting with local business initiatives

–    Pay a fair price
Just because guidebooks tell you to haggle over everything doesn’t mean that they are right or that they take local conditions into account. Mass-made curios may be cheaper in the cities, but may not have the unique features of a rural craftsman’s work and your saving two quid means a lot more to the local than it does to you.

–    Shop the right way
It’s Africa, so you are probably going to want to take home some unique curios made by highly-skilled craftsmen. Just ensure that what you take home is not illegal like ivory or that something didn’t have to die in order for it to be made (curios made of porcupine quills, carvings made from rare trees). Rather than encourage poaching or deforestation ask your guide for advice on ethical purchases.

–    Be respectful, show an interest
There’s more to African than animals and scenery. Apart from contributing to the people of the places you visit and minimizing the harmful effects of travel, be aware that sustainable tourism also means respecting the cultures you visit. So while ‘culture” may be conveyed differently to what you’re used to (museums and art galleries are scarce), it’s still valued and powerful (e.g. oral story-telling, dance and local delicacies beer brewing). Make an effort, show an interest and your trip will be that much more enjoyable.

To help out on a smaller scale visit http://www.challenge4acause.com or http://safari.rhinoafrica.com to make every area of your life sustainable and planet friendly.