CONTRIBUTOR: Emma Castle & Chi Lo
GETTING TO KNOW CHI LO
Who is Chi Lo? And how did she get involved in the sustainability industry? Read on to find out.
Can you tell us a bit about Chi Sustainability?
Chi Sustainability is a boutique consultancy that crafts sustainability strategy and content for tourism organisations, and provides advisory and coaching services for businesses at any point in their sustainability journey. With the knowledge that consumers – particularly Millennials and Gen Z – are driving consumer spending and putting their dollars where their values are, the case for sustainability and socially responsible business practices is unequivocal. The aim is to ensure that their strategies embrace sustainability principles in a way that meaningfully engages stakeholders while increasing operational efficiencies.
How did you become interested in sustainability?
Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, it’s something that was instilled from a young age. I was always taught to be conscientious, empathetic and kind, to do the right thing, be a steward for the environment, and be part of the community.
My parents are avid road trippers, and coming from an international background, travel has always been a part of my life. It was after a backpacking trip through Western Europe and seeing souvenir store after souvenir store – and very little of what I felt was representative of the authentic culture and way of life – that I decided to pursue a career in sustainable tourism. I obtained my Masters in Tourism Management from New York University and began working for various travel trade associations and non-profits in the US, Cambodia, and Uganda.
Before starting my own consultancy, I was with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) for about 6.5 years, where I was responsible for establishing PATA’s positive and authoritative position as a sustainability-minded global organisation by advocating for strategic sustainability internally and externally.
In addition, I’ve been serving on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council for the past several years. I hold voluntary roles with the World Tourism Association for Culture & Heritage as an Advisory Member, the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network as a Tourism Expert, and Travindy, as a contributing writer.
What do you see as the major sustainability challenges facing the tourism and hospitality industry?
The challenges I see are not necessarily unique to the tourism and hospitality industry.
There are global ones, like climate change denial – I don’t think I have to explain why that’s a problem!
I hate to say it, but greed and laziness – razing forests for oil, lumber, and agriculture, ocean dumping, using single use plastics – all of these activities have long-term ramifications that are harmful to both communities and environment.
People like to talk about overtourism, but without the right connectivity, it’s hard to get travellers off the main tourist routes. It’s also crucial to have the right policies and infrastructure in place to manage both flow and capacity. Basic municipal and regional systems for services such as waste and transportation must be well-managed and supported by policy that is enforced. It’s easy to say, but much, much, harder to implement. Getting these things in place will not only ensure happier tourists; it will also go a long way in preventing local communities from becoming resentful of tourism.
While I would say that people are becoming more aware about socio-environmental issues, in general, there are still so many misconceptions that need to be dispelled. For example, people think that sustainability is expensive. It’s not if it’s effectively administered; it’s an investment that will reap rewards pretty quickly. Not engaging in sustainability will cost more in the long run. There is also a tendency to think that sustainability and ‘green’ are synonymous. Being green means being sustainable, but being sustainable also means taking care of your people, too. The idea is that being sustainable means being a steward for your environment and your community, which will help businesses become financially sustainable, too. The triple bottom line.
What can consumers do to offset their own sustainability impacts when travelling?
Consumers can travel responsibly by being conscientious as they would be at home, and by doing their research beforehand. Look for the hotels and tour operators that contribute to the community, and that talk about sustainability practices on their websites. If you don’t see the answers you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask. Asking helps providers understand what their customers want, and also encourages them to be green.
Other things travellers can do: practice environmentalism as you would at home, bring your own reusable bottles, straws, and bags, pack light, support local businesses, try local food, don’t waste food, engage with the place you are visiting and its residents. Learn a few phrases in the local language, never give money or sweets to beggars or children, ask before taking photos of people, be empathetic, ask lots of questions, be humble, and remember why you travel. Chief Seattle said, ‘Take only memories, leave only footprints.’
In terms of offsetting, carbon offsetting is something that I believe businesses should be responsible for implementing. Businesses are increasingly offsetting on behalf of their customers, as it has largely been ineffective when customers are given the choice to opt in. There are policy initiatives such as the EU’s ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) and ICAO’s CORSIA programmes that already exist to address/offset/enforce carbon emissions from international flights. Through CORSIA (the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), a program that encourages airlines to use lower carbon fuels, airlines that fly internationally will see offsetting requirements imposed on them. This will be implemented in a phased approach over the next 15+ years.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would do?
I wish people would put aside their skepticism and just try. You don’t realise how easy it is to improve your social and environmental impacts until you try. But if you don’t try, you won’t know. It’s like you’ll never know how much you’ll love scuba diving, pilates, or Vegemite if you don’t experience it just once.
Who is getting it right?
There are so many examples. I should note that I’m a firm believer that ‘every little bit counts’ (many drops make an ocean), and there is always room for improvement. Many tourism businesses have their own areas of focus – something they’re really great at, whether it’s managing waste, becoming zero carbon, or engaging community.
I love the example of Vancouver International Airport (YVR), partly because it’s my hometown but also because it is a wonderful example of policy, enforcement, and engagement as a way of achieving an environmental goal. In 2015, the municipality of Vancouver banned organic wastes from the general garbage stream, so the airport had to adapt to the changing regulation. The environmental team at YVR began engaging its food vendors to audit their waste – in a positive way – and to reduce their waste through friendly competition. This may be the best part: winners get really cool, locally made, trophies crafted from recycled chopsticks. This is only one example of the myriad projects YVR has going. With a defined environmental management plan, a strong sustainability culture, and a clear commitment to community, to me, YVR exemplifies within Vancouver – which is aiming to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 – that sustainability is not just about environment.
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