Travelers today face a dilemma between the desire to enjoy unique experiences and their ability to live according to their ecological convictions. How can they reconcile this environmental responsibility when the very principle of travel is to move from one place to another?
Among Relais & Châteaux properties, several hotels are engaging in radical change by becoming carbon neutral. The aim: to cater to evolving demand from a new generation of guests and to reflect a new era of conscious consumption. This is something that touches on how all types of hospitality services are designed and how they impact nature and humanity. But can ecological integrity truly be aligned with exceptional travel and experiences?
With three locations in South America – Iguazú, Patagonia and Atacama – Awasi has become carbon neutral across its entire operation, even assuring that the carbon emissions generated by travelers making their way to these establishments can be captured in the earth.
“I hate that phrase ‘save the planet’,” says Matías de Cristóbal, director of Awasi. “It seems to me to be human arrogance – it’s as if the planet needed humans, and that we humans were here to save it. At most, we may be able to save ourselves, and preserve the natural ecosystems that sustain us.”
Matías’ convictions began taking shape about fifteen years ago when a guest expressed his anxiety over the carbon footprint of flying to Patagonia from the other side of the world. Matías understood there was something profound to be addressed, but few were talking about it back then. Purchasing carbon credits felt like a natural first step.
A few years later, the opportunity arose to invest in land close to the properties. “We started connecting with local culture and nature to generate memorable experiences,” says Matías. “That may seem trivial, but by doing so with integrity, we naturally tended to be in harmony with cultural and natural ecosystems.” Today, through Awasi Foundation, the organization actively invests in conservation, protecting significant swaths of pristine land from the risk of deforestation, reintroducing native species where they have been threatened, and implementing carefully considered social initiatives.
That’s because environmental sustainability and social responsibility are intimately interwoven. Carbon-neutrality is not simply about protecting land and buying carbon credits. It also involves investing in local projects doing good work to protect the natural beauty of the land and its cultural expressions, and whose services generate unique experiences for guests.
“We invest in conservation because we believe in it, because we believe that keeping culture and nature alive are good business, and that is fundamental to our future.” Ultimately, Awasi’s approach comes from a place of passion and a devotion to natural beauty that seeks to protect and preserve the magic guests come to experience – this is their way to “give back”.
Awasi has partnered with EcoQualis, a sustainability consulting and certification firm, which works with organizations around the world to help them define, develop and manage sustainable business models. According to Francisco Ocampo, sustainability advisor for EcoQualis, “the challenge for each hotel is to implement actions to neutralize not only the emissions generated at the hotel, but also those generated by guests when they travel to it.”
As a first step, hotels must try to compensate for that impact. This involves making energy systems more efficient, lowering emissions of the operations, and offering to sequester travel emissions as a service to guests.
That said, engaging in practices like planting trees may take decades to absorb emissions – it is simply not enough, and businesses risk accusations of greenwashing. According to Project Drawdown, a respected resource for climate solutions, the three most potent solutions to reverse climate change are reducing food waste, improving health and education and encouraging plant-rich diets. These measures would result in a predicted carbon absorption of 241.13 gigatonnes of CO2 sequestered by 2050 – much more than could be achieved by conservation and reforestation alone, or even switching from fossil fuels to renewables.
Awasi is just one of our properties operating in harmony with nature. Nayara Springs and Nayara Gardens in Costa Rica as well as EOLO - Patagonia's Spirit in Argentina, are another three leading and certified examples of this movement in Latin America. In France, the Mirazur restaurant is also working with EcoQualis to obtain the certification. Elsewhere, many members are actively considering the possibility of calculating their carbon footprint. “The effect of emissions generated by any entity is the same regardless of where they are produced.”
Matías hopes a vision for carbon-neutrality can take root throughout the Relais & Chateaux family – and hospitality at large. “We are already late,” he says. “Younger generations who are starting to come to our establishments have a completely different vision to [our generation], and are extremely worried.” And while there is no certainty about the return on investment from implementing carbon neutrality, he predicts it will negatively impact the image of those who do not get onboard.
One thing is certain: every single contribution helps, and we all need to contribute so that carbon-neutrality becomes the norm. If the hospitality industry does not evolve, it will suffer as a result. Happily, it has always been a space for radical innovation in how we live, serve others and enjoy life. After all, the Latin roots of hospitality and restaurant mean to regenerate and heal.
Discovering the world’s natural and cultural wonders must now be done with conscious awareness of the impact we are having – the good and the less good. Pleasure with purpose is becoming one of the pillars of exceptional journeys.