As Ben Gill returns from a week hiking around Mont Blanc, he reflects on the important role tourism can play in raising awareness about the climate crisis – and inspiring action
What do you like about One Planet Living?
You mean, besides changing the world and saving the planet?! I don’t want to be cliché, but it feels good to be part of something where you are making real change, little by little. With One Planet Living, everyone can play a part in reducing the footprint of the company.
My favourite thing about my new role though is working with people to engage them with the framework - I’m definitely a people person. There are more than 1000 staff living and working at Singita Serengeti, so it was overwhelming to begin with, but I’m finding my feet.
My biggest success so far has been the One Planet ‘movie’ I created for internal use, involving my colleagues.
Can you tell me more about the film?
We have a staff Facebook page for all the Singita properties across Africa; I was inspired by the photos and videos other lodges were sharing that showcased their engagement with One Planet Living.
I had to do some training with staff anyway, so I thought that creating a video would be an interesting way to engage people. I asked them to help me explain what One Planet Living is and how we use it at Singita Serengeti. I got far more buy-in for One Planet Living through this process than if I had made a film about it on my own.
The training wasn’t very high level, but I wanted to start with the basics first so that everyone could understand what we are doing. I could see the way it changed people’s mindsets with every session. It made my heart so warm to see people talking about and discovering their impact, thinking about how they could change - especially around eating meat, which is an important part of local culture.
I was having lunch at one of Singita’s lodges the other day. I don’t often eat at the lodge, so I thought I’d treat myself to some lamb but as I ordered from Charles, the waiter, he said ‘But Vee, it’s Meat Free Monday!’ I haven’t done One Planet Living training with him yet, but he knows about it because there is constant messaging that’s cutting through.
And now when people make a more environmentally friendly decision, they say to me: ‘Hey Vee, I am a one planet warrior!’
What was your role before joining Singita Serengeti?
I’ve been a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none. But I think all my roles have prepared me for my new job. Most recently, I was the station manager at the community and campus radio station in Stellenbosch. I started as a presenter, then Human Resources Manager, and then I had the opportunity to run the station.
So, while I don’t have much ‘sustainability’ experience, I’ve got a good understanding of community outreach and engagement, which is such an integral part of sustainability efforts.
The way that the framework is broken down into principles creates specific talking points – helping people feel empowered, rather than overwhelmed by the whole picture of sustainability.
My role is very people-focused, I don’t get involved in the technical stuff – we have others for that!
When I joined the community, One Planet Living had already been in use for more than 6 years. There are a lot of people here and many opinions about the framework. Most are positive, but a few were questioning initiatives like ‘Meat Free Monday’, and whether they make a difference.
This feedback from the people living and working here helps shape my strategy. My current focus is starting conversations about sustainability and setting people on the path to making small changes – that’s the first step.
And One Planet Living helps with this. The way that the framework is broken down into principles creates specific talking points – helping people feel empowered, rather than overwhelmed by the whole picture of sustainability.
As you know, when you came to visit recently, we talked about how One Planet Living sets up a strong ‘basecamp’ for achieving sustainability and then helps us reach for the summit.
What are your plans for 2020?
Where do I go after the One Planet movie?!
With my experience in radio, I know that when encouraging change, it’s important to tell a story, so that people understand the reasons behind it. I’ve made a calendar of awareness days celebrated around the world because I find them useful ‘hooks’ for activities, as they provide context.
Recently, we celebrated ‘Walk to Work Day’, which we’re now going to do on the first Friday of every month, as long as people are able and it’s safe - I.e. there are no wild animals around! Having a dedicated day makes it easier to start the conversation with your colleagues.
Regular activities are also a great way to stay front of mind. You don’t want to be constantly asking people to change their habits as it makes it feel like a chore. Keeping messages consistent, relevant to their lives and fun is a must.
I’ll be running a weekly ‘One Planet Champions’ initiative too. I had some ‘One Planet Warrior’ t-shirts printed, and everyone wants one. But, rather than hand them out freely, I want people to feel a sense of achievement when getting one. The initiative will recognise sustainability efforts with a t-shirt and promote what they’ve been doing to all our colleagues too.
One of my next One Planet Warriors is our Executive Chef, Mia Neethling. She’s constantly finding ways to reduce our food waste and opting for biodegradable alternatives to packaging, going above and beyond her job description.