The Sustainable Business Council Blog

“Got Nature?”
July 2, 2009, 7:46 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lisa Swallow & Genevieve King – May In Business

“Got Nature?” The catch phrase emblazoned on the front of the Parks & Recreation insert concisely sums up good times in these parts. Don’t misunderstand – bowling, shooting pool, playing cards, attending a movie or reading a good book are all worthy sources of entertainment! But with a veritable cornucopia of outdoor activities in our backyard, it’s hard to resist looking to the natural world to quench our recreational yearning.
Obviously clean water and air, diverse flora and fauna and pristine open space are critical to many outdoor activities. Whether folfing, hunting, snowshoeing, birding, trail running, mountain biking, shooting a rapid, skiing or casting at your favorite hole, the intimate connection with the untrammeled natural world makes for a unique experience. Sustaining high quality recreation opportunities for future generations requires embracing an understanding that how we meet our current needs will impact how our descendants get to meet theirs. If you’ve ever seen a Hummer at a trailhead, you know that not everyone makes the connection. Even when recreating, try to be conscious of your resource usage – Americans collectively emit 25% of the world’s carbon, while comprising a scant 4% of its population.
Outdoor recreation and tourism, while not intrinsically environmentally beneficial, yields vast potential to benefit our communities (and the environment) when engaged in sustainably. Green recreation, or ecotourism, is about conservation and communities and is the new age term used to market every guided back country trip, cultural tour group, farm/ranch excursion and chartered fishing float around. Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Ecotourism is the most rapidly growing segment of the tourism industry and that’s not lost on local entrepreneurs who see how green tourism makes strategic sense. The cool thing about sustainable tourism and recreation is its constancy. It’s generally not a boom-n-bust industry sector, but rather economically sustainable in the long term. And true ecotourism builds environmental /cultural awareness while providing direct financial benefits for conservation and local people. All three tenets of the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit) are enhanced when authentic ecotourism is at play.

The potential here in Montana is phenomenal. Nonresident visitor spending generated over 33,000 direct travel jobs (and nearly 45,000 total jobs) and contributed over $1 billion in total personal income for Montana residents in 2007. Travel expenditures by nonresident visitors generated over $4.3 billion in total economic impact for our state. Although most of us are suffering from ‘big number fatigue’, it’s easy to see how significant these figures are.

Montana has a reputation for high value-added tourism services. Although we rank 42nd in the U.S. for total tourist spending, we come in seventh in the nation in per capita tourist spending.
As more folks suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder’, the opportunities for introducing folks to natural areas to engage in authentic experiences will surely only grow.

Ecotourism destinations differ greatly in focus and innovativeness, but most folks interested in engaging in green recreation/tourism look for the following:
• Lodging that follows ecologically sound principles like utilizing toxin-free products, recycling and upholding water/energy minimization practices.
• Tour and activity guides that are able to offer an educational component to supplement their green activities, such as describing flora, fauna and geological/cultural history while kayaking or kite boarding. Ecotourists tend to be more educated than the ‘average’ tourist and are interested in learning as an integral part of the experience.
• Minimizing resources used –paperless communication/marketing and few disposables, for example.
• Sourcing of local products, particularly food and beverages, are increasingly viewed as a core element of ecotourism.
• Employment practices that provide for living wages and adequate benefits.
• An opportunity to engage with indigenous people in a genuine way.

Low impact, nature-based recreation is a cornerstone of Montana life, for tourists and residents alike. Whether getting out into the wild blue yourself or being a part of a business that draws revenue from ecorecreation, strive to be mindful about intergenerational responsibility – that core element of sustainability. Is going through a case of bottled water while paddling through a heron rookery ecologically sound? Do you need fistfuls of gadgets made in China to enjoy a hike in the Bitterroot Selway wilderness? Help create conscience recreation by being a great example for others. See you on the trail!


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