Founder Chairman of Earthwatch Institute
A former investment banker, Brian Rosborough, 66, launched Earthwatch in 1972 with the goal of providing "social venture capital" to scientists by enlisting volunteers to do fieldwork. Now, through the institute, nearly 4,000 volunteers each year join working scientific expeditions. Earthwatch has become one of the world's largest private funders of field research.
"If people get involved in solving problems, they usually end up owning the problems, and problems that are owned get solved first. With global warming advancing, it's my hope that volunteers at Earthwatch will become ground troops who can help document what's actually happening on the planet. You can look at plenty of satellite pictures and see change in them, but until you get on the ground—in some cases down on your hands and knees—you can't fundamentally understand what climate change is all about."
Landscape architect with Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA
An eco-architect on a mission to green the hotel-and-resort industry, Hitesh Mehta, 47, is the undisputed king of environmentally and culturally responsible ecolodge design: He has consulted on dozens of developments all over the world. His first mainstream success is the creation of an islandwide sustainable development plan for a new Ritz-Carlton resort on an uninhabited Turks and Caicos isle.
"The big hotel chains—the Hyatts, the Rosewoods, the Sheratons, the Marriotts—would save money if they moved beyond the 'green is expensive' barrier. They don't seem to understand that this is the way the world is going. Gray-water irrigation, rainwater harvesting, low-wattage solar light fittings, smart-card systems that control air-conditioning in the rooms—these are all small things that can make a big difference. I was elated when I heard that Ritz-Carlton was setting up a green product for Turks and Caicos, but the larger question is whether they'll espouse the same principles in their other hotels."
Expedition Kayaker and President of HP Environmental
In 1981 Piotr Chmielinski, 54, was part of an intrepid group of Polish paddlers that completed a first descent of Peru's Colca River. Their feat brought international attention to Quechua villages in the Colca Valley (a gorge that is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), and the annual number of visitors to the valley has since grown from a few hundred to 120,000. The original seven adventurers returned in July 2006, on the 25th anniversary of their voyage, to see how tourism has affected the region.
"The introduction of tourism to the Colca came late in the eighties [as ecotourism was maturing], so there was control over how tourists impacted the community and environment. It hasn't been destructive in the way you would expect with 120,000 people visiting each year. The government collects $12 from each person who enters the area; the money is spent on nearby communities. There is also an obligation that each group will have a Colca-based guide, which means that local people have employment. The community understands that it is important both to keep the Colca as it is, which attracts visitors, and to prevent those visitors from overwhelming it."
Founder of nonprofit Rural Education and Development Inc. (READ)
Soon after founding outfitter Myths and Mountains in 1988, Antonia Neubauer, 63, asked a Nepalese guide how she could best help his village. He suggested a community library. That library became the first of 39 built throughout Nepal since Neubauer launched READ in 1991. Each library sustains itself through an associated enterprise—an ambulance, a medical clinic, a factory, "whatever the village wants, as long as it will support the library." In August READ Nepal received a one-million-dollar Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation award; the nonprofit will soon go global.
"READ is based on people working toward something that they want. Villagers come to us; we don't go to them. They have to write a proposal and contribute 15 to 20 percent [of the project's cost] plus the land for the library. If you don't care enough to write a proposal, you're not going to care enough to take care of what comes from it. We've tried to create a model where everyone has dignity, where you're not creating dependence, and where money is going to the people who need it the most—so that they can eventually take care of themselves."
Co-Founder of Responsibletravel.com
After leaving his post as the head of worldwide marketing at the Body Shop (an England-based skin- and hair-care company renowned for its environmental ethic), Justin Francis, 41, helped create one of the few ecotourism Web sites to offer a responsible-trip search engine: www.responsibletravel.com. Since its inception in 2001, the company's sales have doubled each year—proving that social and environmental responsibility can be good for business too.
"The dark-green traveler is the person who puts ethics at the top of their decision-making. They are wonderful, but they make up a tiny percentage of the population. Light-green tourists, on the other hand, recycle when they can but forget from time to time; they like to buy organic food but buy normal food as well. That sector of the market—those who will do the right thing if it is made easy for them—has grown rapidly. Really, really rapidly. If we can attract these light-green consumers and prove that it's more than a tiny niche of tourists who are interested in responsible travel, then we'll have achieved a lot."
Our November 2006 issue features the best new adventure travel trips; an exclusive look inside Iran; a Greenland global warming report; backcountry spas; digital cameras; travel Web sites; weekend getaways; and more.
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