Next weekend’s eagerly awaited Symposium is an event of the SLOW LIFE Foundation, which was established by luxury resort company Soneva Group, who are also hosting the event at Soneva Kiri in Thailand. But what is the connection between these organisations and the Symposium’s themes of sustainability and the environment?
Tourism is sometimes seen as a negative force in the battle against climate change and other problems, but event Chair Jonathon Porritt, in his new book The World We Made, takes an optimistic view, looking back from the imagined vantage point of 2050: “The travel and tourism industry really cleaned up its act on both environmental and social issues, and tourism still plays a crucial part in the economies of a large number of countries.” (238)
Will Porritt’s prediction come true? Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Soneva and Founder of the SLOW LIFE Foundation, acknowledges the challenges, saying that tourism “must serve and contribute to the society in which it operates and it should not impact negatively on the environment in which it operates. This responsibility to one’s community is somewhat complicated for a company such as ours whose guests jet in from all over the globe.”
This is where the SLOW LIFE Foundation comes in, which as Shivdasani explains was set up “to focus on change at a level beyond the direct communities in which our resorts operate and to recognise our obligations to society in general.” But how does this work in practice?
“Rather than purchasing carbon credits,” Shivdasani explains, “we provide direct funding and development support to carefully selected emissions reductions projects which we fund by placing a carbon levy on our guests bills at 2% of the basic room cost.” This ‘Carbon Sense Fund’ has been embraced by Soneva’s clients, proving that guests are not put off by such schemes and pointing the way for other operators.
So the Foundation is based on money raised directly from tourism. But how can such funds be scaled up to maximise their effectiveness? Bruce Bromley, CFO of the Soneva Group and Managing Trustee of SLOW LIFE Foundation, outlines an innovative business model: “By supporting projects through development loans rather than donations we are able to recover our ‘investment’ and roll it into other impactful projects, so multiplying the impact of every dollar.”
All of this allows the Foundation to punch above its weight. They fund many more carbon offsetting initiatives than a typical CSR fund, and rather than blindly donating to other organisations they set up their own projects in a hands-on, well-informed approach. Bromley explains:
“We provide funding to other not-for-profit organizations but the majority of our funding has been into our own social and environmental projects including a reforestation initiative in Thailand which has planted over 450,000 trees, a cook-stoves project in Darfur which will provide efficient cook-stoves to 125,000 families surviving in the refugee camps, and a cook-stoves project in Myanmar which is the first Gold Standard registered project in this emerging country and which will directly address the scourge of fuel poverty.”
At the heart of the SLOW LIFE Foundation is a belief that such environmental and social gains are also good for business. Giving the example of WHOLE WORLD Water, Bromley says: “The campaign is good for business because it enhances the profits of the hotels, resorts and restaurants that participate in the campaign, and it is good for society and the environment because it will raise around $1bn a year for clean water projects in developing countries.”
However, the SLOW LIFE Foundation has ambitions to scale up even higher – which is where the Symposium comes in. Bromley explains:
“The biggest challenge for us right now is to leverage our determination, so we are looking to align with others to achieve impacts which are greater than we can achieve on our own. To that end we are looking for opportunities to collaborate with others to drive larger initiatives and global campaigns and our upcoming SLOW LIFE Symposium at Soneva Kiri in November will allow us to do just that.”
Source: SLOW LIFE Symposium