Survival of the Fittest: Nature vs. Culture

Dear readers,

our faculty member, Margareta Barchan, went to a conference last weekend in Verbier, the „Green Pioneering Summit“. The Verbier Green Pioneering Summit (VGPS) has established itself as a high profile, annual event which brings together world-renowned experts, representatives of the public and private sectors, and members of our local community.

Yours,
Peter Lorange

Survival of the Fittest: Nature vs. Culture
by Margareta Barchan *)

Switzerland’s mountain resort Verbier recently played host to the global Green Pioneering Summit convened for public and private delegates, representing government organizations, UN bodies, private investors and businesses, to establish actions for sustainable mountain development around the world.

What struck me was not the technical discussion, although the importance of mountains and their impact on human development and society is not to be overlooked (the glaciers, mostly gone by the end of the century, provide 60% of the world’s water), but rather the focus on involving the people who live in the mountain regions and those who visit.

Mankind’s impact on these rich natural resources range from the good, such as money from tourism; the not-so-good, such as deforestation; and the unacceptable, such as extreme poverty of mountain communities, most notably around the Himalayan region. Summit delegates suggested remarkable initiatives to broadly elevate poverty levels, increase responsible tourism, decrease destruction and reduce C02 levels.

A majority of the delegates agreed that at the heart of the matter is the fact that the mountain communities—the people—do not have a voice. For example, Rio 20+, the UN’s conference on Sustainable Development, does not even have “mountain issues” on the agenda.

Managed consciously, tourism increases the local living standards. A new socially and environmentally aware tourist is emerging. We are seeing agri-tourism, cultural tourism and eco-tourism businesses crop up. Farmers in the Swiss canton Valaise invite tourists for an authentic countryside experience—educating the guests and providing additional income for the farmers. In Nepal, trackers found that building lodges and public rest rooms along their routes increased tourism and helped raise the level of poverty in the area.

The call has gone out to each and every one of us: a radical change in travel and tourism behaviors is called for. Tourism can be a source of good if we look for a deeper experience. Reducing multiple weekend trips to our favorite ski resorts reduces CO2 emissions, while longer stays increase local income.  Make decisions that take into account your footprint on the communities and places you treasure and visit.

The moderator wisely concluded: “Nature is not bad or good to us – nature does not care. The planet will survive, what we actually are discussing is the survival of our culture.”

**********

*) Margareta Barchan brings a vast range of experience from her business management and entrepreneurial career. She has been involved in several successful start-up ventures, including New Angles, a strategic sustainability consulting company and Pioneers of Change, a young professional leadership organization. Margareta is the past CEO of Celemi International, a global learning design company, which she co-founded, and for which she was named Sweden’s Business Woman of the Year. She continues to serve the business and nonprofit sectors in director capacities. She holds a MSc from HEC Paris, is a graduate from the University of Geneva, Harvard Business School and Oxford University.

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