This past May I spent on the South Island of New Zealand studying the sustainability of the tourism industry in the region. Throughout the month, myself and 12 other students traveled through various cities and towns with a program that combined experiential learning with traditional classroom style learning. The main transformation I saw take place within myself was my view on sustainability. I was an Accounting major on a trip where most of the other students were environmental majors of some sort. I definitely had a steep learning curve when it came to the class content of sustainability, which is something I had previously given little though until coming on this trip. Sure, I try to recycle if it was possible, but had no idea how different most Americans view on sustainability was when compared to this area of the world. I spoke with a Kiwi who would not get “takeaway” coffee because they did not want to use a plastic cup. Kaikoura, a small town on the east coast, actually stopped collecting people’s trash. Instead, you would have to bring your trash to this site yourself and pay for each bag’s disposal. These are just two examples that show how different the mindset is in New Zealand on living a sustainable lifestyle compared to the one in the United States.
A key aspect of this transformation began before we even left for the trip. At orientation, our professor had us take an ecological footprint quiz. This quiz informed me that if every person on the planet used our resources like I did, we would need 4 earths to sustain everyone. This was shocking to me since I never realized how poor my sustainability really was. Something I realized that made my footprint increase was how much I travel on a plane. That was largely what my footprint consisted of. This was what first brought my attention to the heavy impacts on the environment that tourism can leave, since New Zealand is primarily accessed by tourists by plane. This helped bring my attention to something that was a key factor in my transformation before even leaving for the trip.
Another key aspect was when we first arrived in Dunedin. The activities conducted in this city consisted primarily of lectures from various professors and professionals as well as an example of a more sustainable version of tourism. The professors introduced several concepts that are relevant in New Zealand and continued to be brought up throughout the trip. These included the dangers of invasive species being introduced to New Zealand, the major impacts of tourism, and the importance of New Zealand’s Maori roots. These all combined to give a good basis on New Zealand’s view of sustainability. Being educated on the importance of sustainability from people who had dedicated their lives to it was another huge revelation to me. Dunedin consisted of our group going on a more sustainable tourism activity. This was wildlife encounters, a van that would drive around the coast to educate the tourists and help them get up close views of wildlife. Because we were visiting these animals in their habitat and from a safe distance, it was a bit like a flipped zoo, we were the ones kind of in a cage seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The result of this unique experience made me realize that there are more sustainable forms of tourism like this. Dunedin was also a host to a conference on the sutainability of tourism that was coincidentally going on the same time we were there. This further set the groundwork for the importance of sustainability and further contributing to this key aspect.
The final event that contributed towards my transformation on my attitude of sustainability was the visit to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a coastal town towards the north end of the South Island that was the second to last stop on our trip. We focused most of our attention on the difficulties of the tourism industry here, which is primarily dependent on whale watching. Kaikoura experienced a devastating earthquake a few years back that isolated the town almost entirely for a short period. There tourism industry has not entirely recovered since that incident. You can still see some shops set up in shipping containers in the charming downtown area. Kaikoura stood out to me for two reasons the connection to the Maori culture and their commitment to sustainability. We were able to partake in a cultural tour of the peninsula lead by two Maori. This highlighted the value and connection that the Maori have towards the land. The guide could walk us through a forest and identify the different plants, their uses, and importance. He heard many of us coughing and recommended we take a few Kawa-Kawa leaves to make tea out of in order to heal our sore throats. This tied together the why of sustainability. It highlighted the importance of everything we had learned thus far on the trip. This could all be summed up in a Maori phrase that translated means “care for the land, care for the people, move forward.” It shows the connection people have to the land they lived on and why we need to care for it.
This transformation relates to academic and professional goals of mine. I always have prided myself in trying to be a well-rounded student. I try to take classes I am interested in rather than the easiest. This has lead me to pick up a minor in history as well as take classes in a variety of subjects such as astronomy, philosophy, and as of last May, sustainability. This was a subject I previously knew next to nothing about but was interested in challenging myself from academically. Professionally, this relates to overall success in a career in business. Sustainability is only going to become more important to most companies. I see it as very important to learn as much as you can about it as it is not going away anytime soon. The further ahead and more you can learn about an issue that is going to be so relevant in business in the coming years is helping me reach some of my professional goals.