Wanna go to Machu Picchu? Yes, but responsibly.
Cusco | Peru
We met Paul Cripps during the Changemaker Game we organized in Cusco with AYNICENTER, an hub for local activists. He has one of the very few B Corps in Peru, adventurer and owner of Amazonas Explorer – a responsible travel agency.
I'm from the UK, I did Latin-American studies... a long time ago. In the third year of studies we had to go to a Spanish-speaking country, it was in 1998. Everybody wanted to go to Spain, I chose South America. Everybody said: If you go to South America, don't go to Peru, it's really dangerous. And if you do, definitely don't go to Lima. That’s exactly where I went! And yes, Lima was terrible that time. I was studying at Lima University and travelling around at the same time. Then, I came back to the UK and tried to get a job. I worked as a raft guide in Austria, as a truck driver going between continents. They sent me to Venezuela where I went climbing and hiking. I was in Panama trekking around the border. I drove the bus to Rio Carnival. But I was always coming back to Peru. After a while I bought some rafts and with a Swiss guy we opened a rafting company. We couldn’t do business, we literally had four clients in the first year. Everybody was asking us for Machu Picchu, so we started to get involved in mountain biking.
Some time later a friend of them contacted Paul with National Geographic, which wanted to explore Bolivia. That speeded up their business, they got known, they received support from various people with bigger experience in business. They grew a lot organizing adventure trips, team building, alternative routes for tourists. Few years later another good friend introduced him to the “1% for the planet” idea.
I remember when I went to talk to my business partner, a proper businessman, to tell him about giving 1% to the planet. He just said: What?! It’s 1% of your turn over, not profit, that’s quite a lot of money which you declare to give even if you don’t actually earn it. It was his father, an 80 years old guy, sitting in the corner in the meeting room, who said: I support that. He has 10-15 different companies, I'm a sort of experiment for him.
They decided to use their 1% for planting trees.
Another good friend of mine was a bird watcher. During one of his trips he noticed that local people chop the native forest, it disappears very fast not leaving enough space for birds. They were chopping wood for tourist companies, so tourists would have bonfires in the evening to keep warm. It was just totally unsustainable. We started to talk about that and think about how we can help. We tried everything, from taking trucks full of eucalyptus to communities, saying: burn this, not your forest, till organizing different community actions and long term collaborations. We talked to the head people and said: are you interested in looking after your forest? They called everybody together to discuss. It was a long process. All the money, our 1 % for the planet, goes straight to them. We help communities in creating a nursery, we provide them seedlings for trees and buy them when they are ready. Then, on the set day, we all show up – office staff, friends, families, guides, porters - and together with the community, maybe 300 people, we plant trees. The deal is: if you can walk, carry and plant a tree, we pay you, 10-15 soles [ed., about 3 euro] each. It's not a lot, but you have mum, dad, grandma, all family… all together is a chunk of money. We go to the place they decided we can plant and we do it together. It's an amazing day, a man digs the hole, a woman puts the tree, kids are stepping on it. In a day, with a well-organized community, we can plant around 20.000 trees. It's such a powerful thing to do.
Today they work with 23 communities, supporting them with planting trees, giving training, providing solar panels and cooking wood-stoves with chimneys.
Actually, the stoves we provided occurred to be… too efficient. When you go to the hut where people live, they are all really smoky. But when we built a chimney and the smoke was going out, all the insects which were not there before came and caused a lot of problems. We had to make holes in the stove to make sure some smoke stays actually inside the house… it’s quite crazy.
This is what help is about. Using resources to firstly understand what people really need and then take action. Resources which can be money, but also time.
Beside donating 1% of our money, including personal earning, we decided to give 1% of our time. We are supposed to work 260d/year, if you take away weekends and holidays. Wouldn’t you be willing to give 2.6 days per year to social projects?!? There are not many people who will say no. It’s also important to understand what you are good at. I love planting trees, but I'm actually not that good with it; planting in mountains, above 4000 meters, is really hard. I plant maybe 20 trees and then I cannot anymore, most of them are planted by locals. What I'm good at is to sit in front of my computer, email people and ask for money - 1$ equal 1 tree.
Every tree matters, considering how many of them were already chopped.
Local people are looking at glaciers and they worry. The forest protects wetlands. There was a lot of good land which is now drying out because there is less water. The rainy season is a lot shorter than it used to be. People are actually asking us: What’s happening? What’s gonna happen next?
This is not easy to predict. Certainly cutting trees destroys our land, our planet, ourselves. Planting them back, will it solve the problem? There is no clear answer. But there is also nothing else we can do than try, give our own contribution.
Three years ago there was a climate change conference in Lima. We started to think about what we can do, what significant action we could take. I said: let's try to plant 50.000 trees in a day. The guys said: no, this is impossible. We started to think about what communities we can work with and we got 3 of them ready to collaborate, which is quite hard because they don't really work with each other that well. Finally, we had 1000 people, it was amazing. We planted 50.000 trees. And we created a brand, the tree festival.
A travel agency planting trees… cool! But, why?
Here, in the Andes, we have a privileged life. We live in a beautiful place and we also earn a lot of money out of our company. I want to give something back. If we don't protect our playground, we finished up shooting ourselves in the foot. We cannot just make money on mountains, rivers and not take care of them. Nobody would like to come to a desert instead of a forest or swim in a river full of rubbish. Let's clean it up. It's also marketing, our whole marketing budget is going for environmental things, rather than campaigns. This is who I am, I'm a B Corp, 1% for the planet, tree planting. It feels the right thing to do. If not, in 20 years what my kids will get? There may not be Machu Picchu. And even adventure tourism itself… part of me thinks it's not good, it's not even good to fly to Peru. If you look on our website, it's written: flying to Peru is not good for the environment. But you will probably come anyway, so if you come - work with us. Another thing is that the three biggest industries in Peru are mining, fishing and tourism. If my guides don’t work with tourists, they will be mining and fishing, destroying the environment even more. Tourism is the less damaging industry and the one we can hopefully use to educate people.
Educate and inspire for change.
1% for the planet started with a report a few years ago when a guy calculated that solving climate change would cost 1 percent of the GDP of all the countries in the world. Which doesn’t sound a lot, although it's billions. But governments don't care. There were a bunch of private companies like Patagonia, which said: this is a significant amount, we will donate 1%. They created the organization. It gives hope. You can be stuck in all those depressing stories. But you can also focus on doing something. Hopefully in the future there will be no B Corp anymore, because all companies will be social and responsible.
More about Amazonas Explorer: amazonas-explorer.com