It may be hard to believe, but World Environment Day was first celebrated way back in 1974 at a time when ivory was still freely traded, most people smoked and no one gave the subject of plastic pollution a moment’s thought. Since those carefree days, however, WED has become an increasingly visible flagship campaign for raising awareness on a variety of emerging environmental issues, ranging from marine pollution, human overpopulation and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
Now celebrating its forty-fourth birthday, WED has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually. Each year, a new theme is adopted that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes.
While not historically in the forefront of environmental awareness, India came on board in 2012, when, at the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Kerala’s brand of sustainable tourism, with eco-friendliness and inclusiveness as its mainstay, was hailed as 'a model for India' with equally great potential for replication across the globe.
By that time, here at The Neeleshwar Hermitage, we had been operating an ecological policy since our inception four years earlier. Initially, the task was to become accepted and valued in the local community, which knew nothing of tourism and had very little contact with outsiders. Realising we are all guests of the local people, we have always been keen to honour the situation, with the result that many local people and businesses have benefitted hugely from our being here. Our policy is always to employ local people as much as possible, and we have maintained a 98% local employment rate over the last ten years.
From day one we have been a strictly no-plastic establishment. Our use of safe and filtered drinking water on site has by itself saved us from adding perhaps five hundred plastic bottles a week to Kerala’s festering dumps. Ten years after we initiated this policy, it is gratifying to note the current concern over worldwide plastic pollution, and we are proud that in our own small way, we were way ahead of the curve on this one. We hope the large hotel chains are watching, even noting the details of such a policy which involves, for example, using paper rather than plastic drinking straws.
We are also a no-smoking hotel throughout and we are sure the nicotine-free palates of our guests allow them to appreciate better the subtle flavours of our food, which is, wherever possible, locally sourced and 90% organic. This saves us from ecologically expensive imports, and, as the surrounding gardens are so lush, we do not have to import orchids each day from Bangkok to decorate our rooms beautifully with flowers.
As we are all aware, regaining its ecological balance is a big task facing the planet. As tourism is such an international industry, it has a great responsibility in showing the way by adopting ecologically sound business practices. But if we take up the challenge, and each do our little bit, together we can create wonders. As the ancient Chinese text, the Tao te Ching, says:
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’
So, here at The Hermitage, Kerala’s leading retreat hotel, we wholeheartedly support World Environment Day. Come and see us for the rest of your life!