Ecotourism is flourishing

    “We’re going to have to do a whole lot more, and give nature at least a chance to repair some of the damage we’ve done.”
    – The late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.


    It was a Wisconsinite who gave birth to Earth Day, and it’s important that we continue his legacy through our everyday practices.

    It’s called ecotourism, and putting its practices to use is the right thing to do. Ecotourism, as defined by the International Ecotourism Society, is the "responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improves the well-being of local people."

    The "go green" movement is no passing fad. In fact, in the convention and meeting business, more and more planners are making their site selection decisions on a city’s commitment to green meetings. VISIT Milwaukee is about to introduce a marketing piece for the meeting planners outlining our commitment to holding sustainable, environmentally friendly meetings in Milwaukee.

    Fortunately, Milwaukee and the entire state are ahead of the curve in this area.

    The Milwaukee Office of Sustainability was created by Mayor Tom Barrett to position Milwaukee as a leader in the environmental sustainability and performance in the 21st century. The office emerged from input from the Milwaukee Green Team, commissioned by the mayor in 2004 and is charged with coordinating efforts to improve Milwaukee’s water quality, reduce energy consumption and stimulate economic development in the green technology sector. To further his commitment to this effort, the mayor named Ann Beier to a cabinet-level position as environmental sustainability director.

    Visit Milwaukee is working closely with city officials and partners throughout the community on several comprehensive initiatives designed to minimize the footprint on the environment and make our destination a showplace for green visitors and those with an environmentally friendly approach to travel.

    The state is also playing a proactive role in going green with its Travel Green Wisconsin program. As of last month, 87 businesses have received certification through the program. Travel Green Wisconsin is a voluntary, affordable program that reviews, certifies and recognizes tourism businesses that have made a commitment to continuously improve their operations in order to reduce their environmental impact.

    Milwaukee is well-positioned to take a leadership role in this effort. With more parkland per capita than any other city in the nation (according to Rand McNally Places Rated Almanac) and one of the world’s largest bodies of freshwater hugging our eastern border, it only makes sense that we market Milwaukee as a destination of choice for ecotourism.

    Combine these natural resources with the city’s commitment to environmental stewardship, all help give Milwaukee a competitive edge.

    We’re making progress, as Milwaukee currently ranks No. 16 on the list of "Green Cities," according to SustainLane, an organizing tracking the greening efforts of cities. In 2006, Milwaukee was name fifth on the Conservation Fund’s list of "America’s Top 10 Places with Potential to Advance Smart Conversation."

    Milwaukee is rapidly becoming an active participant in the carbon-neutral meetings arena. We support the concept of meetings that leave no footprint on the environment, and we’re developing a local carbon credit program as well as working with the established national programs that work on a global level.

    A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emissions generated by what an entity consumes. Carbon offsets, or the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions equal to your carbon emissions, can be more cost effective and practical than many other measures an individual can take.

    Going green doesn’t mean that you have to spend more green (an often held belief). What makes a green meeting? It means that the gathering from start to finish incorporates environmentally sound practices into all facets of the event. By establishing some eco-friendly practices such using high-efficient lighting, establishing recycling procedures, eliminating Styrofoam and paper and plastic materials when possible from meetings, the payback should result in a cost-savings. Conducting green meetings has other intangible benefits.

    We’re also working with our partners at the Wisconsin Center District and the hotel and restaurant community to incorporate more green practices into their facilities and businesses in order to attract more conventions and meetings.

    With our abundant fresh water assets, we also participated in a recent Milwaukee 7 Water Summit at Discovery World.  From a convention and meeting standpoint, we believe we can leverage this fresh water asset to play host to companies, conventions and seminars that have a vested interest in the preservation of this natural resource.

    Remember the old Grape Nuts commercial in which the late environmentalist Euell Gibbons said, "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible." At the time, poor Euell became the butt of lot of jokes.

    Gibbons also said, "We live in a vastly complex society which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty."

    Those prophetic words are more relevant today than when he spoke them more than a quarter century ago. We look forward to working with the community and our tourism and hospitality partners in turning Milwaukee into a green haven.


    Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer of Visit Milwaukee.


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