Towards a Zero Waste Company: Amity Tours Case Study
- To motivate staff and suppliers to become involved, rather than just delegating tasks, make sure that everyone understands and is connected to WHY it’s important to address sustainability challenges such as waste.
- To promote a sense of ownership, engage and empower stakeholders to not only support but also be part of the effort. Make sure to show that their ideas are valued, and their concerns addressed.
- Collaboration is key to finding viable alternatives and creating new solutions. Often this will require direct contact and in-person visits, which help facilitate effective partnerships and buy-ins.
- Know that major milestones are reached by taking many small steps. Start small and local, work with your team members and partners in the process of working on those steps, and learn by doing so you can continue taking small steps towards your goal.
- Stay focused on your goal! You will need some initial investment (of time - and yes, also money) to get going. Although you may not see drastic results immediately, each step - every person engaged in your goal, every partner getting on board, every alternative being taken up by your team and customers - is helping you towards your long-term goal.
Tackling Waste as a Tangible Short Term Goal
Amity Tours, an experienced active travel provider operating unique adventure, sport and special interest tours in Chile and Argentina, had an ambitious aim: to transform into the “most sustainable tour operator” in the region.
At the leadership level, the company’s board of directors decided that a path to reaching such an ambitious long-term goal is to start with a concrete and tangible short-term objective. And waste reduction was identified as a priority.
This was well aligned with what the staff members saw as a priority as well. Although the company was expecting its best season yet in 2019, there was a growing concern within the team that tour experiences needed to be improved - for the guests and for the environment.
Many of the staff members wanted to make the meals and activities more sustainable - and to do so before the busy high season started. Waste, and specifically, waste produced from tour activities, has also been one of the key areas that Amity Tours team members have long been concerned about.
And so, with both management and staff on board, Amity Tours embarked on a Zero Waste Challenge. Some of the staff had already been practicing a Zero Waste Lifestyle in their private lives, so the company had access to practical knowledge and inspiration from within its own team.
Finding No-Waste Alternatives through Partnerships
What does it take to achieve Zero Waste operations? Lots of small steps!
As a first step in its Zero Waste journey, Amity Tours started a plan, defining all the steps required to reach the final goal. Some of the initial steps included:
- Checking the shopping list for each trip and crossing off any unnecessary items.
- Checking each item, its origin and waste production.
- Researching local alternatives.
Changing consumption habits alone is not enough to avoid all waste production. As such, Amity Tours’ Zero Waste efforts have relied also on working with the producers and suppliers to improve the packings and ingredients and to reduce components that will become waste. For example, local beer in reusable growlers instead of individual beer bottles; local syrups instead of soft drinks; refillable sparkling water instead of individual PET-bottles; vegetables from an organic vegetable farm; and dried fruits in bulk instead of small amounts with plastic packaging.
Implementing these local no-waste alternatives has required investment (around USD 3,000) in new equipment such as reusable dishes and a dishwasher, a cooler, boxes for storing dried fruits in bulk, and containers for recyclable materials.
Forging new partnerships has also been an important part of the journey. For example:
- Buying from a local entrepreneur (a mother with cooking skills) who started producing homemade cereal bars, which is a very important item for active tours.
- Working with a local recycling station for collecting and processing all the recyclable materials.
- Feeding organic waste to chickens, and having the rest processed by a local organization that turns food waste into compost, which is then returned to the company for its greenhouse garden.
It took about 5 months to get the company’s new waste management process up and running. Once the in-house practices have been updated, the next key step was to engage others across the supply chain - hotels, restaurants, local communities and other businesses involved in Amity Tours’ activities.
The Amity Tours team took a proactive, constructive and cooperative approach - visiting each supplier to explain the Zero Waste Challenge, inviting them to join the efforts, and working on finding suitable solutions together, for example, a local ice cream shop has replaced plastic cups with recyclable wooden sticks, and some of the accommodation providers used by Amity Tours have also found local recycling partners to help reduce their waste.
Staff and Customer Engagement
From the Amity Tours team, Angela Bless (Sales Manager) has been the champion of the Zero Waste efforts. In addition, the whole office team, and field staff including guides and drivers are involved in the Challenge and invited to find and suggest ideas and solutions that support the goal.
Getting feedback from staff members is really important, and there have been many great ideas that came from them, and some even also from guests.
To make sure that the field staff are able to put the new Zero Waste policy into practice, the company organized staff training before the high season started. The new products used for the picnic and snack tables were introduced, and everyone got to try everything themselves. The staff were also introduced to the new recycling system, to ensure the right steps for sorting and collecting materials are followed.
In addition to explaining WHAT to do and HOW, it’s also been very important to help the staff understand WHY the company is committing to zero waste - to protect the environment for future generations. This has helped make the Zero Waste Challenge an initiative for and by the whole team of Amity Tours. As a result, many of the team members are implementing sustainable solutions in their daily lives, creating ripple effects of positive change.
Of course, it’s also important to engage and educate the guests on the why, what and how. The Zero Waste mission is presented during the welcoming and briefing talk on Day 1 of each tour group, and all guests are encouraged to be part of the zero waste journey, with reminders throughout the tour.
Sharing Lessons Learned
As a small family company, Amity Tours did not have resources to create a dedicated sustainability manager position. While the whole-team approach has worked well in driving the Zero Waste efforts, finding time to allocate to sustainability initiatives remains a major challenge.
The pandemic has also added to this challenge, as the company was forced to reduce its staff and needed to focus on immediate needs. In such a condition, where everyone was struggling to keep the business alive, motivating other partners and suppliers to join, let alone engaging internal stakeholders, was extremely difficult.
In terms of waste management, the pandemic also brought new hurdles, such as the health and safety requirements involving single-use plastic items. So the work of finding and testing sustainable alternatives (while ensuring safety) continues. In addressing such challenges, it’s also local collaboration that enables solutions - for example, working with Fundación Basura ("Waste Foundation") and a network of entrepreneurs to identify and create local solutions.
Since the ultimate goal of the Zero Waste Challenge is to spread the zero waste concept widely, sharing knowledge is also an important part of the journey. Amity Tours’ experience and lessons learned are shared with other tour operators and industry stakeholders through resources such as this course led by Fundación Basura.
The Big Picture
Importantly, all the small steps that have been taken and all the ongoing improvements and adjustments being made to reduce and better manage waste are one part of the bigger challenge of becoming a more sustainable business, and supporting the whole industry to become more sustainable.
As part of its local and regional efforts to advocate for a more responsible adventure travel sector, Amity Tours is a proud member of the Fundación Basura Chile since 2021. The company has also been part of international efforts promoting sustainability, such as Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, and is actively working on supporting climate actions, for instance, supporting a local reforestation project.