THE BLOG

Three Days at the 2013 SLOW LIFE Symposium

09/12/2013 13:41 GMT | Updated 06/02/2014 10:59 GMT

I had high expectations for the 4th SLOW LIFE Symposium and it certainly didn't disappoint. With three days of conversing and debating with thirty of the great leaders and visionary thinkers from diverse areas of expertise, I knew from Day One that we would leave here with a sense of renewed energy and enthusiasm to change the world.

From my experience of previous Symposiums, I know that these get-togethers have resulted directly in ideas, initiatives, collaborations and campaigns that have indeed changed the world. These past events not only addressed the big questions, but also produced tangible results with lasting impact. The most recent being WHOLE WORLD WATER, a social enterprise, conceived at the 2011 SLOW LIFE Symposium, which united the hospitality and tourism industries to face up to the global water crisis.

Insofar we have proved that we can develop a global campaign with the help of others, and that we cannot achieve the same results on our own. Thus we came up with the theme for this year: Innovation through Collaboration.

Over the course of the three days, we started by discussing broad ideas, and finally narrowed these down to a set of outcomes that we can continue acting on in the coming year.

Here are my highlights from the 2013 SLOW LIFE Symposium:

How To Upscale Sustainability

A fascinating topic that emerged during the three days was how do we scale up from small initiatives to global solutions? Jochen Zeitz, co-founder and co-chair of The B Team, has developed the Environmental Profit and Loss tool for measuring the carbon footprints of companies. But to scale this up, Zeitz asked, "How can we embed sustainability into the DNA of every brand?"

This was an interesting point to start from, and another of our attendees, Dorinda Elliott, commissioning editor of Condé Nast Traveler, made the point, "We have to throw a better party. The language and brand of sustainability needs to change to reach far broader audiences." We discussed how luxury brands, for example, are all about heritage, tradition and longevity - a perfect match for sustainability, but only if we get used to redefining quality as sustainability. The common misconception is that sustainability and luxury cannot coexist, but as the speakers experienced firsthand at Soneva Kiri, the setting for our discussions, this is certainly not the case. By preserving the environment, we are ensuring the future success of this fine luxury resort.

On the third day, we set ourselves a target of proving by 2020 that the sustainable model of tourism has a net positive impact on business.

The Question of China

A heated debate arose in discussions on China. Peggy Liu, chairperson of Chinese NGO JUCCCE, confronted the group when she asked "Why are you not in China? ... I think a lot of people who are doing systematic change projects are afraid to come to China because it seems indecipherable. But China needs help, it's the place everybody needs to be working with...China wants to be green." With the support of Leo Johnson and actress Daryl Hannah, plans were made to lead up to the 2015 UN Conference of Climate Change in Paris in a way that ensures China is at the table.

The Planet Ocean

The ocean covers 72% of the planet's surface, and David de Rothschild remarked that perhaps we should have been called 'Planet Ocean'. As a group, we noticed that there is a lack of public awareness of which fish should and shouldn't be eaten - we need to enlist the large food industry corporations. Some of the most exclusive and fashionable restaurants in cosmopolitan cities, such as London and New York, are serving endangered species on their menus.

At our resorts, we completely appreciate and respect the importance of the ocean. And so should the rest of the travel and tourism industry - not only for their menus, but also for guest leisure and educational activities. My wife, Eva, spends much of her time lobbying the world's top restaurants to stop serving shark-fin soup in particular, as well as all endangered fish species.

As pointed out by Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the global fishing industry "operates as roving bandits, but they are controlled by just ten companies." Johan proposed what he called the Big Ten Initiative and in partnership with economist Pavan Sukhdev, Rockström pledged to "invite these companies to a Soneva-style dialogue under the banner of CEOs for a sustainable world."

Commitments Conclude the 2013 SLOW LIFE Symposium

Three days came to an end with pledges to collaborate on some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. Our event chair Jonathon Porritt summed up why this event worked so well, "We brought a group of people together who are primarily solution-makers, people who know how to change things and get transformation."

We left the Symposium with a sense of hope. It surpassed all our expectations. We were joined by a great group of people working with cohesion and connection, complementing each other's fields. Before we start working on the next Symposium, we'll be focusing on how we can drive these issues forward by offering the support of the team at Soneva.