Continuing our new series of interviews with social entrepreneurs working in tourism, we interview Carl Kish, co-founder of Stoke Certified, the first sustainability certification program for surf and ski tourism operators.
TRAVINDY: What are the challenges you are trying to address?
STOKE CERTIFIED: We love to ride. We do it every day. Our favorite places to ride and our connections to these areas are threatened by climate change, physical destruction from poorly planned development, and negative tourism impacts on local society, culture, and heritage. The reality is that if we don’t act now, within a generation—opportunities to ride in such culturally and biologically diverse destinations will not exist as we know them today.
TRAVINDY: What is the impact you are trying to achieve?
STOKE CERTIFIED: By creating demand for sustainability from within the riding community, STOKE (Sustainable Tourism Operator’s Kit for Evaluation) will catalyze and enable operators to implement innovative sustainable practices so our culture will continue to thrive and overcome the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic challenges of the future.
Operators care what riders think. Riders care how operators treat the places and people they love to visit. Both riders and operators have the power to make change. Our mission is to empower riders and businesses to create a sustainable culture.
TRAVINDY: What’s special about your approach to meeting these challenges?
STOKE CERTIFIED: We are the first sustainability certification program for surf and ski tourism operators. There are many other sustainable tourism certification programs, but none of which understand the unique roadblocks to sustainability that operators in this space need to overcome and these other certification bodies do not know how to speak to the riding community.
The days of recycling being a “green” badge of honor, and proximity to a forest defining an “ecolodge” are over. We want to change the perception that sustainability begins and ends with reusing your towel and turning off your light. Sustainability means installing moorings instead of dropping anchors on your favorite reefbreak, or leaving an old growth forest intact instead of clear-cutting it for a new mogul field.
“The days of recycling being a “green” badge of honor, and proximity to a forest defining an “ecolodge” are over.”
Sustainability means supporting like-minded businesses in supply chains and incorporating nuances of local culture rather than creating homogenous cookie-cutter experiences. With STOKE, operators have a clear and structured path to best practices, and riders can easily identify and choose operators who embody sustainability instead of those who employ greenwashing tactics (false sustainability claims).
TRAVINDY: What’s the most exciting thing you, your company, or your organisation has achieved so far?
STOKE CERTIFIED: On a personal level, I served as the Project Manager of the development of the world’s first LEED Certified surf hotel, Olas Verdes, which just opened in Nosara, Costa Rica.
For STOKE Certified, we were recently selected amongst over one hundred applicants for the SHIFT Business Leadership Award at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, WY.
TRAVINDY: What do you need to help you be more successful?
STOKE CERTIFIED: In order to fulfil our vision of creating demand from within the riding community for sustainable surf and ski tourism operators, we need help raising awareness about STOKE. Our goal is to spread the word through the STOKE Ambassador Program—a group of likeminded professional surfers, skiers, snowboarders, and other relevant cultural influencers who believe in what STOKE represents.
These individuals can leverage their connections with sponsors as well as their social reach amongst the riding community to highlight STOKE’s members and inspire and even incentivize their followers to support such stewards of sustainable stoke. We have a few athletes who are interested in the program, but we are waiting to round out our “roster” and nail down the details of the program before we officially announce it.
TRAVINDY: What does that success look like? Share your dream with us.
STOKE CERTIFIED: We would like to grow our list of members modestly in order to retain the integrity of the certification and ensure that we are working with those tourism operators who are genuinely committed to progressing the riding culture with a future-proof perspective with innovative best practices. STOKE strives to become the international standard by which all surf and ski tourism operators are assessed for sustainability.
However, the ultimate version of success for us would be if the riding community did not need a certification body to identify authentic, sustainable surf and ski tourism operators. Eventually, the sustainability management practices that we preach should become “business as usual”—hopefully by the time I have grandkids.
TRAVINDY: If you could connect with one person, company or organisation in responsible tourism, who would it be, and why?
STOKE CERTIFIED: Although Patagonia does not work in responsible tourism directly, they are the pioneers and industry leaders of socially and environmental responsible manufacturing with a massive influence in the riding community. Their athlete ambassadors travel all over the world showcasing Patagonia products in beautiful destinations, which gets people stoked to stuff their Patagonia duffel bag with Wavefarer boardshorts or Powslayer bibs and travel to ride the same waves or mountains as their favourite snowboarder or surfer.
It may be a pipedream, but if Patagonia were proponents of STOKE, we could work together to educate and inspire consumers to support socially and environmentally responsible tourism operators in these destinations the same way Patagonia and their ambassadors have done with responsibly manufactured clothing and equipment.
TRAVINDY: Which other person, company or organisation would you most like to recommend to be interviewed for this series, and why?
STOKE CERTIFIED: Dr. Jess Ponting, who is a Co-Founder of Sea State, which offers sustainable surf tourism study abroad programs for university students.
I was fortunate enough to lead one of their first trips to Costa Rica and see first-hand what an incredible learning and cultural experience these study abroad programs are for students. All of them said they had learned more in one week than they had during the last school year.
Sea State works with sustainable surf hotels in surf tourism destinations where students can engage with local businesses, NGO’s, and volunteer with non-profits to learn about the challenges and solutions for sustainable surf tourism. In addition to this and daily lectures from their professors, students get to surf and experience other activities and cultural events that the region has to offer.