Redefining Travel: The Green Journey on a Quest for Climate Solutions

Redefining Travel: The Green Journey on a Quest for Climate Solutions

Forget the typical tourist itinerary – imagine a journey where every step, pedal stroke, and salty sea breeze is a deliberate act of environmental love. That’s the reality for Thomas Polo and Megan Claire Routbort, the co-founders of The Green Journey. This climate storytelling nonprofit isn’t about ticking off landmarks or racking up frequent flyer miles. Instead, they’re on a multi-year odyssey across the globe, using their platform to amplify the voices of everyday heroes tackling the climate crisis head-on.

Their mode of transport? Think bikes, trains, even a sailboat across the Atlantic. It’s a testament to their commitment to “reduce, respect, restore,” the guiding principles that fuel The Green Journey. Through in-depth, immersive storytelling, they paint a vibrant picture of a world buzzing with innovation and resilience. Forget the doomscrolling narratives; Polo and Routbort are here to inject a healthy dose of “earned hope” – the kind that blossoms from witnessing real action on the ground. Buckle up, because this interview dives deep into the remarkable world of The Green Journey, where every story shared is a call to action for a more sustainable future.

Could you please tell us about the story behind The Green Journey and what the platform aims to achieve?

Megan: The Green Journey is a 501(c)(3) organization focused on using exploration as a tool to tackle climate change. We have a theory that getting people excited about low-carbon, slow travel can be an entry into talking about sustainability, and then working on it in their own communities to create change. 

Polo: The idea came from our own experience working in sustainability. We started our climate careers in office jobs (we actually met on Zoom!) but we found that there was more to the story of how to create a livable future than just corporate action and climate tech innovation. The puzzle is big and cuts across disciplines; solutions literally span the entire globe. So in May 2023, we embarked on a climate-positive world tour to amplify and share the messages of climate and nature heroes from all continents. 

Megan & Polo from The Green Journey sailing
Source: The Green Journey

How do you define a “climate-positive world tour”? 

Megan: Our main goal with climate-positive travel is to leave each place we go better than we found it. This can take many different forms; sometimes, it looks like sharing the story of an NGO that’s rewilding an old sand quarry or peat mine. Other times, it looks like participating in a climate protest, like the Global March to End Fossil Fuels or Fridays for Future. Sometimes, it just means doing a spontaneous beach cleanup, or talking to someone we’re hitchhiking with about climate action in their area. 

Polo: The other critical piece is reducing our own carbon footprint as we travel; we use low-carbon forms of transport, eat low on the food chain, and live a very minimalist lifestyle — I can fit my entire life in a 50-liter backpack! 

Megan & Polo from The Green Journey traveling
Source: The Green Journey

You’ve traveled across continents by bike, sailboat, and public transportation. Can you share some of the logistical challenges and unexpected joys of slow, low-carbon travel? 

Polo: Well, it’s definitely not the fastest way to travel. For example, we thought it would take us two months to sail from Europe to North America, and it ended up taking us almost five! So we had to be very flexible and patient.


Megan: But that type of unexpected delay is also what makes slow travel kind of beautiful. Along the way, we connected with so many places and people, from the Balearic Islands to the Bahamas, and encountered stories to share with our audience that we never would have reached if we were traveling by plane or by car.

Megan & Polo from The Green Journey with lots of people
Source: The Green Journey

Polo: I was feeling pretty down about the climate crisis before we set off on the road, but with each day I spend on expeditions at The Green Journey, my hope is renewed. There are so many incredible people making change in their corners of the world; if we can do our part by bringing these stories to a global audience, we can advocate for and inspire systemic change. 

From community-owned wind power to nature regeneration projects, your journey has encountered diverse solutions. What surprised you most about the variety of climate action happening globally?

Megan: It’s not just young people who are acting on climate. Yes, there’s a lot of media attention focused on activists like Greta Thunberg, but for every member of Gen Z that we’ve met working on climate, there’s also a hero who’s a millennial, a Gen X, or a Boomer. We even met with eighty-year-olds in Kutë, Albania, who’d used a civil disobedience campaign to protest the damming of the Vjosa River. Their activism showed us it’s never too late to get involved in climate action. 

Polo: One thing that surprised me is the variety of approaches. We’re evolving from a situation where climate is the realm of scientists and weathermen. We see people tackling the challenge across disciplines, showing that the climate movement is now truly a cultural movement rather than just a scientific one. 

In what ways do you leverage your platform to advocate for a better climate future and inspire others to take action?

Polo: Our goal with The Green Journey is to share stories of real action and radical hope. We spent most of our time, energy, and content on finding and profiling climate solutions, preferably the ones that aren’t necessarily getting the attention they deserve. All around the world, there are so many people who are making waves to build more sustainable communities, but it might not even be their day job. We focus on everyday climate heroes in order to show our audience that you don’t have to be a celebrity or an influencer to make a difference. 

Megan from The Green Journey interviewing people from Patagonia
Source: The Green Journey

How do you balance raising awareness about the climate crisis with promoting hope and optimism through your storytelling? 

Megan: I think the idea that people aren’t aware of the climate crisis is a bit of a distraction. National surveys from Yale Climate Communications tell us that 72% of Americans believe global warming is happening; in countries like Hungary, Portugal, and Costa Rica, that number is higher than 90%. What we respond to is the shift from climate denial to climate doomism, a growing school of thought that basically tells us we’re screwed and it’s too late to act. Of course, that’s not true. We focus on fighting back against that narrative, showing that there’s still time to change, and that actually, we have everything to gain as a society from making those changes. 

Polo: Now is the time to focus on getting things done. We’re not naive; we know the situation is dire, but the world needs more examples of people working to save cultivated biodiversity or getting involved by running for office

Megan: The idea is to promote ‘earned hope’ —

the kind that comes from action. 

The Green Journey was recognized as Future Climate Leaders at Aspen Ideas: Climate Summit. Can you tell us more about your experience at Aspen Ideas Climate as Future Climate Leaders and the key takeaways from the event?

Polo: After almost ten months on the road, it was incredible to arrive in Miami Beach for the Aspen Ideas: Climate summit, where I joined 100+ Future Leaders from all over the world and all across disciplines to discuss the impact each one of us is making on the climate movement, and how to develop our work and take it to the next level. My biggest takeaway definitely came from witnessing the diversity of the cohort itself; whether you’re an artist or a scientist, French or Bahamian or American, there’s a place for you to make an impact.

What practical tips can you offer Green & Beyond Mag readers who want to travel more sustainably and reduce their environmental footprint? 

Megan: It doesn’t have to be a far-flung adventure, but plan at least one trip a year that doesn’t involve flying. Ride your bicycle, lace up your hiking shoes, or hop onboard your national rail network. Get out of your comfort zone and watch the world go by at a slower pace, and I promise your horizons will expand in ways you didn’t think were possible. 

Polo: Whenever I travel to a new city, I love using Too Good To Go, an app that lets you buy Surprise Bags of surplus food that would have otherwise gone to waste. It’s a great way to sample local cuisine in a way that’s good for the planet and your wallet. 

What role do you see storytelling playing in inspiring individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles and advocate for environmental change?

Polo: I think one of the central problems in the climate story today is the misplaced idea that a sustainable lifestyle leaves you worse off, or that you ‘lose’ something by going green. When in actuality, a sustainable lifestyle means cleaner air, more connection to nature, cheaper electricity, and so much more. Storytelling has a critical role to play in cutting through the noise and getting to the heart of that truth. By centering people and places who have made positive change, and showing that it is possible, stories have the power to totally upend the culture. That’s what I love about them. 

Where will your journey take you next? Where can our audience follow along with your journey and learn more about your work? 

Megan: Right now, we’re prepping for our next big expedition, a solar-powered bike ride across the United States. Starting in July, we’ll be riding coast-to-coast from California to New York City, profiling individuals and organizations that are working to make renewable power faster, better, cheaper, and cleaner than fossil fuels, for everyone across the country! We’re looking for partners, so if you’re interested in the intersection of adventure + climate, please get in touch! 

We’d love it if your audience supported us by following the adventure: we’re active on Instagram and other social media platforms. We also publish a blog on Substack

A free piece of advice for your business: Rethink “Sustainability”

A free piece of advice for your business: Rethink “Sustainability”

Do you know why it is high time for businesses to become more sustainable, ethical, and conscious? The answer is very simple – because younger generations are becoming more and more conscious as consumers every day. 

According to a Credit Suisse Research Institute analysis, Gen Z and Millennials account for 54 percent of the global population and 48 percent of consumer purchasing, growing to 69 percent by 2040. These generations are trying to shape the future of the world by changing the conventional mindset of doing business. 

Now, there are two important questions that we need to ask. One – How are these younger generations trying to change the old ways of doing business? And two – How should businesses and entrepreneurs prepare for a world of business that is changing?

The answers to these questions are interrelated, just like the questions. But, I guess you have already figured that out. So let’s jump into the “hows” and “whys” and find out the answers together, shall we? 

The Rise of Conscious Consumerism : 

Have you noticed how frequently terms like “eco,” “green,” and “sustainable” appear in commercials these days? Brands from every industry have figured out that “sustainability is the new sexy” and they are trying their best to attract young consumers by focusing on “sustainability” and promoting it. 

These younger generations do not only care about affordability and need when it comes to “decision-making”. Their awareness about climate change, how human activities are contributing to it, the unethical and tricky practices of greenwashing, and how voting with their wallets can be the most powerful tool to ensure a sustainable future – play a huge role in their consumer behaviors. 

Young shoppers are more likely to buy from sustainable brands according to a study by the research firm Nielsen. Gen Z consumers are even willing to spend 10 percent more on sustainable brands and the percentage goes up to 73% when it comes to Millennials.

And the big brands know it!  

20 years ago, no one in their wildest dreams would have even thought about McDonald’s introducing a vegan menu. But, that has become the reality now. It is not surprising that brands like McDonald’s, and KFC are focusing on vegan customers because veganism is on the rise. More than 600,000 people from 228 countries signed up for Veganuary 2022 and Gen Z along with Millennials are the ones who are taking the lead when it comes to veganism, worldwide. 

Photo by Gustavo Fring via Pexels

This shift in the food industry’s market is not an isolated event. Every industry is seeing the rise of conscious consumerism and is having to shift as per the market demand. 

The change in consumer behavior is exactly why brands like Patagonia are becoming more popular every day and big brands like Adidas, Nike, and Allbirds are trying to pick up their required pace and right direction to be on the sustainability track. 

Google understands the need for sustainability too and has vowed to run on clean energy by 2030, while greener search engines like Ecosia are becoming increasingly popular among the younger generations.

Sustainability is reshaping the auto industry too. The Nielsen survey found that 63% of Gen Z and Millennials plan to buy an electric or hybrid electric vehicle. Tesla has delivered almost a million cars in 2021, which is an 87% increase from 2020. Industry behemoths like BMW and Ford have also recognized the need for sustainability and are working hard to take the wheel and steer the industry toward a more sustainable future.

Though it can be claimed that – “every industry has realized the importance of sustainability”, it will surely remain untrue at least as long as the fashion industry doesn’t come out of its “fast game”. The statement above will also remain untrue as long as the fossil fuel industry is powering our houses, vehicles, and factories. 

Now, this might make you think that consumer behavior alone cannot change the conventional ways of doing business and the market. But, it is essential to realize that, these behaviors are bringing changes in governmental policies and legislation too. The proper application of those regulations will not only result in a healthy shift in the market but will also ensure that the shift is permanent.

New laws are also pushing for a more sustainable future

Have you heard about the proposed rules by the EU which aim to make the fashion industry sustainable? 

These new rules target clothes, furniture, and smartphones sold in Europe. According to the proposed rules, these products must be more durable, easily repaired, and recycled. These proposals also aim to prevent brands from greenwashing consumers through their advertisements. 

Similarly, the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act which was proposed in February 2022 also targets to make the fashion industry more sustainable by being transparent and by practicing accountability. 

The fashion industry can receive a prize for greenwashing and the only logical rationale for doing so is that it recognizes that demand for sustainability is increasing. But, with the passing of such laws, there will be no more chance for the industry to greenwash the consumers. 

According to the Nielsen survey, 41% of the respondents said that they believe that the fashion industry is unsustainable and 20% – 40% are trying to decrease their consumption of fast fashion. Though it can be argued that despite all the concerns about sustainability, consumption of fast fashion is still booming, it is also important to notice that a big portion of young global consumers is getting into sustainable fashion more and more every day. 

Of course, the influencers of fast fashion on platforms like TikTok and Instagram are still promoting nothing but consumerism. But on these same social platforms, advocates of sustainability are not only promoting purpose-driven brands, but also ways to reduce consumption and stay in style by upcycling, repairing, and swapping. 

Global platforms like Greenpeace, Fashion Revolution, Slow Factory, Slow fashion Movement, Remake, Ethical Influencers, etc. are helping people to get united and create communities. With the help of these communities, these young advocates are being able to make their voices heard in the right places and that is exactly why legislation is changing in favor of sustainability, worldwide. 

If you still can not convince yourself that these younger generations are changing the future of the business world, then let me tell you this : 

Gen Z and Millennials are more interested in jobs that care about our planet 

Photo by Cup of Couple via Pexels

By 2030, Millennials and Gen Z will comprise the majority of the workforce. 

According to a Fast Company survey from 2019, 70% of Millennials prefer to work for a company that prioritizes sustainability. Not only that, nearly three-quarters of them are willing to accept a lower wage to work for an environmentally conscious company. 

It is not only Millennials but Gen Zs who also consider a company’s environmental policies when deciding where to work, according to the 2018 Deloitte Millennials study. Two-thirds of those polled stated they would not accept a job if it did not include a good sustainability program. 

So, even if you do not believe in sustainability, don’t you think it’s important for your business to become environmentally conscious to attract these young generations of workers? 

You might also want to remember that, focusing on sustainability will also help you to save money too! 

So what are some of the basics that you as an entrepreneur need to remember?  

This will be really easy for you if you want it and tough for you if you don’t! Whatever industry you’re in, the core mantra should be the same for all of them: Planet and People over Profit. 

You need to genuinely figure out how you can help people through your business, by not harming and giving it back to the environment. This also means that you need to stay a hundred percent away from greenwashing, be transparent about your supply chain and business model, and practice accountability. 

You might find it tough to be an eco-conscious, purpose-driven business at the beginning. But you can be sure that focusing on sustainability will not only help you to grow your business but you can really bring meaningful changes into the world and ensure a future that will be better for you, your future generation, and everyone else. 

Here’s to you, your business, and a sustainable future! Cheers! 

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