Adventure tour husband-wife team revisits their Earth Day roots with Earth Day Network
Forty-five years ago, strangers Will Weber, a grad student at University of Wisconsin, and Joan Schwartz, a visiting student from Mount Holyoke College, heard about U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson’s idea to build a “national teach-in on the environment,” focused around one day in April every year that would energize citizens to rally for a healthy, sustainable environment.
With Denis Hayes, then a grad student at Harvard, recruited as national organizer, the concept quickly expanded. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
At this crucial moment in time, Will and Joan met and worked together to help make the first Earth Day in 1970 the historic success the world knows today. At the start of this international movement, they also joined forces, fell in love, got married, had kids, and built a business called Journeys International, taking their love of culture, nature, wildlife and exploration on the road with guided tours in Nepal. One year later Will and Joan founded the Earth Preservation Fund (EPF), a nonprofit arm of Journeys aimed at supporting conservation and community development projects in Journeys destinations in 60 countries.
“We didn’t set out to build a business like Journeys, but we did set out to do our part in protecting our world’s natural and cultural resources. After our time in the Peace Corps in Nepal, we ached to return, so we gathered a group of friends and planned a visit back to show them this amazing part of our planet. One trip let to another, one country led to another, and now, here we are,” said Will and Joan.
Journeys has continued to observe Earth Day every year, and its business model has been guided by the mantra ‘Every Day is Earth Day.’ Journeys was the first adventure tour operator to develop a Code of Ethics, which guides travelers as they explore the world and many tour operators that came later used the code as a basis for their own. In 2015, Journeys is introducing a Sustainability Policy that coalesces and improves upon the many ways Journeys operates as an environmentally sustainable business.
This year, Journeys is supporting Earth Day Network’s campaign to protect the Asian elephants. The Asian elephant, once prevalent throughout many areas of India, is now listed as an endangered species by the Indian Government and included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The factors leading to steep population declines in elephant habitats include rapid human population growth, shrinking habitat, reductions in elephant “exclusive zones” and elephant “buffer zones;” and increased human-elephant conflicts, including poaching and railway accidents.
Unlike elephant populations threatened by large scale poaching, the threats plaguing Asian elephant populations in India can be greatly reduced through organizing community-led on the ground interventions; eliminating the Indian Railway exemption from the Environmental Impact Assessment process; and developing broad based public support for elephant protection.
Information about the Campaign to Protect the Asian Elephant can be found online at https://www.earthday.org/campaign-protect-asian-elephant.
To learn more about Journeys International, Joan and Will’s story, and the EPF visit JourneysInternational.com.