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Climate Smart Commitment: 2019 Portfolio Grant Report

$1 Million Invested in 11 Organizations

In late 2019, Rick Steves' Europe launched our Climate Smart Commitment — a program designed to pay back the environmental debt created by our travelers flying to Europe to join our bus tours. We estimated that it would take about $30 per tour member, invested smartly, to creatively mitigate this carbon footprint. At $30 per person for our 30,000-plus travelers, that amounted to a self-imposed carbon tax of $1 million. Inspired by our work in global poverty issues, we chose to innovate a new approach: investing in 11 partner organizations that seek to address climate change through smart development efforts in the developing world.

About half of the world’s population is smallholder farmers and their families. And, in their desperation to grow enough food, their farming practices contribute substantially to climate change. Our grantee parameters were to support groups working in two ways: by helping developing world farmers do their work in a way that contributed less to climate change by employing climate-smart agriculture techniques (including protecting forests); or by advocating in Congress for smarter American government policies to fight climate change. (In order to keep their momentum, we have also allowed organizations to invest some of our grant money in combating the impact of COVID-19 in the communities in which they work.)

We created a portfolio of 11 organizations with missions that fit our goal, giving each between $50,000 and $200,000. And they immediately started putting those funds to work. Despite the global pandemic, these organizations persevered, delivered on their missions, and fulfilled their pledge to be transparent with us.

We're presenting this report to show our travelers (and those who might travel with us in the future) what we accomplished in the past year. Climate change and smart development can seem abstract. Reading how these organizations put our investment to good use inspires us with our ability to create change in faraway places — improving the lives of people less advantaged than we are while also taking meaningful steps toward addressing our changing climate. We are proud to offer those who take our tours the peace-of-mind that this “self-imposed carbon tax” effectively mitigates the carbon they emit to join us in Europe. Together, we're making a difference. It feels good. It’s ethical as a business practice. And it's simply good global citizenship.

Looking ahead, we remain committed to investing $30 per tour member. However, COVID-19 cancelled all of our 2020 tours. Despite this setback, we are determined to continue our program. That's why we pledge to invest 50 percent of what we would have in a normal year — that's $500,000 — for the second year of our Climate Smart Commitment. In the next few months, we will review the organizations currently in our portfolio and those that have submitted grant requests to be added.

Here is a review of what seven of our 2019 partner organizations accomplished in the last year. We hope you enjoy reading these reports. For more details, visit each organization’s information page. Learn more about our Climate Smart Commitment.

Project Concern International

Donation: $150,000
Our donation helped Project Concern International (PCI) implement their “Carbon Capture” initiative to distribute firewood-saving stoves, start reforestation activities, and improve sanitation for rural families in the Western Highlands region of Guatemala.  Read more

Agros International

Donation: $150,000
Our donation helped Agros provide 97 subsistence farmers in the villages of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, with training on climate-smart agriculture practices. Since the start of the project, 63 of those families have shifted the way they see agriculture production, increased their crop yields and household incomes, decreased their use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and adopted water-conserving irrigation systems. Read more

Zeitz Foundation

Donation: $100,000
Our donation allowed the Zeitz Foundation (ZF) to implement its Tree of Life Initiative in Laikipia, Kenya. Since the program started, ZF has built a tree nursery, drilled a borehole for irrigation, planted 100,000 seedlings, prepared an additional 150,000 seedlings for planting, and developed an arborist vocational training program for women.  Read more

Climate Smart grant recipient Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance

Donation: $50,000
Our donation helped the Rainforest Alliance (RA) expand their reforestation program in Ghana. Over the past year, RA helped farmers increase their cocoa capacity (without the typical deforestation) through trainings and workshops, established five tree nursery sites, and produced over 84,000 seedlings — double their original projection. Read more

Citizens' Climate Education

Donation: $50,000
Our donation helped the Citizens' Climate Education (CCE) strengthen their nationwide coalition of climate advocates, create a powerful counterweight to paid lobbyists advocating for the fossil fuel industry, and educate policymakers and the public about smart solutions to climate change. Read more

Rainforest Action Network

Donation: $50,000
Our donation supported the efforts of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in Sumatra, Indonesia, where they worked to make corporations accountable for their supply chains. RAN’s mission is to raise awareness of illegal deforestation and the clearance of the associated peatlands while helping protect Indigenous people from human rights abuses and violence stemming from these illegal land grabs. Read more

Food 4 Farmers

Donation: $50,000
Our donation allowed Food 4 Farmers (F4F) to teach climate-smart practices to six co-operatives representing more than 8,000 coffee-farming families in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Columbia. Their goals: to strengthen local food systems, stabilize incomes, reduce deforestation, and enhance food security. Read more