Exploring Sustainable Tourism with Sailors for Sustainability


Please Introduce yourself! Who are you & what do you do?

We are Ivar Smits (43) and Floris van Hees (39). Two years ago we quit our jobs and left on a sailing trip around the world. Along our route we look for and visit solutions to sustainability challenges that have already been put in practice. We blog and vlog about these solutions to inspire people, communities, businesses and governments and encourage them to accelerate sustainable change.

What inspired you to start Sailors for Sustainability?

When we met five years ago, Ivar lived on his sailboat. For him sailing was already the best and most sustainable way of getting somewhere. It took Floris some getting used to, but he soon saw the advantages: you reach to the most beautiful places, you always have your home with you and you travel on wind energy. A long sailing trip soon became a common goal.


When we planned our trip, we agreed that sustainability would be our main theme. We are both conscious of the privileged situation we are in. At the same time, the precarious state of our natural world and the increasing social inequality concerns us. We are convinced that change is needed to ensure that future generations can live in harmony on a healthy planet.


When visiting a foreign country you always learn from how other people do things. So we saw an opportunity: if we collect innovative examples and share them with as many people as possible, we can speed up the transition to a sustainable society. We believe that sharing positive examples will motivate people to change their habits. That’s how we came up with the idea for Sailors for Sustainability.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to inspire as many people as possible with positive examples and call them to sustainable action. We see that not only change is needed, but also possible in many areas. The challenges we face call for "all hands on deck". With our sailing trip around the world we want to contribute to a better world for our generation and the generations after us.

Where have you travelled so far?

We left Amsterdam in June 2016 and visited sustainable solutions in North- West- and South- Europe during the first two years of our journey. We headed north first. Via Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway we reached Scotland. From there our southward journey began via the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal. We then spent a year in the Mediterranean and also visited Italy, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Malta, Tunisia and Morocco. Earlier this year we reached the Canary Islands. So far we visited 30 sustainable solutions and met inspiring people that work towards an environmentally sound and socially just society.


What is your favourite sustainable initiative thus far?

That’s like asking parents who their favorite child is! Yet if we had to pick one, it would be Casita Verde on Ibiza. Its founder Chris Dews combines many sustainable practices in his eco-educational center. The center is off grid, powered by solar and wind energy. Rain water is collected, used and recycled for the vegetable garden. All buildings are built with used or upcycled materials. Permaculture principles are employed on the land. And Chris is at the heart of many other sustainable initiatives, such as beach clean-ups, a local produce market and turning the island into a sustainable tourism hotspot.


Where do you see Sailors for Sustainability in the long term?

Our trip around the world will take a few more years to complete. We plan to cross to Brazil later this year and then via Argentina and Chili we’ll visit islands in the Pacific. As we keep on collecting sustainable solutions, we would also like our boat “Lucipara 2” to become a floating sustainability resource center which brings sustainable solutions to communities, businesses and governments we visit.


Upon our return home, we would like to continue our mission and support the transition to a sustainable society, for example by working with students, businesses and (local) governments and showing them the tools that are available for them.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

We have left our social life in the Netherlands and we sometimes miss that. That’s certainly the case during happy moments of family and friends, such as births and birthdays, but it is also difficult not to be there for them in difficult times, for example in case of illness or death.


During the trip there are occasional lows when something breaks down on the boat. Although we have worked hard to get the boat in good shape, things do break. That is part of the experience and we are getting used to it more and more. And we keep getting better at repairing things.


Why do you think it is important for businesses to work together to tackle the issue of sustainable tourism?

The environmental and social sustainability challenges we face are very complex. To overcome these challenges, we need solutions across the entire spectrum. We believe everyone has a role to play, from individuals and communities to businesses and governments. To make tourism more sustainable, we need individuals who understand the issues and take responsibility. We need active governments that regulate. And we need businesses that lead and cooperate by integrating sustainable practices in their offering. For example, an innovative business can offer a more sustainable product. In order for other business to start using this, they need to be aware of this solution and find customers for it. In other words, we need everyone to get on board if we are to make tourism sustainable. We call it “all hands on deck”!

Can you describe a typical “work day” for you @ Sailors for Sustainability?

Our days are so very different! When we’re at sea, we sail in shifts and are focused on the wind, the sails and our progress towards our destination. When the weather is calm, we cook, write and try to catch fresh fish. With rough seas, life onboard can become tough. We then have to work hard to stay fit and eat and drink enough.


When we’re at anchor or on land, a day looks quite different. We explore our newly reached destination, preferably by foot. We do research, meet new people, and visit sustainable solutions. We write blogs, make vlogs and provide articles to our partners. There are days when we’re fully occupied with answering emails and updating our social media channels. And of course we also need to run our household, maintain our sailing boat, and make plans for the next destinations: where is a good anchorage, what is the wind and weather going to be, what about safety precautions, etc. And sometimes we meet fellow sailors and share experiences over drinks or a dinner. Never a dull moment!