In 2010, Rhian Berning realised that a personal concern of hers could have a greater reach.
“I kept having to ask at restaurants: is this free range, or do you recycle? If I didn’t ask, then I would wonder whether I could enjoy this product or whether the company supported local suppliers. I want to be able to live my life in a clear, conscious way — I figured if I feel like this, there must be others.”
She came upon the idea of creating an inventory and realised it would work best as an online platform.
Eco Atlas is a guide for those who wish to make ethical consumer choices: it provides consumers with a map to the world of like-minded companies. Though the platform, users are able to locate places to eat, shop, stay and play “according to the priorities that are important to you as a conscious consumer”.
Users are able to use the search function to choose the issues that they wish to champion, support and follow. Functionally, this works off a drop-down menu that includes 22 Eco Choices, with categories such as empowerment and Fair Trade, badger friendly or carbon neutral. Choices that were previously unknown — or hidden — become apparent and the ability to choose is much easier.
Rhian studied environmental science and was previously involved in educating children about the future. “But I feel a new sense of urgency. I feel we need to make immediate changes.”
Now, by partnering with SA Tourism, Eco Atlas also caters for travellers. For example, you can choose to stay in a hotel that recycles, eat at a restaurant that only serves free range food, or buy crafts from vendors that are part of an empowerment programme.
With the support of a large body like this, tourist providers automatically benefit if they are eco-conscious. For South Africa, the carbon footprint of the tourism industry is offset by the percentage of tourists who choose to travel and spend their money in an ethical, conscious way.
Says Berning: “Eco Atlas works off the concept that doing small things every day can have a grand impact. We think we don’t have power — we are used to relying on a top down system. But the world is run through the economy. If you choose differently, you have the power to make a difference by choosing to spend money where it should be.”