Eplerwood International is working with the nonprofit PERL Network and Symbiosis Resorts to create a new genre of luxury eco-tourism in the South Pacific which aims to not only tap into the robust tourism market in Fiji, but also provide critically-needed infrastructure and resources for climate resilience research, coral reef conservation, and community-based conservation efforts. 

Field stations at the Symbiosis Resorts, developed and managed by PERL Network, will monitor some of earth’s most pristine coral reef regions in the Pacific, and help protect them as part of the resort’s primary goals.  Symbiosis Resorts and PERL Network also are looking to leverage the tourism industry into best sustainability practices, and active engagement with local communities, NGOs, and governments in marine ecosystem stewardship.

Eplerwood International will support three phases of this project. The first phase will be carried out by O’Shannon Burns, who is undertaking a capstone under Megan Epler Wood’s supervision for her Master’s Degree in Sustainability from Harvard University’s Extension School. 

EWI will assist PERL Network with triple bottom line metrics and potentially set a new standard for future resorts in the Pacific Region. This metrics system will be designed to help Symbiosis and future resorts to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  The KPIs will be built into their accounting system and published to track their environmental, social and financial performance.  The feasibility study O’Shannon is carrying out sets up the strategic goals for this triple bottom line management system, in order to help PERL and Symbiosis set up an integrated annual reporting system  – which allows business to make critical assessments of their environmental and social performance while undertaking their usual financial tracking annually.

EWI Welcomes O’Shannon Burns to the Team for her Harvard Extension Capstone

While working as National Geographic Expeditions’ Director of Sustainability, O’Shannon Burns is simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in sustainability from Harvard University’s Extension School. For her capstone, O’Shannon is collaborating with EplerWood International (EWI) and the PERL Network, an NGO supporting climate resilience research and sustainability strategies in the Pacific Islands, to conduct a triple-bottom-line feasibility study and build a new enterprise plan for Symbiosis Resorts.

As a founding member of Nat Geo’s Sustainability Leadership Network and Green Impact Grants Program, O’Shannon says she has “always been interested in sustainability.” She was recently in Ireland to re-evaluate one of National Geographic’s sixty-four Unique Lodges of the World. Each hotel in the collection is founded on a deep desire to protect and celebrate cultures and ecosystems that surround them through sustainable tourism practices.  They are carefully vetted for green operations, support for surrounding communities, and their efforts to protect natural and cultural heritage, and National Geographic collaborates with the properties in the collection to continually improve the sustainability of the overall portfolio of accommodations.

O’Shannon has grown into her position at National Geographic, and the information gathered through the Harvard program, especially through sustainable tourism classes with Megan Epler Wood, have been foundational.  O’Shannon says that this has allowed her to “have a better understanding of the [tourism] industry as a whole,” and she has undoubtedly gained a broader perspective while completing her master’s degree in Sustainability at Harvard Extension with her final capstone project in the South Pacific.

The vision of the Symbiosis Resort is multi-faceted. O’Shannon says that Fredric Evenson, the visionary behind PERL Network and its future partner Symbiosis Resort, has plans to blend luxury adventure travel with “globally-important climate resilience research, educational exchanges and conservation support for Pacific island communities.”  She added that field stations at Symbiosis Resorts will provide “critically needed outposts for science on the front lines of global climate change.”  The proposed collection of boutique eco-resorts will monitor the delicate coral ecosystems around the islands and provide resources for the many other conservation organizations in this region.

Climate change impacts are causing increasing peril for coral reef ecosystems, requiring vigilant science-based monitoring.  O’Shannon says that in the Pacific region, “there are few scientific field stations … and few reef systems have been studied extensively.” According to the PERL Network, field stations will lower costs and be designed and equipped based on evaluating the status of both the reef and communities in the region at risk.

EWI has worked to develop a triple bottom line annual reporting system that can be directly applied to the new resort chain, and is supervising the work that O’Shannon is undertaking as part of a broader plan to encourage full-fledged, science based monitoring for ecolodges worldwide.

In working with EWI, O’Shannon’s says her goal is to “take a holistic look at this [project] from the onset, and put plans and tools in place so that we’re measuring things from the start and can monitor them over time.” She is eager to create key performance indicators for Symbiosis Resorts so that their hotels result in net-positivity for the surrounding communities and environments.

O’Shannon stresses that her capstone project is not about only one hotel, “it’s about a model that could be applied throughout the South Pacific.” The tricky part is deciding how to create the indicators so that they are specific enough to measure continually, but expansive enough to compare them with other accommodations in the region. “It will be very interesting to see how we need to massage the metrics … to be able to encompass the needs of the broader region.”

Not only could O’Shannon’s capstone project be the inspiration for other public-private conservation partnerships, but perhaps lead to something even bigger. “I’m also interested in impact finance and how it can relate to what we’re trying to achieve.” 

By showing investors the financial viability of sustainability in the tourism industry, in the future, more businesses may not only be focused on a single bottom line, but three: environment, community, and profit.

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