Achieving the First MileTM in Sustainability, STEP BY STEP

We have introduced the concept of The First MileTM   previously, our signature approach to support tourism enterprises and destinations in improving their sustainability footprint through innovative behaviour change techniques. Giving the long journey towards sustainability a manageable launching stage makes the prospect less overwhelming, certainly. But what do effective first steps of that critical First MileTM look like in practice?  Here we share stories from two of BehaviorSMART’s ongoing projects so you can get a sense of The First MileTM in action.

Easy does it

In a nutshell, First MileTM steps need to be easy to adopt: painless micro-changes that influence the choices of consumers, suppliers, or frontline workers alike. In practice, these easy steps mean changes such as training tourism workers to recommend to guests a sustainable option first, for instance guiding guests to use bike rental or to walk to get to a place of interest as opposed to helping them  order a taxi or rent a car. Food menus can be rearranged to feature locally sourced meals at the top, described in irresistible ways. E-booking can default to the most sustainable purchase choices, such as automatically selecting e-vehicles in destinations with the infrastructure to support that choice.

These investment-light tactics involve  introducing small operational changes and some targeted staff training and awareness raising that can be accomplished at daily shift changes and at regular staff meetings.

The power of First MileTM efforts is that they offer a smart start without requiring system change.

Small changes launch big effects in the Nordics

In the past year we have had the chance to support businesses and enterprises with First MileTM initiatives, with encouraging results. One of the exciting projects we worked on, with support from the Nordic Council of Ministers, is NorReg: A Platform for Nordic Regenerative Tourism stretching across Iceland, Sweden, Norway, The Faroe Islands and Greenland.  Its aim is to create and implement tools to develop regenerative tourism practices for small local companies across the five destinations.

In designing and delivering The First MileTM component for NorReg, BehaviorSMART focused on identifying change tactics that would make regenerative options the most likely choice among travellers, including increasing local buying, spreading visitation across a wider range of attractions away from hotspots, and ensuring that outdoor experiences leave no trace in nature.

Gently changing focus

Here are some examples of the approach we took:

Describing hikes with extra appeal, such as ‘curated by locals’ or ‘the hidden secret of the mountain’. Participating businesses employed this technique to steer visitors away from the most favoured , overcrowded spots to less-visited attractions, or from the most popular but carbon-intense boat rides to eco-friendlier alternatives. 


What we learned over the course of the NorReg project is that the reality of recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming, especially for small businesses. A good way to persuade  them to take action in the area of sustainability is to break the process down into small, low-intensity and low-investment steps and identify tactics that can even be costs savings for the business.

A bigger group of  companies in the next First MileTM project 

Photo credit: NeONBRAND

Our next First MileTM project is a bigger EU-funded project involving 100 small tourism companies in France, Italy, Norway, and Slovenia.  It seeks to support a bigger community of SMEs across four destinations to employ smart changes that lead to significant cumulative effects.

The project target the specific sustainability needs that are priority for local tourism sectors:

  • France

    Waste reduction and smart use of energy and water

  • Italy

    Smart use of energy and water, lower carbon footprint, and waste reduction

  • Norway

    Support more local buying, reduce environmental impact, and strengthen local identity by observing traditions

  • Slovenia

    Green mobility, strengthened local identity, and reduction of single-use plastics.


Working across four countries and with a bigger community of companies at the same time is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the power of smart behaviour change at scale.

Smart steps are easy steps

First MileTM techniques are applicable whether you are pursuing SDGs, net zero or regenerative goals. They’re the SMART start on this long path because they’re easy and low-investment, and an action that is easy to take is more likely to be initiated in the first place. So, if small, easy, low-investment changes achieve progress on climate change, why wouldn’t you make them? The cumulative effect of consistent, small changes eventually leads in the aggregate to transformative outcomes; the First MileTM always begins with the first steps.


Milena Nikolova

Pam Rubin

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