SLO CAL — ‘We are Collaborators, not Competitors’

World Travel & Tourism Council
4 min readMar 2, 2023
Destination Spotlight — SLO CAL — Sustainability Top Down

With resident’s quality of life so high up on the agenda, visitors to SLO CAL are encouraged to travel sustainably throughout the county, exploring the farmers markets, sampling the home grown produce & furthering their understanding of the sustainable practices on wine trails and farm tours.

Sustainability sits at the heart of the community in SLO CAL, with ambitious goals in place and already being worked towards. Taking a macro approach, WTTC delved into the stories of business owners in the region to hear about responsible tourism and destination stewardship and how is being tackled by Visit SLO CAL and partners.

Chris Read, Sustainability Manager of the City of SLO

Over the last decade the community & local businesses have been taking every opportunity to repurpose traditional processes to become more to bolster their commitment to sustainability. Chris Read, City Manager of the City of SLO, shared with us some of the ways that the city is dealing with the issue of climate change head on. As part of the city’s carbon neutral by 2035 goal, they’ve committed to planting 10,000 trees in community and open space. To help the city to reach their sustainability goals, they introduced the Keys for Trees programme, whereby when you visit a hotel in San Luis Obispo, a portion of your room charge goes to fund the planting and maintaining of trees in the area. The city of SLO is also home to an anaerobic digester, this ensures that any organic waste from restaurants, farmers markets and residences can be converted into clean electricity and high-quality compost for the area, whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions and landfill build up.

Jason Haas, Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek vineyard is a first-rate example of a local SLO CAL business that is creating responsible tourism opportunities in the area. The vineyard produces estate-grown, internationally recognised wine using sustainable techniques and biodynamic practices. These include a mobile herd of sheep, alpacas and donkeys that graze on a cover crop and turn it into manure that gets incorporated into the soil and build the carbon content in the soil, rather than in the atmosphere. As well as operating from 100% solar power, Tablas Creek have been able to reduce the amount of water needed by 80% — a grand feat in the push towards more sustainable agriculture.

David Walker, Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Founded in 1996 by Adam Firestone & David Walker, Firestone Walker Brewing Company began as a small brewery with roots in wine country on California’s Central Coast. Now operating at a regional level, the brewery is another shining example of sustainability in action. Firestone Walker stand by the mantra, “Our pursuit of the perfect beer must be underscored by a passion for minimizing our environmental impacts.”. Their commitment to sustainable practices is clear through their 9.7-acre solar array, ensuring that most of the beer is brewed using California sunshine which has led to an annual carbon offset of 3,000 metric tons. Firestone Walker’s pledge to clean energy doesn’t end there, with 20% of the brewhouse’s energy use generated by kettle steam recovery and the transformation of biogas into usable energy via combined heat-powered microturbines.

Lynette Sonne, FARMstead ED

Lynette Sonne, a native of San Luis Obispo County, founded FARMstead ED in 2014 to function as a link between tourists and farmers and to educate visitors about the value of sustainable practises, local agriculture, and handicrafts. The organisation is instrumental in educating visitors and residents on how their food is grown so that they can make healthy choices on where they’re getting their food from. With the popularity of agritourism on the rise, and people’s desire to get outside and reconnect with nature, FARMstead ED provide educational hands-on experiences along the SLO CAL farm trail that reinforce the importance of sustainable food production. Speaking to WTTC, Lynette Sonne, Founder of FARMstead ED said, “One of many special things about San Luis Obispo County [is that] we are collaborators, not competitors… So Farmers teach Farmers and then Farmers teach Consumers.”

With local businesses’ buy in to sustainability, SLO CAL has been able to position itself as a destination that is spearheading sustainable tourism experiences whilst continuing to honour the quality of life of its residents through destination stewardship best practises. Speaking to the businesses on the ground who are interacting with tourists day-to-day, draws a picture of what is truly important to these individuals, the businesses that they work for and the customers and clientele that they serve.

In this series we will capture the essence of SLO CAL by exploring the ways in which their tourism strategy has been able to encourage sustainable tourism to the region whilst simultaneously acting as responsible stewards on behalf of the community that resides there. Through top down and bottom up perspectives, we’ll explore how different tourism entities are working to present SLO CAL as a tranquil tourist hotspot whilst staying true to their sustainability values — as life really is too beautiful to rush.

Explore the SLO CAL Destination Spotlight Series



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