When Your Supply Chain Is Human

SA Expeditions, a travel company with a social-responsibility focus, has a different take on what it means to be sustainable.

Author: Michelle Russell       

two people in kayak viewing flamingos in water

Team members from SA Expeditions take part in a kayak excursion during a team summit in Merida, Mexico. The travel company creates tours for groups that are big on social impact in the destination. (Courtesy of SA Expeditions)

Founded in 2011, SA Expeditions seeks to bring a “new approach to travel, one which favors expertise, authenticity, and purpose.” The travel company creates custom tours for individuals and small groups that are big on local, one-of-a-kind experiences and big on social impact — with expeditions in parts of the world facing unique challenges and a focus on conserving important cultural and natural resources.

That mission to contribute to and engage with communities in the destinations they traverse led SA Expeditions to explore another path in 2018: Obtaining B Corp certification, which requires for-profit companies to go through a rigorous process to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. SA Expeditions became a B Corp-certified company in 2021.

Convene spoke with SA Expedition’s Nick Stanziano, founder and chief explorer, Brand Manager Corey Jay, and COO Riva Bacquet, to learn more about how the company and the summit events it holds for its staff and stakeholders have been shaped by becoming B Corp-certified.

woman is blessed with smoke in shamanic ceremony

SA Expeditions’ tours focus on conserving important cultural and natural resources, like a shamanic ceremony in Merida, Mexico.

About SA Expedition’s In-person Summits

With a fully remote staff, “the summits we hold are crucial to our company culture and the longevity of the business,” Jay said. “They replace the kind of daily water cooler chat — condensing it into five to seven days each year of really intense, high-quality, one-on-one time with these people who we’re communicating with digitally all year.”

Riva Bacquet

Riva Bacquet

As part of being a B Corp, “our focus is on community and our supply chain and how we treat everyone fairly and equitably and make sure that they’re earning living wages. And we bring all of that into our summit,” she said. “We offset the carbon for all our travelers. We also do that for the summits, for everyone that we bring with us to these summits — it’s not just our core team, but tour guides and other people that make up our broader network and universe.”

“Specific to what we’re trying to achieve with our events is to provide a really transformative experience for our network that helps make these trips possible for our clients,” Bacquet said. “It helps for them to be reinspired for the purpose of our own company, for one. By sharing a transformative experience with your team, you are bonding in a unique way. That connection that you created traveling together stays with you and helps you be better professionals and better teammates and collaborate better. One incredible summit together a year will keep us going the entire year together and looking forward to the next one.”

Corey Jay

Corey Jay

SA Expedition summits are set up to foster that collaboration through its accommodation structure — the team is housed at “a boutique large house, basically, that keeps us all together, in all the common spaces nearby,” Bacquet said. “We have to run into each other and that ends up making it so that our creatives are talking to our sales team and coming up with new ideas about marketing together, just spontaneously during the trip. And those things have a really positive impact in the long run.”

“I think philosophically, for us, we talk about like baking in sustainability,” Stanziano said. “And sustainability is such a big word, right? If we were a mining company or were in industrial fishing or something that was very extractive, I think the environmental side of the sustainability becomes very important, especially when you’re talking about conventions of 10,000-100,000 people. We do boutique, high-end travel and our events are small gatherings of 20-50 people. Just speaking practically, our ecological impact from our events is already very limited. We’re usually latching onto boutique cruises or lodges that are already have sustainability baked into how they operate, because they’re in very protected, sensitive places in the world.

“We’re a small, curated group of humans across the planet from the top of the economic pyramid in the United States, all the way down to literally almost the bottom of the economic pyramid. And to be able to connect that through an event [like Summit] is really powerful,” he said, “and it’s really hard to do. It’s an investment. It’s making sure people feel comfortable. It’s setting it up so that people from different regions and cultures and even languages can have a successful event.”

people on boat eating breakfast

Nick Stanziano (giving a thumbs up), SA Expedition’s founder and chief explorer, and team members go boating as part of a summit in Galapagos, Ecuador.

Rethinking Sustainability

When Stanziano thinks about sustainability, “it’s really about our supply chain — we purchase services from very underserved, economically underserved, and indigenous communities around the Americas primarily,” he said. “And so, for me, really what our B Corp is about is the chain of humans. That’s really where we can make significant impacts in people’s lives. What B Corp tries to say is that business is a force for good. For us, international travel is basically just a big network of people across the planet. Being a force for good on the planet means treating your supply chain well — the better, more aligned your supply chain is and the more trust between the humans and that supply chain, the more profitable and the more efficient your business runs.”

“Becoming a B Corp has really diversified our own definition of what sustainability is,” Jay said. “It’s more than just the environment, but it covers workers, our community, our suppliers, the way we govern the business. It’s much more holistic approach.”

“People think of tourism [often in terms of] ginormous cruise ships,” Jay said. “And a huge percentage of the money that cruise travelers spend doesn’t get left in the host destination. It’s kind of a detractive form of tourism — we’re the complete opposite in that we try to funnel as many funds directly to the local destination, wherever it is, be it with our traveling trips or with our summits. By using the same services and providers that we’ve vetted for our clients, we have no qualms about going and hosting these events for ourselves and for our community’s experience with us.”

Stanziano said that SA Expeditions is assisted in its social responsibility efforts by working with ATTA, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, as well as DMOs. “The promise [we make] is we’re going to bring travelers who are high value, who are focused on nature, who have a sense of sustainability, and who return back to their country as ambassadors,” he said. “And that’s big. They’re telling their high-value friends — and that whole ecosystem is really powerful.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.