ichael Seltzer, former Vista volunteer, former Ford Foundation giver-of-grants, has these words for "old-fashioned" companies that want to do good deeds anonymously: "Get over it."

Housed in the Manhattan offices of The Conference Board, a nonprofit business group whose mission is to "help business and society," Seltzer created a travel-focused auxiliary organization called Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel (BEST).

BEST is guided by a steering committee that includes representatives from American Express, Marriott Corp., the World Travel and Tourism Council, the International Hotel and Restaurant

Association and National Geographic Traveler. Its goal is to shine a spotlight on enterprises that run programs that support their communities and educate travelers yet deliver on what he calls "the triple bottom line" of increased market share, expanded brand recognition and improved employee morale.

"I started thinking about doing something like this when I was with the Ford Foundation," he said. "The Ford Foundation gives money, but The Conference Board provides information and education. I wanted to run a travel program to talk about best practices."

Much of The Conference Board's work is hardcore economic analysis -- these are the folks who bring you the Leading Economic Indicators, the Consumer Confidence Index and other information that guides worldwide institutional investment -- and Seltzer knew he needed to create something that was firmly rooted in the business world, but that also fulfilled the board's educational agenda and his personal goal of encouraging sustainable travel.

Seltzer set out to identify programs that demonstrated that corporate policy and civic betterment not only are compatible, they're complementary. He looked for progressive business practices as well as what he calls "strategic philanthropy."

"Amex is really good at strategic philanthropy. Look at the World Monuments Fund -- it not only receives recognition for the financial support, but it's preserving sites where it sends people for profit."

He also looks for programs that are educational (though not necessarily academic). "We found some people who run tours on the history of Latin music in the Bronx, from mambo to hip-hop. It's terrific, and meets our criteria. We're looking for people who bring tourism to low-income areas that are rich in cultural or natural assets."

By creating and distributing dossiers on companies with inspired programs (called "BEST Practices"), Seltzer hopes to prompt executives to look at their own businesses and see how they can do well by doing good. Among the companies featured on the organization's Web site (www.sustainabletravel.org) are Aspen Skiing Co., Great Canadian Railtour Co. and Lindblad Expeditions.

When Seltzer was a Vista volunteer in the late 1960s, he saw that the native Hawaiian schoolchildren he worked with were dispirited, and he worked to improve their self-esteem. His mission today is not that different -- he's out to show a battered industry its best side, and in doing so, help restore the spirit of both companies and the people they serve.


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