• Tom Bryant

No longer just headlines…how environmental sustainability became REAL for me

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

My name is Temabu Ngaberuh Dalan… Actually, it’s simply Tom Bryant, from London, but I was given the rare honour of receiving my tribal Kelabit name when last in Bario, in the heart of the Borneo jungle, Malaysia. The Kelabit people are an indigenous Dayak people of the Sarawak/North Kalimantan highlands of Borneo. They comprise one of the smallest ethnic groups in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. I’ve come to know them well. My Kelabit name translates as ‘the new road’ because I first taught them about ‘digital’ using the analogy of digital as a virtual road that was connecting them to the rest of the world. They have in turn taken me on a new road of environmental sustainability.


I went to Bario for the first time in 2018 during some free time while working as a digital transformation advisor to the Malaysian Government. I wanted an ecoadventure and, not only did I get it, but my life was changed! I fell deeply in love with and gained immense respect for the region. There is a common saying in sustainability circles:

‘You don’t protect what you don’t love and you don’t love what you don’t know.’

Before 2018, I didn’t know the magical kingdom of Bario. I came to know it. Then love it. Now, I want to protect it.


Why is Borneo so special?


In ‘The Heart of Borneo,’ a 220,000-km2 region in the mountainous centre of Borneo island, there are 10 primate species, over 350 bird species, and 150 reptile and amphibian species.

On average, around three species are discovered every month in the Heart of Borneo (WWF). The primary jungle around Bario is teaming with flora and fauna, including the famous Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. Along with the Amazon, Borneo’s oxygen-rich jungle is considered the Earth’s lungs.


Inspired by the jungle, I gained as much understanding of the environment as possible by living with indigenous people, trekking through deep jungle and visiting national parks and orangutan reserves.

But this is not a travel blog. Back to why this area moved me so much. The biodiversity of the area, as well as the cultural heritage of the indigenous Kelabit people of Bario, make an explosive combination for tourism that is quickly developing.

Sustainable development of tourism and protection of the natural environment is quickly turning into an immediate and critical endeavour. Borneo is one of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth. It’s in all our interest to conserve it. And note, I have received WhatsApp messages from the Kelabits in October telling their sad story of battling jungle fires similar to those in the Amazon we all saw in the press recently.


Moving from tourist to advisor


Borneo impacted me to the degree that I now focus my digital transformation consultancy on the sustainability transformation of corporates and tourism. I made a massive personal journey from being only a concerned citizen about our climate crisis to making it real, making it ‘translate’ for myself and others. Just like digital has been disrupting all organisations in all sectors for over the past decade, we are now facing our next big transformation around sustainability, which is dramatically changing business models, investment strategies, supply chains and consumer demand. See more on corporate sustainability in my blog Sustainability…Don’t let the definition kill us’.


My commitment to one of the Earth’s lungs grows as I have since keynoted at the first ever Bario Sustainability Forum in March 2019 and currently organising the second annual forum for March 2020. This one will be the biggest yet where we will focus on four key themes across three days: Sustainable Development, Ecotourism, Cultural Heritage and Biodiversity. With educational sessions, lively debates, panel discussions and even a Youth Hackathon, we will explore together the challenges and solutions of developing tourism while conserving fragile, biodiverse destinations.


What’s your own sustainability journey?


There is no doubt most of us are starting to question how we can each individually move from just reading the climate crisis headlines to making a commitment of personal action. You don’t have to go deep in the Borneo jungle or start an environmental consultancy as I have. You just have to, first, make sure you grasp the extent of the challenge, become well informed and communicate awareness.


Once again, I think the young activist, Greta Thunberg, says it best:

‘I think the most important thing to do right now is to try to understand the crisis. Is to grasp the problem. Because I think that once you fully understand the climate and ecological emergencies, then you know what you can do as well.’

My personal journey continues. Further afield, I continue my ongoing work when I can in that magical, jungle kingdom of Borneo. Back here at home in the UK, I continue my work translating the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) into practical roadmaps of change for companies. Take it from Temabu Ngaberuh Dalan, wherever your own personal journey to sustainability takes you, a more sustainable world will be worth the trip.



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