By Ngachung Lai
Tourism relies on burning fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change. It is predicted that 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be generated by tourism by 2050: 72% of tourism’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, 24% from accommodation, and 4% from tourism activities.
Despite much of the information that exists around sustainability is framed in terms that make us feel bad or uses language that suggests giving something up, the truth is that sustainable travel is all about making simple and smarter choices, in order to lessen your negative impact on a given destination.
Individually, each one of these choices makes only a small difference in the big picture. But collectively, becoming more conscious about these little things can have a huge cumulative impact.
As suggested by Gary Knell (Chairman of National Geographic Partners), “the travel industry is more dependent than most industries on the health of local communities, environments, and cultures,” and “we are looking at a population of 10 billion by 2050 and that is going to take a massive toll on our resources. To continue to provide authentic travel experiences, we need to invest in the resiliency of places affected by over-tourism and climate change.”
Green/sustainable travel is the antithesis of mass tourism. Our world has finite resources and mass tourism threatens their existence. Nature, culture and history should be preserved, not commodified.
What is sustainable travel?
Sustainable travel is about valuing the environment and looking after natural resources and local wildlife, while being aware of how tourism affects local people, businesses and native cultures.
The concept of sustainability has 3 key principles:
1) Environmental (reduce, reuse, recycle):
- This focuses on reducing negative impacts on the environment and wildlife from travelling. This includes minimising carbon footprint, especially air travel, water usage, packaging and plastic waste, and not disturbing wildlife.
- The key is to protect cultural and natural heritage and provide social and economic benefits for local communities.
- This focuses on the impact on local people and communities. This includes supporting businesses that are run by, employ and support local people and community tourism projects, social enterprises and charities.
- Responsible travellers could look for opportunities to be involved in NGO projects, be aware of who businesses employ, whether they are fairly paid, and whether their work environment is safe.
- This focuses on using money that positively contributes to the local economy.
- Choose to give your tourist pound (£) to locally-run hotels, restaurants and tour guides to support the local economy.
Here are some tips and advice for travelling more sustainably:Choose a destination that values sustainability.
- Research destination countries that are committed to sustainability measures. For example, Costa Rica, who are committed to eliminating single-use plastic.
- Jim Sano (WWF’s Vice President of Travel, Tourism, and Conservation): “Destinations that value their natural and cultural heritage elevate the quality of a traveler’s experience and support the livelihoods of those that work in the travel industry.”
Consider the most sustainable form of transport to get to your chosen destination
- Choose airlines that are working to improve their eco credentials. Airfrance-KLM and Easyjet are among those trying to address the problematic elements of flying by reducing fuel usage and adjusting wingtip design to reduce noise and increase efficiency. Cathay Pacific is especially progressive in its approach, which includes fleet modernisation, air traffic management (to avoid lengthy, fuel-intensive and antisocial circling) and electric vehicle trials.
- We all know that staying close to home is best when it comes to minimising emissions. Travel options mainly includes: flights, driving, train, and coach. So be sure to weigh up your options.
- Travelling in a group makes using a car more sensible. While travelling solo may make flying or taking train ‘greener’.
- Taking train or bus/coach is often the more sustainable option, as it decreases your carbon footprint, over flying or driving by car, but of course, this would depend on the route. In the USA, train travel is not necessarily more sustainable than air travel mile-for-mile, because many trains run on diesel.
Take direct flights where possible
- Look for shortest flight paths to your destination, as take-offs and landings cause most of a plane’s carbon emissions.
Fly economy class
- Flying in business or first class means more space per passenger. This can result in a 5x larger carbon footprint.
Use the most sustainable form of transport when you are at the destination
- Once at your destination, it is best to commute by foot or bike wherever possible. Foot or bike are the greenest transport options.
- Avoid using private-hire cars or services, instead use public transport, minibuses or car share.
- Using public transport and embracing slow travel will help you engage more while keeping your carbon footprint down.
Be a slow traveller
- To mitigate the negative impacts of air travel, moderate your travel appetite by moderating how often and how far you fly. Perhaps consider capitalising on travelling during the off-season to relieve pressure from over-crowded destinations.
- Avoid “binge flying”. Consider flying less often but staying for longer in destinations.
There is no quick or magical solution to solve the problems associated with tourism. How we spend our time and money is the most effective ways of stating our intentions. Lots of sustainability issues are more complex than they first appear and it’s important to continue to learn, change our behaviour and ask questions.