When thinking about how to reduce our individual carbon footprints, one of the simplest ways to cut back on emissions is to fly less often. For those who want to see the world, there are ways to make trips more sustainable, including where you go, what you pack and how you decide to get there.
Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization as ‘tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.’
From Greta Thunberg sailing to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York on a racing yacht, to hotels not using single-use plastics, sustainable travel is all around.
There has been considerable talk recently about sustainability in the travel industry. Questions like what does it mean to travel sustainably? How can I reduce my company’s carbon footprint regarding business travel? These issues have been troubling individuals as the realities of climate change start to sink in for all of us. The pandemic stimulated a kind of collective consciousness on the importance of sustainability. We, essentially, are guardians who need to preserve our way of life and our planet. Travel, whether for business or pleasure, has a key role to play in mitigating the environmental impact we have on our world.
The issue in practical terms
Whether we are talking about business travel or sustainable tourism, the practical applications of the principles of sustainable travel are the same. The bottom line is to do what you can to reduce the negative impacts of any trip on the environment, society, and economy as you travel.
Impact on the environment
What do we mean when we talk about sustainable travel in relation to the environment? Well, can you picture those giant cruise ships pulling up into Dubrovnik with tens of thousands of Games of Thrones fans pouring out all over the city, chips bags and candy wrappers on the floor, and literally tons of sewage being spilled into the bay? It’s not that.
The way we travel and our travel experiences have a huge impact on our ecosystem. According to a recent study, travel accounts for around 5% of global warming as a result of the C02 emissions that come from air travel, among other things. However, it is not simply about emissions. Travelling can also lead to overuse of water, degradation of land, improper waste disposal and greenhouse gas emissions
Respecting local communities
Respecting the culture of local communities conserves cultural and artistic heritage is absolutely pivotal.The interaction with locals is one of the most rewarding things of sustainable travel and preserves traditions passed down from generation to generation. It is essential to respect traditions as they form the identity of the local community and create a sense of unity among people.
Social and economic dimension
There is considerable focus on responsible travel for the environment. The social and economic aspects of this can easily be overlooked. The travel and tourism industry is one of the few that has a direct impact on virtually all of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The social dimension of the travel industry’s sustainable responsibility focuses on supporting local culture, cultural heritage, and local economies. This is achieved by ensuring that the money spent on travel in a certain country remains within its borders. Another important factor is protecting local people and local businesses, celebrating culture, and promoting good health and wellbeing.
Simple changes to the way we travel can make a significant impact in this area. Encouraging travelers to eat at locally-owned restaurants is a great way to ensure that money stays in the local community. Working with travel management platforms, tour operators, or other travel providers that contribute to social causes can also make an enormous difference.
While it can be tricky to tell the difference between locally crafted traditional items and things that have been imported from China, avoiding shopping malls and large markets outside tourist destinations is a positive first step. If you devote a little time to research you can usually find one or more boutiques that specialise in supporting traditional craft and help local businesses.
Pack reusable items
The best way to reduce your waste output is to produce less. It makes perfect sense to pack light and purposeful. Stick to the basics and take reusables like a water bottle, coffee cup, steel or bamboo straw, food container (collapsible ones are great for travelling) and bamboo cutlery or a spork so you can avoid single-use plastics. Take a reusable shopping bag and produce bags so you can shop plastic-free, and take zero waste toiletries, such as shampoo bars, deodorant and tooth tablets. You will create a lot less waste and you won’t have to worry about liquids and aerosols.
Once you have arrived at your destination, consider whether there is a more environmentally friendly way to enjoy the city:
- Consider bike or walking tours.
- On the water? Sail instead of taking a power-engined boat.
- If you are renting a car, think about an electric vehicle or maybe the smallest car that suits your family’s demands
- Use public transit where possible. This is also a great way to meet local people.
- Contemplate carsharing. It can save money and emissions.
- Think about activities that combine experience with environmental benefits, such as cleaning up our coastlines
- Our world has finite resources. There are only so many beautiful and untouched places on our planet and mass tourism threatens their existence. Nature, culture and history should be preserved, not commodified. It is our responsibility to look after our world while we enjoy the wonders of it.