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Sustainable Travel

The green escape

Plan your eco-getaway with our guide to travelling responsibly


Eco-tourism holidays are designed with many different aspects to being environmentally friendly in mind. For instance, you may stay in accommodation that has been built with both local and natural materials. The staff could be local people, so the jobs are supported by the townsfolk. Eco-tourism holidays should go out of their way to preserve the environment and stay true to the local cultures and customs. Taking an eco-tourism holiday does not have to be uncomfortable. There are many hotels and agencies that cater to eco-tourism holidays, yet with a comfortable offer. When travellers learn and respect the country that they are travelling and staying in, the holiday maker benefits, as well. A common misconception is that these holidays cost more, but this certainly does not have to be the case. Many resort hotels are built by using energy saving devices, such as automatic lights and water saving measures that keep costs low. One big trend in hotels worldwide is not washing linens every day when you stay in one of their rooms. Instead, there is a set time period for washing, or you as the customer can request a wash done if you think it is needed.

But ecotourists might not be doing all they can to help protect the planet, according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). Themed “Travelling with Climate in Mind,” the TIES Advocacy Campaign is designed to provide information for travel suppliers, organisations and travellers to help minimise their environmental footprint through more conscious use of energy and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Ecotourism is a large and rapidly growing movement for good in environmentally sensitive areas of the world,” said David Sollitt, Executive Director of TIES, “but the distance between where people live and where ecotourism typically takes place puts people onto aeroplanes, boats, cars and other modes of transportation that contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.” The solution, according to Sollitt, is to make travellers more aware of how the travel choices they make impact global climate change. By engaging in responsible options such as offsetting their transportation through carbon offsets, making recreation choices that have positive impacts on a destination, and being aware of the energy consumption by their lodging, travellers can significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced through their travel. At NAEC 2007, TIES, along with Native Energy Travel Offsets (NETO), will host a three-hour stakeholder forum on Travelling with Climate in Mind, featuring speakers from transportation companies, ecolodges, national and international environmental and travel organisations and others.

The forum reviewed and commented on the Sustainable Transportation Guidelines for Tour Operators, developed as part of the TIES Advocacy Campaign, in conjunction with the University of Eberwalde’s Dr. Wolfgang Strasdas and CESD, a Washington-based research group focusing on sustainable travel. “NETO is committed to working with the travel industry to help reduce carbon impacts on the atmosphere in this time of crises.” says Megan Epler Wood of NETO, “We are proud to be working with TIES on an educational program to help the industry both reduce its carbon footprint and provide carbon offsets that go directly toward renewable energy infrastructure on Native American lands and family farms.” The stakeholder forum will address the sources of greenhouse gases, ways of reducing carbon release into the atmosphere by both individuals and companies, and voluntary carbon offset programs, and provide an in depth discussion on what the travel industry need in order to be an effective part of the solution. The forum will be divided into two parts with topics including Internal Corporate Management of Carbon, Voluntary Carbon Offsets, Sustainable Transportation Guidelines and the Impacts of a Carbon/Friendly Program on the Travel Industry.

Global warming
There is now broad consensus that tourism is both affected by, and contributing to, global warming. However, there is considerable debate as to what exactly and how much needs to be done about it. The International Tourism Exchange workshop in Berlin last year “Travelling with the Climate in Mind” demonstrated ways to minimise the ecological footprint of travelling—while still having great travel experiences. A number of experts from leading companies and organisations representing various sustainable tourism stakeholders addressed strategies such as implementing climate-friendly management systems and utilising public transportation, and discussed issues such as the compensation of greenhouse gases in long-haul tourism destinations, and the necessary adaptation to the impacts of climate change in developing countries.

The workshop recognised that in view of ongoing growth of the tourism industry, the “business as usual” scenario — if the world continued travelling the way it is now — may have devastating effects on the well-being of host destinations and the future of tourism itself. On the other hand, there are radical demands from certain sectors to reduce travelling substantially in order to curb negative impacts of tourism. The latter “stay at home” scenario is largely viewed as unrealistic, as well as unattractive.    

In spite of their generally high awareness of the dangers of global warming, many consumers are uncertain as to how to alter their travel behaviours, and most tend not to make any change because they are unwilling to forgo their well deserved holidays and unable to find any practicable climate-friendly alternatives. There are several ways to make the way you travel more responsible, starting with flying less.

Reducing your footprint
Taking a flight will dwarf all other elements of your holiday in terms of carbon emissions. Use sites such as carbonresponsible.com to calculate the footprint of a particular journey and see how long it would take you to make the equivalent carbon saving by cutting down on car journeys or using low-energy lightbulbs.

And then there is green accommodation. There are more than 20 ‘green’ accreditation schemes in the UK and more than 100 worldwide. Look out when choosing a holiday for members of the Green Tourism Business Scheme (green-business.co.uk); the greener hotels in package holiday brochures should now display the ‘Travelife’ logo. Find a green tour operator like the Association of Independent Tour Operators (aito.co.uk) which has a rating scheme for members.

Make your own enquiries, too – ask the hotel management directly what they are doing to become more sustainable in terms of carbon emissions, energy and water use and waste minimisation. Does your holiday provider or accommodation employ local people and buy food and other supplies from local producers where possible? The more people that raise the issue with managers, the more they will listen. Establishments with the best records will be happy to tell you all about them.

If you avoid unnecessary car journeys and take care not to waste water at home, take these habits on holiday with you. Use public transport once you are at your destination, keep heating, lighting and air-conditioning to a minimum and take showers rather than using the bath. Many island and mountain destinations have very limited waste and recycling facilities, so it is worth leaving all the unnecessary packaging that comes with holiday purchases at home. Environment-friendly suncreams and toiletries, such as the Dr Hauschka and Lavera ranges, can also limit your pollution of sensitive eco-systems.

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