If you are interested in minimising the impact you leave during your travels, you may have heard the term sustainable travel and eco-tourism.
But what exactly do these expression sustainable travel and eco-tourism mean?
And how can we make sure that we are travelling sustainably?
Read on to discover what sustainable travel and eco-tourism are, what makes some trips sustainably and to get some tips to help you travel in a more sustainable, eco-friendly way, wherever you choose to go.
What is Sustainable Travel?
Sustainable travel is all about making sure that we can all see some of this beautiful planet that we call home without doing harm. Some people chose to use the word eco-tourism, but essentially, it means the same. Our planet’s resources are limited and our actions have a direct impact on its future.
It is, therefore, necessary that we are aware of how our actions affect our planet.
By treading lightly on the earth, we can help ensure that it endures for future generations and they can travel and enjoy it as much as we do.
What do CO2 and Sustainable Travel have in common?
By travelling sustainably, we can minimize the carbon footprint we leave on this planet. The transportation industry has a huge impact on overall CO2 emissions. While this is not the only thing we have to look out when talking about sustainable travel, it is a major one.
You have probably heard about CO2 and its effects on global warming.
CO2 is being naturally emitted by humans and animals after we inhale oxygen. We also produce CO2 mostly due to the burning of oil, gas and coal which we need to power of daily lives. The problem lies in the amount of CO2 being produced, most of it by big industries.
It has reached dangerous amounts in the recent year in our atmosphere, getting into the clean air and lying as an invisible layer around the earth, which leads to the heat being kept inside and thus warming the planet.
This is called the greenhouse effect and this is the major contributor to global warming, apart from other gasses.
This global warming is causing new climates to arise, icebergs to melt, floods in some places and desertification in others. This, amongst other things, causes the extinction of many species of animals which are only used to specific climates.
You can read in more detail about climate change here: https://www.carbonstockstudy.com/why-are-co2-emissions-so-bad-for-our-environment/
What are the important points of sustainable travel?
Sustainable travel means to travel in an ecologically friendly way and make sure that the earth, the people and animals do not suffer from our travels.
When defining sustainable travel we need to consider:
- How we get from A to B.
- Where we stay, how much energy, water, and resources are consumed and waste generated while we are there.
- What we eat while away, where it came from and how it reached our plates.
- What activities we enjoy on our travels, and the impact these have on the environment and local wildlife.
- How our travels impact the local community wherever we go.
Sustainable transportation is an important topic, especially regarding the carbon footprint we leave on this planet when travelling. The way we travel to reach our destinations, and while we are away, can have a major impact on our planet.
Flying generates the highest amount of fossil fuels. Taking one long-haul flight generates more carbon emission than the average person can produce in one year, as the Guardian writes. In 2017, flights produced 859 million tonnes of Co2 – in comparison to 40 billion tonnes of Co2 produced globally by all humans.
Transportation makes around 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
While it is a relatively small number in comparison to other fields, it is also one we can address directly. Considering the lowering airfare prices and the rising increase in flights taken, this can be a real problem.
The above chart gives a short overview of the major contributors to CO2 by sector. While the transportation industry is by far not the biggest, it is still one of the major contributors to global warming.
How can we make a positive impact on sustainable transportation?
The International Civil Aviation Organization is working on a scheme which will help to offset carbon emission of the airlines by allowing them to purchase carbon credits instead of simply reducing carbon emission. While it is still a small step to have a visible impact, it is one nonetheless.
As individuals, we can make an impact on the way we choose to travel.
Taking alternative methods of transportation, such as electric or hybrid vehicles, or public transport can be a more sustainable choice.
Even better would be, if we could choose ‘slow travel’ options e.g. sailing, cycling, or even hiking, to get where we want to go.
Those ways are not only environmentally friendly but also guarantee a once in a lifetime experience.
Finally, we have to see flying for what it is – a luxury. And while we won’t be able to completely abstain from taking long haul flights, we can at least be aware and chose alternatives when possible.
If you are curious about the carbon footprint you are leaving while travelling, you can use this calculator:
Sustainable Accommodation and eco-friendly hotels
When you are deciding on a place to stay, aways chose to stay in locally-owned accommodations.
Many big hotel brands have been known for destroying natural reserves to build a perfect resort, while most of the profits stay within the company. Often, those resorts or hotel chains are internationally owned and little money stays for the local communities.
Choosing sustainable places and sustainable hotels to stay also involves looking at how those places deal with the problems of energy and water use, how they use resources, and how they deal with waste. Especially larger resorts have very high water and energy resources, as they tend to change sheets and towels daily and are catered to accommodate big masses of tourists, often in an all-inclusive manner.
This also means, that those people are less likely to invest in local activities and restaurants, as most of the vacation is already paid in advance.
When you are choosing places to stay, look for eco-hotels, farm-stay options or a low-impact campground for a green adventure.
Choosing a small, local homestay is preferable than staying in a famous luxury hotel chain. While residing in that accommodation, be conscious about the way you use light, gas and water.
There are already some alternatives out there, which can help you find sustainable accommodation. One of them is EcoBnb, which functions are very similar to Airbnb, with the difference, that EcoBnb pays attention to hosting only sustainable partners.
Sustainable Food and Clothing
All too often, we forget what goes into growing and transporting the food that we eat. While at home, and while on vacation, opting for organic food grown as locally as possible is always the most sustainable choice.
While we are getting used to having all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetable accessible all through the year, one has to be aware of the journey this particular avocado or banana in plain December had to make, to reach your northern European breakfast table.
Maritime shipping produces around 3% of worlds carbon emission, while air cargo lies even around 4%.
This doesn’t mean we now have to completely abstain from any goods from overseas. Being realistic, it is hardly possible as most of our technology, clothing, daily goods and even toiletries often are fabricated somewhere else across the planet.
But being open to choose locally grown food, seasonal fruit and vegetables, clothes produced using ecologically grown materials in the region or country will help to significantly reduce the carbon footprint.
Also by doing that, you are supporting the local industry and small businesses.
If you can, go zero waste. While this takes some time getting used to, this can, without any doubt, have a huge impact on our overall lives in general.
We produce huge amounts of waste every year, most of it isn’t even being recycled.
Even the so-called bioplastics are often hard to recycle as there is still a big lack of infrastructures to recycle those materials.
And while they do take less time to decompose than normal plastics, they still can take up to several months to do so, harming wildlife and nature if getting into nature.
By using reusable packaging, napkins, straws, bags and buying as little plastic as possible, you are contributing to a better future, not only when travelling.
Pages that help see whether a brand is sustainable`
Tips on sustainable alternatives to plastic – some product examples even?
There are plenty of great eco-friendly activities to engage in on a sustainable travel adventure.
You could hike, bike, kayak, canoe or sail – explore the beautiful wild, natural areas, or learn more about sustainable businesses in one of the world’s greenest cities.
Whatever kind of vacation you like, the key to sustainability is making sure you do not harm people, the animals or planet.
Keep in mind, that as a traveller you are shaping the future of tourism.
The decisions you make on where to leave your money will help finance the different industries.
If you invest in ecological activities, you are helping companies to create more of those eco-friendly activities to take place in the future. While when you choose to ride and take pictures with wild animals or visit zoos, you are paying for those things to exist.
Be careful of greenwashing and activities being sold as apparently sustainable. Read more below about greenwashing and how to spot it.
Ideas for sustainable activities
Sustainability for Local People
In thinking about conservation, and plant and animal life, people often forget that sustainable travel also has a human component. No travel that does not take the needs and wishes of local people into account cannot be truly sustainable.
Often, when visiting countries of weaker economies we are not aware of the impact our actions can have on those communities. Try to make sure you contribute to making life better for locals, rather than putting a strain on the systems they rely on to live.
Buy from locals and be aware of any possible exploitation taking place. It goes without mentioning, that there are certain types of “tourism” involving people that are by no means sustainable nor ethical.
While there are communities that live thanks to the travel industry, one has to ask, whether that is truly ethical and benefits those people.
As mentioned, by paying for tours to small local communities you are giving strength to a certain industry.
This can lead to a positive impact if you give those people some means to live a better life and invest in their economy without disturbing their culture. But as seen in several examples in the past, it can also turn the local community to become overrun by tourists with no profit to be made by the very same people living there.
Being aware of where you spend your money is key.
Here another video if you want the short version:
Greenwashing is frequently used by big companies, travel operators, hotels and tours and even whole industries (*hint* food industry, I am looking at you), and means that things are laid in a more eco-friendly way than they really are.
The truth is inflated or mislead to make people think they are investing in an ecological, sustainable or healthy product or service.
Tours, which are harming animals or do not benefit any local communities are being sold as contributing to the country’s growth or benefitting those animals, products are being sold as more healthy as what they really are, hotels claim to be sustainable without any ground to it or some health benefits are being described while there is no scientific background to it.
I recommend this article if you are interested in reading more about greenwashing and how you can spot it.
There are certain certifications you can look up when talking about hotels and accommodation to help you make your mind. Same goes to tours and activities.
In general, I would advise to ask questions, look at the whole picture, check the facts and question claims made by marketing.
Every travel should be as sustainable as possible.
Yet while there are some things to be aware of, sustainable travel is actually very simple. Fly less, support local businesses, travel slowly or ecologically friendly and be aware of where your money goes to.
This, by the way, also applies to the rest of our lives. Let’s leave the planet how we would want to find it.
So, go greener and make sure your next trip is a sustainable one!
If you are interested in more travel related tips, you can read my article on solo travel here.