The Four Pillars of Travelling Sustainably
We all know flying around the world is not good for the environment, but if you do have to travel, how can you ensure you do it as sustainably as possible? Green travel is all about making smarter choices that help to lessen the negative impacts we create when we travel. We at Agent of Change believe there are four pillars of sustainable travel: reducing your impact, supporting local communities, preserving nature and carbon offsetting.
A recent TripAdvisor survey found that nearly two-thirds of all travellers are increasingly inclined to make more environmentally sound choices and travel green. In the UK alone, air travel is responsible for 6.3% of the country’s CO2 emissions. We cannot control the carbon emissions of the planes we fly in, the chemicals used by the hotels in which we stay, or the plastics used in the souvenirs sold in the destinations we visit. But we can make each travel choice more eco-friendly by selecting transportation, hotels, tour operators, and shopping tactics that do less damage to the environment, and create more benefits for local people.
- Reduce Your Impact
Just because you are travelling away from home, all the usual green advice applies, for example: avoid plastic bottles and bags and take showers instead of baths when possible. But there are more specific solutions to eco-friendly travelling than a continuation of the choices you make at home.
Obviously travelling requires journeys, and this can be where the main environmental impact of your trip comes from. Hiring a car should only be done when absolutely necessary, and even then, alternative options such as electric cars should be explored. When possible, avoid the expense of hiring a car by opting for public transport instead, unless you’re a large group where travelling in one vehicle might be the most sustainable option.
Try to book non-stop flights whenever you can: It’s the take-offs and landings that create most of an airplane’s carbon emissions. If you can spare the time, traveling via bus, train, or ship usually has less negative environmental impact than traveling by plane.
When traveling overseas, look for seals of approval from other certification programs, such as EarthCheck (Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK). Some countries, including Costa Rica, have their own certification programs to rate sustainability initiatives.
When staying in a hotel there are two really easy but positive changes you can make. In your room, choose to hang up your towels after each use, which is the universal sign that you’d like to use them again. You don’t wash your towels every day at home, so why do it when you travel? Finally, by leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of your room for the duration of your stay. This cuts down on chemical cleansing agents, electricity used in vacuuming, and the washing of bed linens.
- Support Local Businesses
Truly responsible travel businesses will put the needs of the local people and environment before the needs of travellers, always striving to make a positive impact.
It can be really enlightening to do a little research when choosing your tour operator. Next time you are booking a holiday, consider these questions: What are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Do they display clear evidence of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? Do they choose to employ local guides on your trips? If your company does not have clear answers to these questions, then maybe it is worth continuing your search.
Locally made crafts and souvenirs are not always cheaper, but purchasing them ensures your contribution to the economy will have a more direct and positive impact.
- Preserve Nature
Do not buy souvenir photos from anyone exploiting wildlife. Don’t take any tours that promise hands-on encounters with wild animals, such as riding elephants or walking with lions. If you do, you’re supporting an industry that illegally captures, transports, and abuses millions of animals each year. The World Animal Protection believes at least 550,000 wild animals are suffering in unethical tourist attractions globally and that 110 million people will still visit these attractions per year. Don’t be one of these statistics.
Remember when you are out on trails and hiking to stay on the path if there is one, as it is there for a reason. Be careful where you step and avoid damaging the precious ecosystem. Try not to pick flowers and harm plant life. If there is a sign saying “keep out” it’s there for a reason and you should abide by those rules. And finally, don’t be that person ruining sunflowers for the sake of an Instagram photo.
Wherever you are in the world, it’s crucial you respect the wildlife. Don’t touch the wildlife and definitely do not feed them. By doing this you encourage animals to rely on humans for food and not their own natural diet. Ultimately, you are in their home and are only there to be an observer.
- Carbon Offsetting
Carbon offsetting means buying carbon credits that are equivalent to your carbon impact. You therefore compensate for every tonne of CO2 you emit by ensuring there is one tonne less in the atmosphere. And because one unit of CO2 has the same climate impact wherever it is emitted, the benefit is the same wherever it is reduced or avoided too. It is also surprisingly low cost to do. So next time you travel, visit a Carbon Offsetting scheme, like https://climatecare.org/carbon-offsetting/ to balance out the impact of your travel.
Now as with all advice, it does not need to be followed vigilantly to make a big difference. All the world needs is for all of us to make as many changes as possible, even if we apply them imperfectly. If you follow the steps we have outlined you are making your contribution to protecting the environment, local communities and wildlife when you travel.