Ways to Embrace Sustainable Travel in 2022
Sustainable Travel- 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. -World Tourism Organization.
Travel holds a special place in many a heart. Whether it be to lie on lush islands or to explore far-off cities, the act of travel both invigorates the soul and inspires the psyche. When we escape the mundane or ordinary, a reset happens, and magically, we can think again. The issue, however, is as we sit and plan oceanside trips to the tropics and adventurous jaunts to the jungle, we rarely, if at all, think on our impact or the effect of doing so. The harsh truth is, tourism is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions (49% of which come from transportation), the overconsumption of natural resources, and the overdevelopment of land, which otherwise would be home to local environments and wildlife. The ecological impact one makes on an innocent getaway is far mightier than one would assume.
When Covid-19 halted international travel for months on end, the world had a moment to pause and to reflect on the impact travel has had on not only the many affected cultures but the environment as a whole. Worldwide lockdown restrictions resulted in the decrease of fossil fuel consumption, air and water pollution, noise pollution, and reduced environmental pressure in many tourist destinations allowing for ecological restoration. I believe this opened the eyes of individuals and nations alike, making us aware of our impactful, albeit dangerous and irreverent behavior. As someone who has spent the better part of a decade as an international traveler, my eyes have opened to the folly which once seemed ordinary if not expected.
To solve such an injustice, the answer lies in mindfulness so that we may focus on embracing intentionality with our travels. The goal is not perfection, nor is it to relinquish our dreams of seeing the pyramids or jumping off Balinese waterfalls, but to do so with respect to the land and culture. To be mindful of our impact and leave a destination better than when we found it.
To best embody Sustainable Travel in 2022, one must consider the following.
A Mindset Shift, Community Tourism, and Regenerative Travel
“Slower travel…serves as an antidote to our warp-speed modern world, helping to return us to a more human pace and soothing our frayed nervous systems., while giving us the opportunity to make a bigger economic impact on communities.” -Nina Karnikowski.
To become a more conscious traveler, it must begin with our approach. Utilizing the principles of mindfulness and slow living, we need to identify precisely what it is we want out of a travel experience. By considering intent, we may then take into consideration its effect. Over-tourism devastates both communities and the environment, and more often than not, it does not make for the most memorable of experiences. Author of Sustainable Travel, Holly Tuppen, writes, "Make positive choices. Plan a holiday that improves local lives and conserves wildlife, habitats and cultural heritage. And be sure to enjoy yourself — you'll have a more authentic experience. Access to authenticity is a gift given at the discretion of the local people who feel positive about tourism and tourists."
G Adventures, an ethically conscious travel company, organizes tours exclusively under the pretension of community tourism. Founder Bruce Poon and his company firmly stand by the statement, “We’ve always believed travel can help local communities. Indigenous peoples, women, youth —anyone who has traditionally been marginalized or undervalued. Because there’s incredible power in being part of something bigger than yourself. Today our definition of community tourism means that communities we impact ripple far beyond our destinations.” And doesn’t that seem far more fulfilling than laying on a beach for a week straight? To each his own, but one could argue that if you’re going to travel in today’s climate, do so with intended value as opposed to simply acting the role of “cultural consumer.”
This then leads to the idea of regeneration—the process of reviving, renewing, and restoring. What’s beautiful about traveling in 2022 is that the opportunities for regenerative travel are plenty. You can easily achieve this form of travel by signing up for conservation work or staying at accommodations that support and give back to the local communities. The goal is to regenerate the local communities, safeguard their culture, and restore the natural ecosystems. Most notably is the booking platform, Regenerative Travel, which organizes locations and experiences for you in addition to describing in detail the regenerative impact of staying at any given accommodation. Co-Founder Amanda Ho, in an interview with Forbes, says, “We must all play our part in regenerating the Earth for future generations and recognize our responsibility for how our actions will affect the trajectory of our planet.”
The Truth on Transportation and Offsetting Carbon Emissions
One of the most significant issues regarding travel is the management of carbon emissions which directly result in global warming. As Holly Tuppen puts it, carbon emissions are "The earth-choking atmosphere-warming particles that are released when we burn the fossil fuels that help us manufacture products, generate power and make our world more efficient and comfortable." In order to travel sustainably, carbon emissions must be at the forefront of our minds. This means choosing low-emission or green flights, carbon-neutral or certified B-corp (leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy) accommodations, and even choosing to buy local products which don't undergo the extensive carbon footprint. Transportation currently accounts for almost half of tourism's greenhouse gas emissions, with planes and cars being the main culprits. The best advice one can give is to redirect travel to places one can visit by train, bus, or boat. To put things into perspective, Sustainable Travel International reports that it would take an acre of forest a year to absorb the same amount of CO2 emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York. There's a reason why flygskam or flight shame exists. Furthermore, STI projects that by 2025, travel emissions will make up 12% of total greenhouse emissions. This is why it is so essential we redirect our travel inspirations to intentional and regenerative experiences.
In regards to carbon offsetting, the quest is noble, although not ideal. In a perfect world, the individual would focus on reducing carbon emissions via making smarter choices, driving electric vehicles or choosing public transportation, shopping local, investing in renewable energy for our homes, and so forth. However, we are merely humans, and until we live in a society that has the structure in place which enables an "environment first" motto, we will do what we can. The idea with carbon offsetting is to recompense the inevitable emissions we produce through calculating your carbon footprint and then financially supporting companies who work proactively with forests, oceans and regenerative energy to absorb the additional carbon from the atmosphere. Shockingly, there are no regulations in place yet to weed out the good companies from the bad, so it's best to vet the programs that interest you by researching their certifications and projects. Some companies that I have not personally worked with but come highly lauded are as follows:
Terrapass - funds projects that destroy greenhouse gases and produce renewable energy by partnering with project owners in communities across North America and the world.
Wren - a radically transparent Public Benefit Corporation whose mission is to help reverse the climate crisis, fund varied climate projects worldwide, and rigorously evaluate them for effectiveness.
Native - Since 2000, Native has worked with hundreds of organizations to develop authentic solutions to their sustainability challenges and implement community-scale projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen businesses, and contribute to progress around the world.
Climate Care - puts climate action at the heart of delivering the UN Global Goals. "By taking an integrated approach to tackling climate and sustainable development challenges, we deliver results that are best for people, best for the planet, and best for nature."
**When it comes to choosing a project to support, consider this tip I read from Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International, "Invest in blue carbon ecosystem projects—seagrass, mangroves, and peatlands. They can sequester ten times more carbon than regular forest offsets.”**
Notes on Greenwashing and Leakage
As sustainability and eco-friendly initiatives have come front and center in today's social and political climate, greenwashing has become rampant across all avenues of industry. It would be silly to assume that the travel industry would not be tainted by its insidious nature. Greenwashing can be defined as disinformation disseminated from an organization so as to appear environmentally friendly in the public eye. Many resorts, companies, airlines, and hotel groups are now claiming to be "sustainable" when in reality, the efforts they're putting into the movement are mediocre at best. While there are over 150 sustainability certifications, it is best to find ones regulated by an accredited source such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
When traveling, another thing to keep in mind is an economic term referred to as leakage. For travel to be sustainable for the local community, we need to ensure that the money we spend stays in the community. This means avoiding the huge name-brand hotels and resorts that multinational corporations own because I assure you the amount of money supporting the local community is marginal at best. Instead, we should focus our spending on local businesses, establishments, restaurants, and shops. This way, we know the money stays in and benefits the community.
“Now more than ever, we also need to embrace travel’s potential to transform, connect and inspire us to contribute to a greener and fairer society.” -Holly Tuppen.
Literature and Resources
Two excellent books on Sustainable Travel are Sustainable Travel by Holly Tuppen and Go Lightly by Nina Karnikowski. Both women are successful environmental journalists who speak to sustainable travel far more eloquently than I. As for sustainable travel resources, I suggest the following:
Certified B Corporation
“Sustainable travel is a journey. It’s not something we’re going to achieve or tick off; we just have to keep learning, adapting and inspiring others to do the same. The quicker we all jump on board and rise to the challenge, the better.” -Holly Tuppen.