Be a responsible and green travellerby Shruthi Venkatesh February 22 2019, 4:23 pm Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 34 secs
The idea of caring for our planet may seem like common sense to the indigenous tribes of the world who live in close connection to Earth. Likewise, it is also applicable for all other environmentally-aware people worldwide, including green activists and practitioners. However, even if a person strives to look for a sustainable lifestyle at home, he is forced to put it all aside when he travels. In short, one is tempted to avoid thinking about the impact travelling could have on the environment.
A study published last year by the University of Sydney found that global tourism accounts for 8 percent of total carbon emissions, three times higher than previously thought. “As global travel is becoming cheaper and more accessible, the usage of airplanes, cruise ships, trains and buses is increasing and giving off a tremendous amount of carbon and other harmful substances,” said Samantha Bray, managing director of the Center for Responsible Travel, a non-profit organization that supports sustainable tourism practices.
Justin Sablich, a leading digital editor and strategist at The New York Times gives out some practical steps travellers can take to limit the potential harm that comes from exploring the world.
Whenever possible, take the train or ride a bicycle.
Hit the rails
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, aircrafts produce 12 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases generated from transportation. Emissions from cars and other vehicles account for an even greater total percentage. Sablich suggests taking a train than other transports. “It’s a great way to see a destination and has a much lower carbon impact than flying,” said Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, a travel booking agency that specializes in sustainable tourism. Avoiding flights altogether is often not an option for travellers, but one could consider eliminating unnecessary flights when possible. “Shorter flights and stopovers are more polluting per passenger-mile than longer flights as take off and landings generate a significant part of the total emissions per flight,” Francis said. “Try and avoid internal flights within a destination - use local public transport where possible and travel on foot or by bike to explore smaller areas.”
Stay in sustainable lodging
Where you choose to sleep also plays a key role in green travel. “Hotel sustainability practices have grown tremendously in recent years, especially through certification programs that follow international best-practice standards,” Bray said. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (G.S.T.C.) recognizes certification programs for hotels and tour operators. Travellers can visit their site to see lists of these programs, which include The Rainforest Alliance and Earth Check, and hotels that are accredited will typically show a certification logo on their own websites and marketing materials.
Also, hotels which are not officially recognised can still be sustainable. It is important to enquire with the hotel prior booking. “Always ask your holiday providers for their responsible tourism policy - if they don’t have one then they are not taking it seriously and you may want to reconsider,” stresses Francis. “Key aspects to look for in a responsible tourism policy include environmental, social and local economic impacts, from waste, water and energy. You should also look for the hotel’s commitment to its local community and the fair employment of local people,” he says.
Respect your hosts
“As soon as you remember that you are visiting people’s homes, and see them as hosts rather than homogeneous holiday providers, you become more responsible tourists,” Francis said. Bray suggests the mantra of “leave no trace” when visiting a destination, as the creation of solid waste - particularly plastic - has significant environmental impacts. “Travellers can help reduce their waste production by carrying their own reusable bags, straws, utensils, and takeaway containers. This may be through eating locally grown foods or purchasing locally produced handicrafts. Often times, making the more sustainable and locally beneficial choice is actually more enriching,” she added.
While visiting a destination that is facing a specific environmental issue, one must consider contributing to the community or the place. It is necessary to enrich the place which is enriching you. “Sometimes giving back while travelling can have unintended consequences,” Bray said. She further suggests contacting the ministry of tourism for the destination to find out how to best support such issues.
Know your tour operator
Many tour companies consider environmental conservation, protecting wildlife, supporting cultural heritage and employing local guides. “Many are doing this very well, even becoming carbon neutral, and now have responsible travel policies that guide how they interact with and support communities,” Ms. Bray said. There are also non-profit advocacy groups like The International Ecotourism Society (T.I.E.S.) that require their member organizations to follow sustainable tourism practices.
On wildlife tours, “feeding, touching and any altering of natural behaviour should never take place,” Francis said. “If you’re encouraged to do any of these things on your trip then we would advise reporting tour operators who encourage this kind of behaviour and holding them to account on social media or review sites if needs be.” If a tour company is not clear about its policy, it is important to ask if they employ locals and how else they connect with the community.