Sustainability is an area of growing demand for avid travelers. But the question remains, how do you know when a company is genuinely committed to reducing its impact and it’s not just greenwashing? We delve into what sustainability actually means, and how you, as an individual, can make changes that matter.
We frequently hear about the importance of sustainability in travel, but what does it mean and how do you apply it when you travel? The Travel Corporation’s Chief TreadRight and Sustainability Officer, Shannon Guihan, says it’s about understanding when we travel we are exploring someone else’s home, and these places are deeply interconnected to our own home.
“The word does make some people glaze over, but it’s simply the knowledge that everything we do has an impact. Sustainable tourism is about individuals limiting their personal impact, and our industry taking it a step further, by ensuring we leave a place better than when we found it. This means reducing our use of resources such as water and energy and ensuring we have representation from the community we are visiting, so we can learn about a place from those who live there. Communities that are reliant on tourism have been the hardest hit by the pandemic as their revenue source disappeared, and so our return must also prioritize those groups, many of which were marginalised before the pandemic.”
She says everyone needs to address sustainability, and travel is no exception. It’s why The Travel Corporation (TTC) has announced a five-step Climate Action Plan to ramp up carbon reduction efforts while investing in carbon capture technologies to ensure it achieves its goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. The plan has just kicked off with one of its 40 travel brands, Contiki, making a commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral company in 2022, including all of its trips.
Actually, most avid travelers do. And as Shannon explains, those who are following sustainable practices at home are likely to also do so when they travel.
“People who have a lighter footprint in their lives generally tend to also bring that on the road, and I think there’s an increase in people considering what that means. The challenge is a lot of travelers say they will choose the sustainable option, but it’s difficult to know if they actually do.”
“We are damaging the planet on a daily basis… we need to make rapid changes to our businesses and our lifestyles.”
She says that’s concerning because while sustainability began with a goal to protect the environment for future generations, it has evolved to include what we are doing now, and in particular, we need to ensure we leave a place better than how we found it.
“People need to realise we are damaging the planet on a daily basis with the impacts that are in our backyard, from fires in California to Australia, and we need to make rapid changes to our businesses and our lifestyles.”
The Sacred Valley in Peru was once the center of religious ceremonies of the Inca people
What can I do?
“Travelers should research who they are traveling with and consider ways to avoid the crowds we saw before the pandemic. Go off-season and stay longer.” Shannon says.
“Most critically you can choose an organization that has detailed its commitment to sustainability with measurable goals, for instance, TTC will be climate neutral well ahead of our 2030 goal, and we’ll report on our progress against that. You need to check for proof points and transparency, everything else is lip service.”
She says as individuals there are also several things you can do to change the way you travel.
“Bring a water filtration device and don’t buy single-use plastics. If we’re all doing even a modest job of avoiding single-use plastics, it’s better than nobody doing it. Also, don’t bargain to save that extra five dollars at the market, and buy goods produced in the region.”
She says animal welfare is also vitally important.
“Don’t travel with a company that allows elephant riding and reconsider what your selfie with an animal is doing to it.”
Shannon says it’s important to consider that even small steps by individuals can make a big impact.
“We’ve talked about sustainability long enough, now’s the time to take action and everyone can make a difference, even by changing one small thing, that in itself will have a lasting effect on the environment.”