Green travel is a controversial topic. The idea of embracing low-impact, eco-friendly travel is laudable, but in reality, it’s complicated. And the popularization of a number of related terms, such as ‘sustainable travel’, ‘responsible travel’ and ‘ecotourism’ has further obscured the issue.
Since tourism produces harmful emissions, the term “green travel” may seem like an oxymoron. An oft-cited study found that between 2009 and 2013, tourism accounted for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions; presumably, this number has since increased. Some people even argue that if you care about the planet, you should stay home. But at the other end of the spectrum, there is hard evidence that conscious, ethical or “responsible” travel choices can lead to a variety of positive effects that include environmental, economic and cultural benefits – for host communities. and visitors.
“Done well, tourism can be a powerful force for good, both for nature and for local communities,” wrote Tim Williamson, marketing director of Responsible Travel, an activist travel agency, via email. “Travel is important – but for it to be sustainable we need to fly much less. We cannot compensate for our exit from the climate crisis. We cannot continue to consume more, fly more and plant trees to balance the We need to restore nature, as well as – not instead – reduce emissions.”
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Green travel won’t solve the climate crisis, but knowing what to look for can empower you to make choices that do less harm and more good if you choose to travel. “The more informed you are, the more you are able to make an impact by creating demand for more sustainable and responsible tourism options,” said Edith Alusa, CEO of Ecotourism Kenya and Trustee on the Board of Global Ecotourism Network.
Here are some expert tips on how to decode the green travel lexicon.
Don’t dwell on the terms. The key to better understanding and identifying sustainable travel options is to recognize that it is actually actions – not words – that matter. Definitions may vary from person to person and over time the language changes. “Impact is more important than semantics,” Williamson wrote. “The labels are different, but in short, they are part of the same movement: they all share the ambition to improve tourism. It’s the substance behind the word that really matters.
Do your homework. Anyone can slam sustainable travel terminology on their website, but not everyone has the evidence to back it up. “There’s a lot of clever marketing around,” Williamson wrote. Keep an eye out for greenwashing (a deceptive practice of spending time and money trying to appear environmentally conscious without taking action) and “be a little judgmental. Don’t just agree to terms and conditions or certification schemes – look behind the labels for the actual policies.
Make a list. If you want to find responsible travel options, be clear with yourself. “Write down the things that are really important to you and your own values,” said Jamie Sweeting, vice president of social enterprise and sustainability at adventure travel company G Adventures and president of Planeterra, an organization nonprofit that focuses on harnessing the power of tourism. for real. Maybe your list includes things like cultural conservation, plant-based meals, and child and animal welfare, for example. Referencing your list and researching travel options that align with your values can help you stay on track and avoid getting bogged down in jargon.
To ask questions. “You have to be an investigator,” Alusa said. Before booking a tour or hotel, prepare questions. For example: Are they certified, accredited or otherwise held accountable, such as a membership organization? Do they support the local economy? What is their relationship with the community? Do they ensure the preservation of the natural environment? Do they employ local guides?
Whatever buzzwords you might find on a website, look for solid evidence such as data, policies, and reports. “Look for measurable commitments and look for annual reports from travel suppliers showing successes and failures,” Shannon Guihan, chief sustainability officer and head of TreadRight for the Travel Corporation, wrote in an email. “We have a 5-year sustainability strategy, How We Tread Right (HWTR), which details 11 measurable sustainability goals, and we report progress annually.”
If you can’t find answers to your questions on a company’s website, contact the establishment or tour operator directly. “Ask them what framework or strategy they have to ensure they contribute to conservation,” said Peris Aloyo, sustainability and customer experience coordinator for Cottar’s Safaris in Kenya. “Do they have a CSR [corporate social responsibility program]? Do they have community outreach programs with the people they work with on the ground to ensure local people benefit from their businesses? »
Susanne Etti, global environmental impact specialist at Intrepid Travel, suggested asking if these companies are actively engaged in efforts to monitor their carbon footprint to reduce the negative effects of climate change. “Look past the bold claims and big media coverage. Do some research to find out how they manage their environmental impacts,” she wrote via email.
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Build on and learn from other experts. You don’t have to fend for yourself with responsible travel and ever-changing terminology. Contact organizations that offer training, accreditation and transparent standards, such as the World Council on Sustainable Tourism, and ask for advice. Use booking platforms and travel search engines such as Fairbnb, Kind Traveler, Responsible Travel and Tourism Cares. Use a travel agent or operator who specializes in responsible tourism, knows the nuances of nomenclature and has established relationships with trusted travel partners.
“Finding an operator who shares your personal values relieves you of the pressure of planning and researching the trip on your own, especially when it comes to making responsible travel decisions,” Etti said. You can also join communities of responsible travelers on social media, where you can ask questions, share resources and learn alongside other travelers who share your values.
Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The changing terminology, while confusing at times, is evidence of the travel industry evolving – hopefully in a more sustainable direction. These terms have become popular as more and more travelers are interested in making more informed choices. Sweeting said this new movement — particularly in response to the climate crisis, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and travel-specific movements such as flygskam (flight shame) — has fueled the need for the industry to make against the balance of positive and negative effects.
And now, conscientious travelers are increasingly looking to go beyond simply reducing their negative effects and aspire to become net positive travelers. “Regenerative travel takes things to the next level,” Sweeting said. “How can you use tourism as a regenerative tool to improve your own life, mental health, physical health and well-being while using travel to regenerate the ecosystems, economy and people of the places you Very few trips fit this definition at the moment, but it’s wonderful as a lofty goal for all trips to try to be rejuvenating in some way.
There is always more to learn and to do. Sustainable tourism “is most definitely a journey and not to be confused with a fixed point,” Guihan wrote. We can continue to move in the right direction through the choices we make. “If sustainable tourism is the aspiration, then responsible tourism is the practices and behaviors,” Alusa said.
Start now. Don’t let the terminology intimidate you. “You can’t do everything at once,” Alusa said. “It’s progressive. The fact that you have decided that you want to think about it a little more, you are already on the right track. Decide what you can do and commit to making more informed decisions. Maybe it’s about opting for a low-carbon mode of transport or accommodation for your next trip. Maybe it’s about exploring closer to home or immersing yourself in one destination rather than rushing to see three. Perhaps it is contributing to a conservation or community project. “When you know better, do better,” Alusa said. “And be open to growth.”
Fitzgerald is a Honolulu-based writer. His website is thisissunny.com.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.