We all know the basics: no single-use plastic; global warming is an urgent threat; and we have to protect the coral. Sustainability, though, is about way more than being eco-friendly, it’s about travelling consciously, positively and responsibly and it’s about prioritising people and profit, alongside the planet. It’s now also about regeneration. Some parts of the planet, such as the global south, are suffering the most as a result of climate change — despite having contributed the least damage. Here are 12 tips to plan your holidays both sustainably and effectively, in ways you can be proud of.
1. Learn to spot ‘greenwashing’
Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in a 1986 essay that claimed the hotel industry promoted the reuse of towels to minimise their laundry costs, rather than to save the planet. The same concept can be applied today to things such as biodegradable straws — many countries have now banned single-use plastic, so hotels finding a workaround is not progress — and other marketing ploys. Do your research on the ownership of the company you’re booking with, as well as their values. Are they ethical or responsible? Are they passionate about, say, renewable energy, human rights, biodiversity or bolstering the local economy? If the owner has been investing in truly regenerative projects, this should filter down into the little details of their resort.
2. Slow down
People are going flight-free or minimising their aero footprint for many reasons. It’s better for the environment, of course, but it’s also a brilliant way to slow down and take in the backdrops, stories and nuances that we might otherwise miss. Specialist tour operators such as Up Norway and Byway will promote land-based domestic travel wherever possible — whether it’s by electric car, bike or even kayak — and there are increasing numbers of European destinations that are now accessible by rail. Log on to ecopassenger.org to feel extra good about yourself; it’ll show you how much you’re saving on emissions.
3. Check employment, inclusivity and human rights policies
Being “green” is also about knowing who is disproportionately affected by the most urgent threats to our planet; for example, practices such as “red-lining” — a racially discriminatory system that denies bank loans and mortgages — mean that Black communities, in countries including the USA and the UK, are more likely to live closer to toxic waste sites. The world’s most sustainable travel companies care about conservation of community just as much as the rare bird sanctuary down the road; you should expect a diverse and equitable workforce (particularly in senior management, for which people are usually flown across the world and implanted), accessibility for disabled travellers, non-homogenised marketing imagery and a respectful preservation of local communities and cultures, as standard.
4. Limit waste
Single-use plastic may now be taboo in public, but throwaway culture is still a huge issue behind closed doors. For example, according to Greenpeace, the UK produces more plastic waste per person than almost any other country in the world; our carefully sorted “recycling” either goes to the incinerators (the dangerous emissions of which are overwhelmingly suffered by neighbouring low-income communities, particularly those of colour) or dumped on other countries. Even the so-called “biodegradable” and “compostable” materials largely have to be broken down in controlled environments. The first thing you can do, is to reduce and reuse when on holiday — just as you might limit waste at home.
5. Look for accreditations
Check for proof that a business is responsible; that they are kind to the planet and to the community around them. A “B Corp” certification, on tour operators such as Sawday’s and Joro Experiences, means that the brand is publicly and legally liable to uphold the highest social and environmental values, in every facet of their company; you can see how they score in the B Corporation directory. With eco-hotels, it’s certifications including EarthCheck, The Long Run, Breeam (Building Research Establishment Assessment Method) and Leed (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that separate the wheat from the chaff. You can also spot which companies are truly community-driven; most will have established meaningful, long-term partnerships with NGOs or local grassroots organisations.
6. Watch your ‘foodprint’
Eating local and organic isn’t just on trend, it has a positive social and environmental impact. Mitigate your CO2 emissions by choosing restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients or, better yet, that grow their own — stay away from imported food or drinks, and, if you must eat meat, limit or eschew beef (cattle emits roughly 10 per cent of global greenhouse gases). Not only is it helpful for small producers and biodynamic farmers, but it reduces your overall “foodprint”. The same goes for when you’re eating out at home; if you want to go further, avoid places with buffets (a surplus of food is not eco) and try to make sure any fish you eat is line-caught or sustainably farmed.
7. Save energy and water
Hotels that use lots of water to keep their golf courses or imported flower gardens looking lush are not eco-friendly. Instead, look for those that collect rainwater, use low-flow showers and toilets, and recycle greywater to sustain the property; they’ll be extra keen to preserve natural resources and will likely also have stringent renewable energy measures (solar, wind et cetera) in place for electricity, heating, air conditioning and so on. Look too, at housekeeping: how often are they replenishing linen? Are they leaving you lots of gifts and extras that can only be used once?
8. Pack light
Lighter luggage cuts are friendlier on your wallet (goodbye, baggage allowance) and the planet. Every extra kilo of weight requires a balance of fuel for take-off, which is constantly increasing; planes require a faster speed to ascend in hotter temperatures, and global temperatures are on the rise. Stick to a carry-on case, wherever possible, and get smart about what you pack. It goes without saying that we should all buy fewer — or buy pre-loved — clothes, particularly doing away with the wasteful mentality of buying new things for our holidays. An easy way to quickly cut excess kilos is by replacing toiletry bottles with solid shampoo and soap bars.
9. Cap your carbon footprint
Carbon offsetting should always be a last resort to manage your footprint: technically, the damage has already been done. Responsible Travel, for example, was the first tour operator to offer the practice back in 2002 but, seven years later, after discussions with eco groups, decided to retract it until a proper alternative can be found. But, when you do decide to fly, consider offsetting each flight through a company such as Tree Sisters, which pays vulnerable women a living wage to plant trees in deforested areas.
10. Decolonise your travels
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to give back, or to support communities that seem in need but we ought to firstly consider how best we can help. Practices like “voluntourism” (volunteering tourism) lean on the stark power imbalance between white, Western countries and the nations whose wealth they often stripped during colonisation. Make sure your contributions are both constructive and needed; this can be gauged by identifying your skillset (for example, you could be a marketing whiz) and contacting NGOs or grassroots companies. A good rule of thumb, too, is to take the same attitude towards snapping pictures with children you see on holiday as you would with those at your local primary school.
11. Choose companies that improve livelihoods in hard-hit communities
Plan your itinerary thoughtfully and you could help many families and microbusinesses to get back on their feet. Tourism, before the pandemic, was contributing over 10 percent to global GDP, and it has the capacity to create meaningful job opportunities and will be a vital part of rebuilding communities, as the world gets back on its feet. A good way to book is through B Corp-certified tour operator, Intrepid Travel, which promotes the employment rights of women, youth and minorities, supports and creates travel experiences that lead to job creation and regularly provides language, computer and leadership training.
12. Counteract undertourism
Countries that have been hit hard by natural disasters are worth considering when planning a sustainable holiday — their independent businesses, particularly, will need footfall more than ever. For example, instead of going to Venice, where overtourism is quite literally flooding the banks, consider nearby Lido Island where all businesses are locally owned, or the elegant city of Trieste — a few hours’ away by train and next to Slovenia. The same goes for places that need an injection of income from tourism.
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