As the world opens up, becoming even more accessible, many of us have taken for granted our right to jump on aeroplanes and jet off to the worlds most exotic destinations, stamping our carbon footprints all over the world as we go. But now the time has come to give something back – and aiming to achieve what is often termed ‘sustainable’ travel is one way we can go about it. The problem with sustainable travel is that many of us have made the assumption that those who embrace the idea will compensate for those who don’t. So now there is a shift in emphasis from sustainable’ to ‘responsible’ travel. Both have the same goals – environmental integrity, social justice and maximising local economic benefit – but with responsible travel, each individual, organisation and business is asked to take responsibility for their own actions. Airlines and tour operators understand that they must do their bit – otherwise, they may find they can no longer offer travel to destinations that excite us enough to spend our hard-earned cash. Many travel businesses now offer carbon offsets which you can choose to purchase when making your booking. They are calculated by taking into account carbon produced by your travel, with money raised being used to fund projects to reduce carbon emissions, such as solar energy and waste reducing programs. Some tour operators are going one stage further by trying to influence suppliers to reduce emissions, and also offering tours where carbon emissions are calculated for every aspect of a passenger’s journey and then offset, with the cost of the offset included in the tour price. Rather than just handing over money for carbon offsets, you may want to get more involved in ‘saving the planet’, for example, through ‘voluntourism’, a rapidly growing sector of the travel market. The concept is not new, but it’s enjoying a major revival. If you want to follow the zeitgeist and acknowledge the damage our lifestyle does to the environment, a spot of voluntourism, either within Australia or overseas, is a great way to feel useful, really meet the locals and use your skills to make a difference to a community’s standard of living.
Getting involved in voluntourism is simple and you don’t need to travel far, as I discovered when trying to choose a holiday to occupy my eight-year-old son, Euan (which is never easy!). Last year we hit upon the idea of some kind of nature adventure, which would ultimately give me the opportunity to see a kangaroo in its natural habitat. So we decided to do our bit for the environment and, in early December, headed off for a weekend in Victoria’s Grampians National Park, to help monitor the wildlife. The idea was not met with much enthusiasm by Euan, but after his initial huffing and puffing, and thanks to an exhilarating 4WD trip to the park, we were all raring to get monitoring. In the afternoons we were left to our own devices, but over two mornings, we recorded the comings and goings of some truly spectacular wildlife (yes, I did see a kangaroo, in fact, too many to count). And a few months on, Euan is ready to take his next eco trip, to somewhere further afield. Besides what you do, where you choose to stay can also help ‘green’ your travel. Many hotel groups have dramatically reduced their environmental footprint through switching to water re-use, solar power and environmentally friendly toiletries. Some have gone even further; at each of their US properties, Sofitel now uses wind power and Scandic Hotels have removed bottled water from all their hotels and replaced it with filtered tap water, achieving a healthy 160-tonne reduction in carbon emissions each year. Such actions reflect the Green Globe framework for achieving sustainable tourism, as set out in the final report of the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in 2002. Green Globe’s criteria for water and chemical usage and energy consumption are being used by eco-friendly hotels all over the world to ensure that travellers can enjoy pampering with a clear conscience. Of course, sometimes the simplest actions are the most effective. For 20 years airline passengers have been handing over their small change to UNICEF’s Change for Good Program. To date, the program has collected $120 million for needy children. As the saying goes, mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
Tips for sustainable travel
1. Decide to make voluntourism at least part of your trip.
2. Consider the best method of getting to your destination. Long-haul flights produce less carbon than several shorter flights; land-based public transport is usually a more ecofriendly option than flying.
3. When choosing an airline, try to look past the price and book the most sustainable flights available.
4. At your destination, get to know the local metro or bus routes and find out about multi-travel discounts and travel cards.
5. Look for accommodation that uses environmentally friendly practices such as water recycling and low energy light bulbs.
6. Consider house-swapping, a cheap and convenient way to travel sustainably.
7. Research and respect local customs. Simple things such as your usual clothing or gestures can offend in other countries.
8. Look after your rubbish and recycle what you can.
9. Find out what items local communities need, if you want to donate in developing countries. This is often better than giving money …
10. … but do hand in those coins for UNICEF!
Carbon Friendly Flight Finder
Sustainable Travel International
Naturewise Conservation Holidays
Australian Volunteers International
Sustainable Australian Travel for Dummies by Michael Grosvenor, Wiley Australia 2009, RP $34.95