Let’s all go on a summer holiday – an eco-friendly edition

It’s official – UK summertime has begun. Don’t let the overcast, rainy days of late fool you, it is the UK after all. And with more than a year spent in a locked down UK, we’re sure that many people (our team included!) are eager to get away to a change of scenery.

Whether you’ve chosen to travel abroad to one of the green list countries, or prefer to stay in the UK, there’s one thing that’s certain: your holiday may come with a larger carbon footprint than you’d think. Let’s break it down.

Travel accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions

In general, travel and tourism is responsible for around 8% of global carbon emissions*. This includes everything from plane flights, to souvenirs, to accommodation. In fact, a whopping 49% of emissions are from transport alone, and a further 22% are from goods, food and beverages.

It should come as no surprise that visitors from “high-income countries” are largely responsible for this carbon footprint, with travellers from the US topping the list. As the sector grows and more people come to afford travelling, so will the damage on the environment.

There must be a way to travel better, right? For businesses in the sector to be more sustainable, and for tourists to use eco-friendly practices and alternatives? Well, yes – but it’s harder than just a few simple, sustainable swaps.

Sustainable travel is a complicated issue

Whether you’re a tourist or a business within the industry, sustainable travel is a complicated issue; even the term itself is flawed. According to a survey taken by National Geographic back in 2019, 42% of tourists would be willing to prioritise travelling sustainably in the future. That’s great!

The problem? Only 15% of them knew what sustainable travel actually meant.  As National Geographic so aptly says that, for businesses at least:

“Sustainability isn’t simple. It can’t be boiled down. It isn’t a quick win. A hotel might declare it’s eliminated straws, but does that make it sustainable? What about its energy use, its food waste, its track record on environmental protection and community engagement?”

Tourism is critical for the world economy as well

It’s one of the world’s largest industries, employing roughly one in 10 people across the world and it was responsible for 10.4% of global GDP in 2019. So many developing countries around the world rely on tourism bringing in cash to their countries; Thailand, Kenya, the Philippines, and Mexico to name a few.

However, I’m sure many of you will remember the wonderous photos and footage that was shared in the early months of last year’s pandemic: of dolphins flocking to Venice’s canals and turtles hatching on abandoned beaches. Wildlife and nature took full advantage of our absence.

Contrast this with the fact that conservation ground to an almighty halt. According to National Geographic, the billions of dollars of revenue which would go towards supporting “complex networks of protected areas and local communities” jut dried up overnight almost. This is why sustainable travel is such a multifaceted issue.

So, what does the term ‘sustainable travel’ mean then?

Ultimately, the long-term goal for travel and tourism to sustain both the economy and the environment, reducing negative effects on both.

So, ‘sustainable travel’ means to preserve the natural environment and Earth’s finite resources as much as possible, whilst somehow supporting the wildlife, culture and local communities across the world that benefit from conservation and tourism.

This is more easily described as the three pillars of eco-tourism:

The Environmental Pillar

A bit self-explanatory but this pillar focuses on reducing negative impacts on the environment. This covers things like reducing carbon emissions from transport, reducing wastage of key resources like water and food, avoiding plastic waste entering the environment and not harming the flora and fauna wherever you visit.

Actions like these can help support the environmental pillar:

  • carrying your own reusable bottles, eating utensils and bags
  • making sure that any disposables you come into contact with are disposed of responsibly
  • spend your money at businesses that participate in recycling schemes, or show they are conscious of the environment
  • do your research when it comes to the wildlife of where you’re visiting and seek out responsible tour operators

The Social Pillar

This focuses on how sustainability impacts the local people and the communities they live in. This includes things as basic as supporting local businesses that hire local people, making sure that tourism doesn’t impinge on the environment they live off of – their home.

Actions you can take include:

  • supporting non-profits and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) that operate in those communities and areas
  • doing more research and be aware of what businesses employ local folk, instead of hiring abroad, and whether they’re fairly paid and have safe working environments
  • taking part in the activities and projects that support these communities, where they exist (hint – this requires some more research!)

The Economic Pillar

This is perhaps the most obvious, but this pillar centres around supporting positive contributions to the local economy, so that they directly benefit from tourist’s custom. Actions you can take are:

  • use the local businesses – whilst it may seem safer to pay for a well-known chain hotel, why not consider digging a little deeper and finding a locally-run hotel to stay at
  • spend with locally-run tour services that support the people of the community and the economy
  • use eco-travel apps to help you make informed choices:
    • Refill My Bottle helps you find water refill stations for your reusable bottles
    • Green Travel shows you your carbon emissions for transport and allows you to compare them
    • My Little Plastic Footprint puts you on a “plastic diet” – it allows you to see the amount of plastic you use and how to minimise it
    • Fairtrip shows you places to shop, eat, and drink that have a positive economic and social impact and will give eco-alternatives to use
    • Locavore finds local farmers’ markets and places to support agriculture

Make smarter travel choices to help reduce your carbon footprint

The 21st century has gifted us with the ability to go and see so much more of the world than ever before. We’re not about to tell you to stop travelling – the point is to do it smarter, in a more eco-conscious way.

Here are our top tips for being a sustainable traveller – ranging from transport to waste to holding businesses accountable.

  1. Take direct flights – taking off and landing emits a large proportion of airplanes carbon emissions. Avoid this where you can.
  2. Economy is better than First Class – yes, whilst we are partial to a bit of bubbly on a flight, the truth is that first and business classes lead to several times more carbon footprint than the modest economy seat.
  3. Walk wherever possible – getting an uber or taxi may seem like such an easy solution, but it comes with a cost. Get your blood pumping by walking or using public transport instead.
  4. Use green travel apps – like the ones listed above in this article, they can really help do a lot of the hard work for you, making your sustainable journeys far easier.
  5. Use carbon offset companies and organisations – many companies and charitable organisations now offer service where you can offset your carbon emissions.
  6. Source your experiences responsibly – source and research local wildlife attractions carefully, choosing only those that do no harm. Those elephant rides are not as ethical as they may appear to be.
  7. Volunteer in community projects – whilst not for everyone, volunteering is a great way to give back to the local community in the area you are visiting. Plus, it’s so emotionally and spiritually rewarding.
  8. Support local hospitality – local markets, eateries, restaurants, and tradespeople should be your got to. Try to step out of that comfort zone if you can!
  9. Choose local artisan souvenirs – step away from the commercial, ma produced tat and instead find yourself some beautiful, local, handmade souvenirs to bring home with you. I guarantee you they’re worth it.
  10. Use local guides – if you do choose to stay in a chain hotel, try to find local guides to take you on tours, over people that have been hired from abroad to do the same job
  11. Ask hotels and accommodation for their sustainability policy – especially if you’re choosing to stay in a chain. This will tell you all you need to know about how they practice good sustainability. Hold them accountable.
  12. Pack sensibly – now I’m the first to admit, I am a serial over packer. Unless you’re going into the wild, you’ll always going to be able to wash your clothes when abroad. You don’t need to pack your entire wardrobe.

For more on sustainable companies in the travel and tourism industry, you can also take a look at Smarter Travel’s handy guide to lots of businesses that focus on greener, ethical travel.


The Coronavirus Pandemic Is a Disaster for Tourism. These 20 Countries Will Suffer the Most. (foreignpolicy.com)

What does it mean to travel sustainably in 2021? | National Geographic

Young Thai workers race to reopen deserted beaches – BBC News

*Carbon Footprint of Tourism – Sustainable Travel International

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