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Is responsible voluntourism possible? ‘Yes, but it’s very hard’, says expert

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Voluntourism, which allows tourists to experience new cultures while doing good for local communities or the environment, is on the rise – but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

An increasingly popular phenomenon, especially among young people, many travel agencies and charities are moving to offer more volunteering holidays in a range of diverse locations.

But while on paper it might sound like the perfect altruistic getaway, the practice has received criticism over greenwashing claims. Indeed, a closer look reveals that a number of voluntourism experiences are neither responsible nor good for society or the environment at all.

Research published earlier this year by Victoria Smith and Xavier Font, as part of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, suggested that many of the organisations offering voluntourism experiences – especially the most expensive ones ­– operate far from responsibly in terms of how they treat volunteers, local communities and the environment.

Volunteer tourism organisations target people who want to see the world and who usually have intentions of “do good”. However, they often fail to properly present the projects to volunteers and act responsibly in the various locations.

This can even lead to volunteers having a negative impact on the communities and the environment; for example, if they are unskilled or do tasks that locals could do.

You get people doing things s that aren’t required and western people paying to do jobs that locals should be paid for doing. It takes away the empowerment of local people”, Smith – a responsible tourism management graduate from Leeds Met, and now a consultant – tells Blue & Green Tomorrow.

It is common practice in the UK to have a gap year and do some volunteering but a lot of kids just want to have fun or get drunk and this has a strong impact on local people in developing countries.

Problems arise particularly around education and childcare, where the lack of teaching qualifications or background checks for individuals who look after children can cause major issues. Even police checks are often open to abuse when done by certain agencies.

Volunteering in orphanages in places like Cambodia or Ghana is of particular concern. Orphans seeing a constant flow of different people coming and going can experience abandonment syndrome. Seeing the popularity of this type of volunteering, some local operators even manage to persuade poor families to place children into purpose-built orphanages for the unsuspecting volunteers to look after, in exchange of financial incentives and promises of education.

Smith says, “The demand for volunteering in orphanages is so high that it creates orphanages. Local entrepreneurs and organisations set up orphanages, almost like a business. They would go to rural households and offer parents to take their children to educate and raise them. In Cambodia, something like 90% of orphans in orphanages are not orphans. Volunteers, families and children are being commercially exploited.”

To avoid these negative effects, Smith believes agencies should do a proper assessment to see what communities need and how skilled and qualified volunteers can really benefit local people.

So is responsible voluntourism possible? “People have come to the point of questioning whether it is possible to do good voluntourism at all. The answer is yes, it is, but it’s very hard”, Smith says.

There is a lot of work that has to be going on behind the scenes. Skilled and trained volunteers have to go where their help is needed and they can have a positive impact on local communities, which must be prepared to deal with them.”

Smith adds that those wishing to take part in such experiences should “do their homework” – just as they would do if they were applying for a job. She picks out the organisation People and Places as an example of a voluntourism agency that does it properly.

You need to put time and efforts into researching the organisation you are going with and the projects they offer”, she concludes. .

Find evidence of what they do and what they did in the past, their goals and objectives; find contacts of previous volunteers; look for transparency, consistency, factuality on projects and money. The organisation should talk to their partners in developing countries in an equal, not superior, way.

Further reading:

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do

Life changing travel and travel changing lives

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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