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Responsible travel is to give back to the community you visit

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Travelling can be an opportunity of growth and discovery, but responsible travelers need to be aware of the impacts their actions have on the environment and local people, says eco-travel blogger Yara Coelho.

Travelling can be much more than a getaway weekend or expensive holiday. In fact, for some, travelling is a way of life, a mission. Yara Coelho left her home in Portugal when she turned 18, determined to see what the world had to offer – but being an environmentally conscious and vegan traveller, she decided to do it ethically.

On her blog, Heart of a Vagabond – A Vegan Travel guide, she shares her amazing experiences in Europe, America and Asia, as well as suggestions to travel in a sustainable way.

I can see that you basically made travelling your life, unlike most people who associate travelling with ‘going on holiday’. But travelling is not going on holiday, is it?

Travelling can be just going on holiday for the majority of people. For others, travelling is basically a lifestyle. For me travelling is all about the journey, not just the destination, whereas going on holiday is mostly being at a certain spot for a short amount of time.

I travel to meet the people, to experience the traditional vegetarian foods, to immerse in a new culture, learn the language. I usually blend in pretty well when I travel.  Life is so short and the world has so many wonders to explore. My biggest regret would be dying without experiencing part of them.

Many environmentalists refuse to catch a plane or endorse long-distance journey. Is travelling incompatible with respecting the environment?

Travelling is absolutely not incompatible with being seriously environmentally conscious.

I actually hate flying and the majority of my trips were made by land, using recycled vegetable oil when using my van, or using public transport like trains or buses. I travelled across all the Indian subcontinent and Nepal by land for six months, for example. Same with Thailand and Malaysia, all by public transport.

I think people have to be consistent with their lifestyle. It makes no sense avoiding airplanes, but using the car on a daily basis, eating meat, consuming more than the necessary, or even importing organic products from the other side of the world.

I use my bike on a daily basis, eat local vegan foods only and live a very simple lifestyle, therefore my footprint is ridiculously low.

What is your opinion on the so-called and sometimes controversial voluntourism?

I’m totally against the voluntourism programmes out there. It surprises me nobody sees what they are all about.  It’s a multi-million dollar business that brings nothing good to the communities or the environment.

I’m sceptical of all programmes asking the volunteers to pay. I personally don’t want to pay to work, usually it’s the other way around, right? Many of these young people volunteering abroad and paying fortunes for it, have a really good heart and mean good, but they’re just stealing jobs from local people.

The only positive type of voluntourism I see, is when someone goes abroad and teaches the locals a new skill that will improve their lives.  We all know the old expression: “Don’t give them fish, teach them to fish”.

Why do you travel alone? Do you think people are generally afraid of doing it?

In many ways, travelling alone can be a very deep spiritual practice. For me, travelling is highly spiritual and it’s a way of challenging myself, find new aspects of my personality and find out I’m actually braver than I thought I was.

It’s all about getting out of my comfort zone and becoming a better person. One of the biggest lessons is learning the meaning of detachment, live with very few material things. We need very little to be happy.  I wrote a famous article that focuses exactly on being a solo traveller.

What is the most amazing experience you had while travelling?

That’s a hard one, since every time I’m out there I go through amazing experiences. I’ll have to name two: One was visiting the Buddhai tree in Bodhgaya (India). For the ones who don’t know what that is, it’s the place and the tree where the Buddha got enlightened. Seeing that massive tree in front of my eyes, was really touching.

Another amazing experience was probably snorkeling with a massive wild turtle in the Andaman Islands. Wild animals are so majestic. Swimming side by side with fish who were as big as me and that turtle was something very special.

Can you give us and our readers some tips on how travel consciously?

Travelling can be an extraordinary way to grow as a person and become more open minded.

For me the best way to travel consciously is when we give back to the communities we visit. When we stay at local guest houses, support local restaurants instead of spending money in big international businesses.

Being very aware of our impact, especially when travelling in the nature, where eco-systems are fragile. Travelling by land as much as possible and avoiding buying too much plastic is very important. I always try to re-fill my water bottles instead of buying new ones. Plastic is a really serious problem in most developing nations.

Don’t engage in any tourist entertainment where animals are kept captive, like marine shows, swimming with dolphins, elephant rides and photos with wild animals. These animals are all kidnapped from their homes and families and turned into slaves, living miserable lives. If you love animals then support eco-projects that empower the environment.

Heart of a Vagabond is a mindful, sustainable, vegan-friendly travel and lifestyle design blog. As a long-time solo female traveler, Yara Coelho’s coverage is steeped with experience and a depth of knowledge few others can match.

Further reading:

Tourists urged to stop littering on Mount Everest

TripAdvisor launches green initiative for sustainable travel

TUI launches new sustainability-focused travel options

Why tourism can be a force for good in the developing world, and why it isn’t

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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