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Striving for sustainability

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The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) brings together over 140 of Britain’s specialist travel companies – and it takes sustainable tourism very seriously. B&GT caught up with Chris Breen, chairman of AITO’s sustainable tourism committee, who firstly explains how he got involved with the organisation, and more specifically, sustainable tourism.

I started out working as a naturalist guide in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, which is probably one of the finest wildlife locations anywhere in the world, and in my view is certainly Africa’s. I came back and worked for a big travel agency in London. A year or two after that I started Wildlife Worldwide, which I ran and grew for many years—it’s now 20 years young and still specializes in bespoke, personalised wildlife holidays around the world.

I can’t think of a better way of spending a holiday than enjoying the beauty of wide-open spaces while at the same time giving something back to those places. Wildlife Worldwide was a member of AITO for many years. There has always been a very strong environmental and sustainable ethic to what I do. I’ve always had a strong interest in sustainable tourism. I am now the chairman of the AITO Sustainable Tourism Committee and very proud and delighted to be so.

Do you have any personal stories that have shaped your views about sustainable tourism?

One of my very good Zambian friends, as a result of the work he was doing as a naturalist guide, ended up with an opportunity to come over to the UK to do a master’s degree in wildlife and conservation based tourism. The opportunity was offered by a client who could see that this chap was a highly intelligent and brilliant guy. He now actually lectures here in the UK.

It’s an amazing story— especially for someone who had spent the majority of their life in a remote part of Africa. He now regularly travels back to Africa leading trips and teaching people about the destination and conservation-based tourism.

How does the AITO Sustainable Tourism Committee function?

Essentially, it is our job to influence the way the different members of AITO to operate from a sustainability perspective. All members of AITO are completely (and proudly) independent and many of them are doing outstanding things when it comes to sustainable tourism in the areas of the world where they operate. We try to collate a lot of that information and promote it to newer members who want help and guidance on how they can improve, whether it’s here in the UK or overseas.

Could you give some examples of sustainable projects run by AITO members?

There are many AITO operators who are doing amazing stuff—and amazingly they don’t shout it from the rooftops. There is a fantastic project in Mexico, which is supported by Nomadic Thoughts, called New Life Mexico. It works to support vulnerable children and young people through social, health and education programmes. It’s got an excellent website—well worth a look. But it’s all supported entirely by tourism and is a great example. There is a lot of extremely good work going on in The Gambia, which is being supported by an organisation called Serenity Holidays or Gambia Experience. They’ve done an enormous amount of work to help local people develop their own businesses—some in tourism— entirely backed by the tourism industry.

What do you think drives people to become involved in these inspiring projects?

Largely, in my experience, the people who are involved in this good work around the world—certainly all of my industry colleagues, friends and associates—are very much doing it for the right reasons; because they want to improve the lives of people in the destinations they work in—be that Nepal, Gabon, Brazil, Mexico or wherever.

A lot of what is done by tour operators is borne out of a great passion for a particular region.Journey Latin America, which is another one of AITO’s members, is another really good example. They do fantastic work in Mexico, Colombia and many other countries in Latin America. In my case, it was my first really wild experience of going to a really wild place. That experience helped me build a company, which has helped me personally look at different parts of the world with a respectful head on my shoulders—and it’s a fantastic privilege to be able to say that.

Responsible or sustainable— traveller or tourist… Is there a difference?

To answer the first part of the question, responsible tourism versus sustainable tourism, I think that is partly an issue of nomenclature—in so far as, what many organisations historically referred to as responsible tourism is now referred to as sustainable tourism. But I think that sustainable tourism is probably the right terminology. You could be in Canada driving along the road within the speed limit and claim to be responsible, but you might be in a car that does one mile to the gallon, so you weren’t travelling in a very sustainable manner! I think the word sustainable talks about the future, whereas responsible doesn’t necessarily take that into account. Given the choice, we’d go for sustainable every time, but for many people, it’s just the flick of a switch, perhaps wrongly so.

Regarding traveller or tourist, I’m going to give you a very personal answer. I think it’s pure and utter snobbery. I think it stems back to the time when people used to travel with backpacks—and there’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve done it myself. But there was an air of superiority from those that travelled with backpacks over people who went on a two week holiday to the south of France or Italy for example. Actually, the reality is that if you are going somewhere to see, enjoy or experience it, whether you refer to yourself as a traveller or a tourist doesn’t really matter. If you’re not a resident there, you must be a visitor. I am delighted to go to the Masai Mara as a tourist. If someone else wants to refer to me as a traveller or anything else, it makes no difference.

Who should be driving sustainable tourism—industry or the consumer?

It is absolutely the industry’s responsibility. There is no doubt about that in my mind. If a company cannot be bothered to offer sustainable holidays, by definition it must have a limited life span. If what a company is offering is destroying the very place it relies upon, then the product is finite. As an example, if I was offering holidays to go and mine gold in northern Australia, I’ve got a relatively limited time period over which those holidays can operate—I’m using up the resources—there’s nothing sustainable about that. On the other hand, if I’m offering tours to go and see places where gold exists, I can do that ‘til kingdom come.

What trends are you seeing in public awareness of sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism is increasingly spoken about by journalists and as it permeates the media, there seems to be an increased desire from people travelling overseas to ensure that they are doing it the right way. I’m a great advocate of travelling overseas, not only because I run a travel company, but also because it’s enormous fun and educational. Meeting people in new places is one of life’s great privileges. But for many destinations, people will have to fly, which has carbon emission implications and how horrendous that can be for the environment, so pressure needs to be applied to airlines to improve what they operate. Airlines are consequently starting to talk about the types of fuel that they are using or developing to make air travel a more sustainable option.

Could you tell us about AITO’s sustainable star classification system?

First things first: all AITO companies fulfil an obligation to 100% commitment to sustainable tourism—those are one star organisations. And depending on the level of responsible or sustainable activity, organisations can gain 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. The star rating system was never really designed to be consumer facing—there are a number of organisations, like Travelife, that are becoming industry standard in terms of rating systems. It’s really a self-help system= within AITO to encourage members to develop and improve sustainable practices. Through training and development companies can enhance sustainability with and for each other.

What is your view on carbon offsetting?

My personal view, which may or may not be shared by AITO, is that whilst carbon offsetting is very important, we now need to think “beyond carbon”. We need to be thinking about the conservation of resources generally, whether that’s water or other minerals. And we need to find ways in which we can help local communities and some of the poorest people be resilient to the climatic changes, both short and long term, that we are all facing.

I think if people want to offset their carbon, that’s fantastic and important, but we must remember that it is only one small part of the picture. I got involved a while ago in an email discussion with a journalist who decided not to travel to a particular location in the world because it would have been too detrimental from the point of view of carbon emissions. And when I read that, it made me very angry. The particular area in question was very good for gorillas and I felt that it was important for that person to visit the area and report on what they’d seen. For me, it is utterly hypocritical to say, I’ve been there and I know how good it is, but you can’t go because this area needs to be preserved, and to get there is bad for the planet. That’s nuts.

Any other thoughts for our readers?

Discussions of this nature are interesting, especially if they have an impact—if they touch a nerve for someone somewhere. And if that one individual decides to take a more sustainable holiday or thinks about something in a more sustainable way on the back of having read an article, then this interview has been worthwhile. The message definitely needs to be projected that sustainability in travel is crucially important for us and future generations. Otherwise, our children won’t be able to enjoy many of the great things we’ve been privileged enough to enjoy ourselves.

The thing that drives me personally and professionally is that if I do what I’m doing well enough, and those people that I influence around me do it well enough, with luck and a fair wind, my three children should be able to see the many wonderful things that I’ve had the opportunity to see.

This feature was originally published in our Guide to Sustainable Tourism, which you can download for free here.

Further reading:

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism: an essential link in the world’s ‘value chain’

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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