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Sustainable tourism for the future we want

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Kelly Bricker, chair of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), speaks with Blue & Green Tomorrow about the potential of tourism to influence how the world operates.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014.

What is sustainable tourism?

I think one of the best definitions of sustainable tourism is that written by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which addresses what sustainable tourism actually should be doing:

Sustainable tourism should:

1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity

2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance

3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation

Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them

What’s the most effective way of raising awareness of sustainable tourism to travellers and holidaymakers?

Through word of mouth. One of the greatest avenues by which people not only learn about other destinations and activities, but actually ‘trust’ the source, is through word of mouth.

Getting sustainable tourism on social media sites, having folks discuss these products on blogs, National Geographic and other forms of popular media really can be effective.

What are the benefits of making the global travel and tourism industries sustainable? What are the consequences of not doing this?

To me, the obvious benefits are that we actually conserve the wonders of the world and the special places of the world that make our planet environmentally and culturally diverse. We can also improve the quality of people’s lives, who are ultimately very dependent on healthy and diverse ecosystems—for human survival.

As the leading economic driver on our planet, tourism has a unique opportunity to influence how the world operates. Sustaining places sustains us as human beings. Without a healthy planet where industries operate, sustaining ecosystems services, where human rights are respected, where quality of life is improved, we really cannot exist long-term.

Is it contradictory to fly on a sustainable holiday?

Air travel is a super highway in the sky. We know the economic and other benefits tourism can bring to regions that have limited development alternatives; therefore, we must continue to look at reducing emissions, better technology and improved methods for air travel.

Countries such as Costa Rica are looking at ways to improve offsets and create carbon neutral experiences for those travelling to their shores, because of their reliance on international tourism. There are no easy solutions, and improvements must be made. Weighing it all out is an important research problem. Would a destination be better off with no international travellers? I do think we have the answers just yet.

What is the economic case for sustainable tourism?

We reached just over 1 billion travellers last year. Hence, over a billion opportunities to effect positive change. Yet in some economies, the income earned from tourism ‘leaks’ out of the region or country, and as a result does not benefit local communities. When this happens, the economic benefits are realized elsewhere.

So the economic case for sustainable tourism is that the income generated must recycle into the local community. When this happens, infrastructure is improved, people benefit directly in ancillary businesses, employment improves, and ultimately poverty is reduced.

One argument around the future of tourism is that we simply need to have fewer holidays – particularly to the most far-flung places on Earth – to be truly sustainable. To what extent do you agree?

I am not sure I agree, and would like to continue to pursue this idea through evidence-based research—real evidence one way or the other. The alternatives for some destinations reliant on tourism are not great. I think we need to continue to explore what other development opportunities are available for destinations or locales.

Fewer holidays are not necessarily the answer; most likely it is more important to look at population growth and what we consume overall. Travel is not necessarily the ‘criminal’. It is more likely that increased population with increased demands on the world’s resources is the cause of our own demise.

We need to learn to live within our means, use resources wisely, conserve the ecosystem services upon which human life really depends, develop in a way that does not create a mess for some other location, etc. There are larger issues at stake here, and travelling may not be the worst of it all.  However, we must learn to develop travel experiences in a sustainable way, and as an industry we are clearly not all on the same page just yet.

What are the key sustainable tourism trends for the next decade?

Great and difficult question. This is really anybody’s guess, but given the current conditions, people are going to increase their own knowledge of sustainable products, and therefore become more educated consumers as evidenced in online programmes.

Companies are going to seek sustainable verification and operations to reduce risk, improve marketing appeal to consumers, and reduce costs overall.

The planet will continue to be under siege, and therefore, sustainability in all sectors of society will be a must; because of human reliance on ecosystem services, industries will continue to look towards efficiency, low impact improvements to their operations; and increasing quality of life attributes which will increase in importance

Products will be designed to increase connection to the environment, and enhance quality of life at the destination level. Sustainable tourism is moving from a product focus to a destination level focus – sustainability in tourism will focus on supply chains, community and region level sustainability

How can investors play a role in encouraging a shift to sustainable tourism?

The United Nations Environmental Programme released the Green Economy Report which really addresses this question. Through this report, UNEP and experts all over the world explore the case for a different approach for development – through a ‘green’ economy. This explores how we secure resources, supply chains, and consumption and production methods for many industries.

This is an excellent resource and I would suggest investors review this resource and really explore the power they have for positive change. Investors can encourage sustainable production, they can create a demand for sustainable development through the creation of guidelines, such as the GSTC Criteria, to promote sustainable development, long-term vision for strong economic growth, social welfare, and environmental protection.

Where should someone start if they want to consider the ethical or environmental footprint of their holidays in 2014?

Ask questions! We also have GSTC recognised certification programmes that have asked many questions for the consumer. For example, certification programmes have looked in detail at sustainable operations, social and environmental criteria that help demonstrate a tourism operation is actually effecting positive change.

Have a look at the GSTC Criteria. Ask questions regarding the contributions back to local communities, the commitment to the environment and preserving and protecting biodiversity; ask questions concerning human rights, and laws protecting women and child and all members of society from human exploitation; ask what is the destination doing to contribute to quality of life, protecting the planet and committing to a just and democratic world. In the end, we must really ask ourselves: what kind of world do we want?

Kelly Bricker is chair of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and associate professor at the University of Utah in parks, recreation and tourism.

Further reading:

Life changing travel and travel changing lives

When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

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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