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Sustainable tourism: the only option

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The Travel Foundation was set up by the industry for the industry. “The reason we exist is to help the industry understand and reduce the impacts of tourism on the destinations that it so depends upon”, says Sue Hurdle, chief executive of The Travel Foundation, in an interview with Blue & Green Tomorrow.

This piece originally featured in B&GT’s Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2012.

Sue Hurdle began her career in a way that is familiar to many in the travel industry. “I started off working overseas in holiday resorts and decided it would be great to have a career in an industry that helps people to have a good time”. But it was while working for large tour operator in 1993 that she read a piece in the trade press that gave her cause to stop and think.

The article talked about a new resort development in Goa. According to the article the local community was having its water supplies reduced at certain times of the day so that the new resort could provide enough water for swimming pools, golf courses and so on, which seemed a rather strange affair to me. I felt I needed to learn more and managed to persuade Thomas Cook to pay for me to take a Masters degree in Tourism and Social Responsibility.” The course was one of the first of its kind in those days, but Hurdle is pleased to say that there are many more courses available today.

Having spent a year learning about the issues, I had the bit between my teeth and decided that really needed to dedicate the next few years of my career trying to help the mainstream tourism industry understand what it could do to make tourism better for destinations, From the perspective of both the environmentand the people who live there.”

Hurdle ended up working for a small charity called ‘Action For Conservation Through Tourism’, setting up a discussion forum with the mainstream industry. Initially, the likes of British Airways and Airtours sat around the table soon to be joined by other big household names, such as First Choice, in addition to the trade association ABTA. “The aim was really to help the industry think about the issues surrounding sustainability and how it applies to mainstream tourism”. In 2001, the Government got interested in preparation for Rio+10, but has lost momentum since then, which is a source of disappointment for Hurdle

Ten years ago, it was great to have the UK Government really driving [sustainable tourism], engaging lots of different organisations, NGOs and industry, but 10 years on, for Rio+20 the UK Government is not looking at tourism. So that incentive is no longer there”.

Returning to the back story, the Government’s interest in the discussion forum led to funding, which was matched by the industry, that was used to set-up what today is called The Travel Foundation, now nine years old.

When asked how the industry has changed in that time, Hurdle has some positive news. “When we started, very few mainstream companies had even begun to think about sustainable tourism, let alone have a policy. Ten years down the line, the major tour operators in the UK have all begun to think about it; they all have policies and the majority employ someone who has specific responsibility for figuring out how their business can be more sustainable.

The great risk is, if the industry doesn’t do anything to protect the people and the environment in destinations, they won’t have a business in the future. We all want to go and lie on a nice clean beach and we want to feel welcomed by the people , eat nice food, enjoy the local ambience and take home positive memories of our visit. And if businesses don’t look after these things, in the end they don’t really have a product to sell.”

Discussing semantics of sustainable, responsible, ethical or eco tourism, Hurdle hits the nail on the head with something less complicated: “It’s really about tourism that is simply better. Better for destinations, better for people, better for the environment”.

Following on from the need to balance the needs of the planet, its people and prosperity and the fact that everyone becomes a winner with sustainable tourism, the concept of all-encompassing sustainability sprang forth.

What we often say to companies is that things need to be sustainable at every level. It’s a competitive market and we are aware that, at the moment, people are  particularly price conscious. But actually, when you start looking at sustainability, it’s not  about cost; it’s as much about quality of experience.  ”

When you mention sustainable tourism, people are sometimes confused and start thinking about particular types of holiday. But what we are saying is that sustainable tourism can and should be any kind of tourism. All tourism has an impact, which can be good or bad.

The challenge is to make the sustainable option the only option—the norm.”

And it needn’t necessarily be about staying in an eco-lodge and travelling there by bicycle. “Sustainable tourism can be about staying in a very mainstream destination in a very mainstream hotel. If that hotel is reducing the amount of water and energy it uses on your behalf, and if it’s sourcing its produce from local farmers, and if it’s making sure that the excursions it offers are benefitting the local community, then it is on its way to being a sustainable product.”

It is a very broad definition of sustainable tourism that doesn’t match the traditional one that often comes to mind, but it’s hugely compelling; it leaves no room for excuses—including concerns about cost—from anyone in the travel industry.

Indeed, the initial driver for a lot of businesses to become interested in sustainability is profit. “It’s also about reducing operational costs. If you can reduce the electricity and water use in your hotels, you can reduce the costs of hosting guests for the night, which can directly affect the bottom line”.

It can also help differentiate a company from its competitors—if you can offer consumers a better experience through more sustainable practices, then it becomes a real business benefit. And that is what The Travel Foundation is really focused on.”

In fact, the concept of a broader overarching form of sustainability is widespread over diverse industries. In our previous Guide to Sustainable Investment, the links between taking sustainable policy seriously and increased profit became very apparent.

“If a company starts off on this journey because it perceives there will be cost savings down the line, that’s ok. As long as they are making a start—that’s the important thing”.

Business benefits are great for the industry, but where does the average vacationer realise the advantages of sustainable tourism?

The Travel Foundation is industry focused, but we are also attentive to the consumer. ‘Make Holidays Greener’ is a consumer-facing campaign that endeavours to raise awareness of the different choices people can make, which is supported and delivered by the industry.”

Importantly, the campaign focuses on the positive steps consumers can take to decrease their own impact. It’s about sharing ideas and inspiring people to do things differently. “If you’re going on a ‘bucket & spade’ type holiday in Spain, for example, you might want to think about going out and trying one of the restaurants in the local village rather than reverting to chain restaurants. You might want to purchase souvenirs  that are made locally from renewable materials”.

Going off the beaten track, it seems, is one way of creating a more sustainable experience and, most probably, a more enjoyable one.

It’s often the small, simple things you do as a tourist that make all the difference. “Learning a little about the destination beforehand and learning a few words of the language, so that you can say hello to local people, go a long way. And very often they’re the things that will give you a much better holiday”.

We can also vote with our wallets to a certain extent to help influence and shape the products and services that are being offered in destinations. Ultimately, the tourism market is catering to us”.

The Travel Foundation is very vocal about its commendable objective of making all tourism sustainable, but as this transition is occurring, is there a risk of a confusing message for consumers?

Hurdle believes that through initiatives like ‘Make Holidays Greener’, which The Travel Foundation are running for the whole month of July this year, consumers can be engaged and, because the industry is involved and supportive, everyone can be on the same page. “Quite a number of the major tour operators have published their sustainability plans, which are available on websites and increasingly talked about these days.

There is quite a lot of research we can do ourselves. And there have been a couple of television programmes that have covered the issue as well. So I think people are beginning to be more informed. And though consumers may not be asking for sustainability—and perhaps we shouldn’t expect people to come in and say  ‘I want to book a sustainable holiday’ per se—when you actually look at what a sustainable holiday means, the sustainable elements are the things that make a holiday better”.

Ask someone if they would like to book a sustainable package holiday and they might say ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘No, I just want a regular, good value holiday for my family’, but if offered the same option with a different spin—‘do you want a holiday where you’ll meet new people, see different things, stay in a beautiful environment that’s well-cared for, and be made to feel very welcome by the people there’—people, of course, react very positively.”

As with all things positive, there is the potential for a balancing negative force—the danger that some companies could overuse perhaps weak sustainability credentials to sell holidays. It’s a process known as ‘greenwashing’ and something that occurs in other industries, but what about tourism? Is the link between sustainability and a great holiday experience sufficient to counter such attempts?

Claims of greenwash have been leveled at many industries, and I think it is a cross sector thing. Certainly, some of the smaller companies that I’ve spoken to are very fearful of being accused of greenwash and, for that reason, I don’t think we’re seeing many businesses out there that are claiming to be green.

Rather, companies are describing what they’ve done to make things more sustainable. I think that’s why a number of companies are working with organisations like ours to make those improvements and to share what they’ve learnt”.

And that’s really what it’s all about—moving tourism forward; recognising that there are good and bad impacts of tourism; and asking the important question “how can tourism be improved for all?” After all, a tourism industry without an eye on sustainability is not a viable long-term option.

I see a lot of passion out there—a few key people are really championing sustainable tourism and acknowledging that it’s about the survival of the industry.”

Action must follow ideas, and where The Travel Foundation really makes it’s mark on sustainable tourism is in the projects it works on with the industry and a diverse range of stakeholders (see sidebar 2).

Whether convincing hotels to purchase produce from local farmers or training local excursion operators to reduce hassle on the beachfront, the real benefit of the project work is the learning experience it provides. The Travel Foundation assesses the successes and failures of each project and uses that knowledge to create tools [LINK] for the industry so that sustainability initiatives can be replicated by all.

Whatever we do, it’s always with one eye on taking what we’ve learnt and sharing it with the rest of the industry”.

Richard Branson takes current pride of place on The Travel Foundation’s website because of one particular project. “We’ve been working with Virgin Holidays for a number of years. They are one of the companies that have been a key partner in the Caribbean. Richard Branson is talking particularly about a marine protected areas project we’re working on together. His interest in sustainability is fairly well known and he has enabled his companies to pursue relevant interests in it. It’s been really terrific to have that level of support from the top”.

And while the organisations like The Travel Foundation and the industry work together, the consumer also has an important part to play. “Most industries are driven by customer demand, so if people do start asking questions like ‘what are you doing to make sure my holiday is as sustainable as it can be?’, ‘how is my hotel trying to save energy and are they putting unnecessary strain on the local water supply?’, then the industry will take note and change”.

Concluding, Hurdle says, “Holidays are very important to all of us, and we all want to make sure we get the most out of our time away. And thinking about how we can lessen the impact our holiday has on the environment and improve benefits for the people who live in the destination will help us have a better time ourselves”.

For more information on sustainable tourism and The Travel Foundation, please visit its website.

Further reading:

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2012

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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