Nick Slawicz investigates the practicalities of eco-travel.
For decades, the act of travelling around the world was held up as a virtue. The notion of jetting off to far-flung climes and experiencing foreign cultures was seen as a great way to broaden your horizons – figuratively as well as literally – and improve your outlook on the planet as a whole. It didn’t need to be sightseeing on the other side of the world, though. A week in Benidorm represented a well-earned break in the sun – something both to strive for and to enjoy.
However, it couldn’t last. As global warming and carbon control became pressing issues, anything that was considered a ‘non-necessary’ use of the Earth’s resources was deemed wasteful and contrary to the aims of the green movement. Whereas, once, the airlines had opened up new frontiers for the man on the street, they became irrevocably linked with pollution, noise and ecological damage, not only at home but also abroad.
Despite calls from the green lobby, though, tourism is still big business – and it’s only getting bigger. In 2009 it was estimated that over 9 percent of global GDP came from tourism, with 8 percent of the world’s people dependent on the industry for their employment (MercoPress) – everyone from the concierge at a fancy Las Vegas hotel right down to the man running local tours for visitors to a village in Thailand. When we talk about cutting back on tourism for the sake of the planet, the side effect is always going to be that some people lose their livelihoods, including those who have few other options when it comes to work. In many ways, it’s the ultimate case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place: the choice between responsibility to the environment and helping people trying to earn a living from your business.
Thankfully, the twin notions of eco-tourism and sustainable tourism set out to help both sides of the problem. Eco-tourism is generally defined as travel that directly supports local regional economies while striving to have a minimal negative impact on the destination or on the environment during the journey. It’s this sense of responsibility that helps to ensure (as far as is possible) that harmful effects on the planet are kept to a minimum, balanced with creating the most good for the local population.
Practically by definition, you’re unlikely to see an eco-tourism travel agent on your local high street. They tend to be small, independently-run organisations that make provisions for clients to visit very small regions its workers know personally (often a single city). Such experiential knowledge means they are best able to provide information about how to travel responsibly without damaging the local equilibrium. Additionally, many sustainable eco-tourism agencies take great pains to ensure the cost of offsetting a holiday’s carbon footprint is included in the price, helping your trip to remain carbon-neutral (and, in some cases, even carbon-negative, taking more CO2 out of the environment than it puts in). This can include planting new trees around the world, or helping to shift to more renewable sources of energy where appropriate. Buying carbon offsets can be a surprisingly cost-effective way of preventing your holiday from doing undue harm to the world around you: a round-trip from Heathrow to Bangkok airport might be almost 13,000 miles and releases two tonnes of carbon dioxide, but the cost of offsetting it can be as little as £20 per person.
Whether you make it or not, the choice to be economically responsible – to ensure that your money goes to those who need it while helping to promote and preserve sites of geographical importance without polluting excessively – is always going to be better than having no choice at all. It’s a (perhaps uncomfortable) truth of progress that we can’t uninvent the atom bomb, and we’ll never be able to get toothpaste back in the tube. People are always going to want to explore the wider world, and, as the situation stands, that’s often going to involve the use of airlines and fossil fuels. However, it’s far from impossible to find a holiday package that will allow you to do the least harm – it just needs a little more work on your part than slapping down a debit card at your nearest high street travel agent and hoping for the best. Instead, consider checking out a responsible, sustainable alternative, and ensure that your time abroad isn’t at the cost of the planet as a whole.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
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 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.
How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool
Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.
But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.
Choose a natural pool to go chemical free
For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.
Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.
It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.
Avoid concrete if possible
The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.
It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.
The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.
Add solar panels
It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.
Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.
Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.
Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.
Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.