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UNWTO: leading the global drive to sustainable tourism

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Blue & Green Tomorrow caught up with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation – the world governing body for the travel and tourism industries – about its work in pushing for sustainable tourism.

This piece originally featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013.

What does sustainable tourism mean to UNWTO?

UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

Sustainability principles in our sector refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. Therefore, guidelines for sustainable development and management practices should be applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

This requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Neither can we forget the role of tourists themselves. 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 are the benefits of making the global travel and tourism industries sustainable?

Tourism is one of the world’s leading socio-economic activities. Last year we surpassed, for the first time ever, one billion international tourists and, according to UNWTO forecasts, this growth will continue up to 1.8 billion in 2030.

Against this backdrop, the benefits of sustainability in tourism are clear: it is a vital economic activity, it generates revenue for developing countries where the steepest growth rates are registered and tourism is a huge job creator. Sustainable tourism is the only way to ensure all existing benefits prevail. Given the sheer size of global tourism, the sector is in a unique position to benefit local communities economically and socially and to raise awareness and support for the preservation of the environment.

What is the economic case for sustainable tourism?

Sustainability is key for business as it consolidates the basis upon which tourism, literally, operates and exists. Furthermore, nature tourism, ecotourism, heritage, cultural, adventure, rural and community tourism are taking the lead in tourism markets, and an even faster growth is expected in the coming years.

Consumers value positively sustainable policies conducted by tourism companies and are willing to pay more for more sustainable options. Investing in sustainable tourism is an element of competitiveness and an added value to companies and destinations as it can help reduce the costs related to energy, water and waste, while increasing the quality of the tourism products and experiences. Indeed, there are a number of studies which confirm a growing demand for more environmentally friendly tourist services, and a growing numbers of consumers willing to pay more to companies that benefit local communities and conservation.

Ban Ki-moon said that tourism can help fight climate change and push a global shift to a green economy. How does it fit into tackling the world’s biggest challenges?

The UN has singled out tourism as one of the 10 sectors that can drive the transformation to what we call the green economy. This implies improving human wellbeing and reducing inequalities over the long-term, environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Applied to tourism development for example, it is becoming ever clearer that investing in environmentally-friendly tourism can drive economic growth, lead to poverty reduction and job creation, while improving resource efficiency and minimising environmental degradation.

And this has positive spill overs to critical social goals, such as poverty reduction. Tourism’s geographical expansion and labour-intensive nature, for example, supports a spread of employment and can be particularly relevant in remote and rural areas where many of the poor live.

Sustainability was the central theme of World Tourism Day in September. What reception did it have and why did UNWTO opt for this theme?

The UNWTO General Assembly decides the themes for World Tourism Day, which we try to align with general UN observance years (energy in 2012, water in 2013). ‘Tourism and Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Development’ as last year’s theme and campaign, underscored tourism’s role in a brighter energy future, promoting access to modern, efficient and affordable energy services.

Tourism has its part to play and the sector has already taken important steps towards this future – improving energy efficiency and increasingly using renewable energy technologies in its operations. These steps are creating jobs, lifting people out of poverty and helping to protect the planet.

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

Investors are increasingly aware that the return on their investment in sustainable tourism can be swift and substantial and that by protecting the values of biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural heritage, they are also responding to a growing demand for natural and cultural authenticity. This move towards more sustainable tourism would create additional employment and revenue in local communities; respond to changing consumer demands for a more sustainable travel experience; increase competitiveness and significantly reduce operating costs for tourism businesses.

Yet, it is clear from the UNWTO Tourism in the Green Economy: Background Report that investment is still one of the major challenges in the transition to a green economy in tourism. In that regard, in order to mobilise and maximise tourism investment, the report calls for a) better access to tools and financing for small and medium-sized tourism enterprises, in particular from governments and international organizations through public-private partnerships; b) public policies and support, such as subsidies, that encourage private investment in green tourism and c) for destination planning and development strategies as the first step towards the greening of tourism.

What is the consequence for the global economy and environment if we continue with business-as-usual and don’t adopt a more sustainable tourism industry?

The continuing expansion of tourism requires careful management. We need to ensure that we maximise the economic and social benefits of this immense sector while at the same time addressing its potential negative impacts on the environment and in our common heritage. This is at the heart of UNWTO’s mandate as the UN specialised agency in the field of tourism: the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

Tourism brings in much needed investment (a critical factor in most developing countries), creates employment locally (thus allowing for populations to stay in their communities of origin) and generates important export earnings, which are essential to have access to imports of other good and service such as modern technology.

Again, the numbers speak for themselves. More than one billion international tourists mean also a huge responsibility and the power to foster positive change by winning the increasing support of the private sector, and raising awareness among millions of travellers around the world.

Further reading:

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

UN emphasises ‘vital role’ of sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism can help tackle the world’s biggest challenges, says UN official

81% of tour operators and 75% of travellers say yes to more sustainable travel

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

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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