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Urban sustainable tourism: being responsible in the city



City cycling, visiting green spaces or parks, contributing to local community initiatives and visiting heritage sites: just four ways to be more responsible when visiting new cities, says Rachel Dodds.

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

Tourism is big business internationally and in cities. In 2012, there were over one billion international tourist arrivals and this number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030. With this growth have also come negative impacts and threats. In addition to tourism being consumptive of natural resources such as water and energy, climate also has an important influence on operating costs such as heating or cooling, irrigation, food and water.

There are social impacts, too. More than two-thirds of the revenue from international tourism never reaches the local economy because of the high foreign exchange leakages. Combine these impacts with global changes such as increased urbanisation (around 50% of the world’s population currently live in cities and by 2030, 2 billion people will have moved to cities), stress on natural resources and increased population, there is no question for the need for more urban sustainable tourism.

Tourism in urban centres

Just because tourists don’t tend to be as noticeable in cities as they often are in most smaller communities or rural areas, it does not mean that they don’t have a significant impact on a city’s infrastructure, natural resources, social and cultural environment. Singapore, for instance, receives three visitors a year for every permanent resident (about 17 million tourists per year compared to 5 million residents) – a ratio that would strain the social and environmental carrying capacity of many destinations.

Cities should also be viewed as natural areas and as part of an ecosystem. As they contain parks and green spaces, culture and heritage, the impacts on urban centres should not be ignored in favour of remote island destinations or rural areas.

The benefits of urban sustainable tourism are numerous. Often cities are hubs for other areas so can be less carbon intensive. Compared to many rural areas, public transportation is easier and more plentiful. Urban tourists also contribute to the local economy whereas resort establishments may be enclave type developments that do not allow for much interaction with the local community. Urban tourists take public transport, eat local food or participate in local cuisine and farmers markets (e.g. street food in Bangkok or Vancouver). They often will sometimes buy locally made handicrafts and may take tours or participate in events where monies go to local economy/community (e.g. Sockmob in London offers walks with professional coached homeless guides where the majority of the money goes to help the homeless).

Examples of urban sustainable tourism can include green roofs, city cycling, visiting green spaces or parks, contributing to local community initiatives or even visiting heritage sites.

Progressive steps towards urban sustainability

Within urban areas, a number of hotel chains have made progressive steps. Hotels which have implemented an environmental policy generally save on average 20% energy costs and at least 15% on water costs so any measure of efficiency benefits the bottom line. Eco measures can also help building a brand and more and more the tourism industry is looking at ways not only to increase their green profile but also to show that they are benefitting the local community.

Many hotels that are claiming to be eco have also started to use LEED certified building standards. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification programme that provides independent, third-party verification that a building is designed and built using strategies aimed at “achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality”.  In Europe, it is the city of Amsterdam that boasts the first LEED Platinum hotel – the Hotel Amstelkwartier.

Shangri-La Hotels aims to follow LEED Gold standards for its buildings and have comprehensive environmental footprint-saving measures through the way it deals with water, waste and energy. Sixty per cent of Shangri-La’s properties are ISO14000 certified and the aim is to that the remaining properties become certified within the next three to four years.

But how green are we really?

Although many accommodations aim to conserve resources, consumer behaviour is not always that green. Consumers in today’s economy tend to expect green or eco, rather than demand it. And hotels must be careful to not look like they are only undertaking conservation measures to save costs. Signs asking guests to hang up their towels to conserve water have been found to not alter behaviour without a specific explanation of why they are doing it and what other measures the accommodation is also doing to be more sustainable.

Sustainability awareness in urban areas can also be problematic. Urban attractions also tend to have a harder time disseminating sustainability information to their guests and therefore tend to focus on other aspects for guests rather than their green credentials.

As they are not located in natural parks or by pristine beaches, the guest is not as influenced by their natural surroundings. Many tourists are also not sustainable when in a city; they often only visit major attractions rather than local community projects, and do not always buy local but instead shop in mainstream touristy places where souvenirs are often made outside the country and imported from China where they are produced cheaply. Tourists also do not stay in locally owned accommodation as most large hotel chains are owned by foreign nationals. 

Important questions to ask

So what can you, the traveller do? Asking is the most important. The more you ask, the more the tourism industry tends to change its behaviour. Simple questions can be things such as:

– How much of your hotel is run using renewable energy sources like solar, wind or geothermal?

– Does the hotel practice energy and water conservation? How?

– Do they support local causes and community conservation efforts?

– Do they try to educate guests to be environmentally and socially conscious?

How to be a more responsible traveller

– Don’t litter. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem in many countries of the world

– Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles (in many countries there is no way of disposing of these, therefore creating plastic mountains due to tourism)

– Reduce energy consumption. Unplug your mobile phone charger, turn off the lights etc.

– Conserve water. Take shorter showers: the average hotel guest uses over 300 litres of water per night. In a luxury hotel, it is approximately 1,800 litres

– Do not purchase or eat endangered species (e.g. turtle egg soup, crocodile handbags)

– Support the local economy. Buy locally made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants – enjoy the local culture

– Take public transport. Or if you must, rent a car – why not a hybrid or electric one if available? Support a local charity or organisation that works towards responsible tourism

– Before you go, ask your travel provider (tour operator, travel agent) about the company’s environmental and responsible tourism policies. Support those who support responsible tourism

– Ask your accommodation provider (hotel, guesthouse, lodge) about their sustainability practices – do they compost? Recycle? Do they have fair labour laws? Do they have an environmental policy?

– Support responsible tourism organisations – those operators who publicly are aiming to make tourism more responsible

As more and more tourism accommodation and attractions are available for choosing, it is you, the customer who can make an impact by voting with your pounds.

Rachel Dodds is director of Sustaining Tourism – a boutique consulting firm. She is also an associate professor at Ryerson University in Canada, where she joined the Ted Rogers School of Tourism & Hospitality Management in 2006. For more tips and facts about sustainable tourism see

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

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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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