TRAVEL THIS WAY
Secrets of Sustainability
Want to tread lighter when you travel? Here’s how you can.
WORDS KIRSTIE BEDFORD
Sustainability is an area of growing demand for avid travelers. But the question remains, how do you know when a company is genuinely committed to reducing its impact and it’s not just greenwashing? We delve into what sustainability actually means, and how you, as an individual, can make changes that matter.
We frequently hear about the importance of sustainability in travel, but what does it mean and how do you apply it when you travel? The Travel Corporation's Chief TreadRight and Sustainability Officer, Shannon Guihan, says it's about understanding when we travel we are exploring someone else’s home, and these places are deeply interconnected to our own home.
“The word does make some people glaze over, but it’s simply the knowledge that everything we do has an impact. Sustainable tourism is about individuals limiting their personal impact, and our industry taking it a step further, by ensuring we leave a place better than when we found it. This means reducing our use of resources such as water and energy and ensuring we have representation from the community we are visiting, so we can learn about a place from those who live there. Communities that are reliant on tourism have been the hardest hit by the pandemic as their revenue source disappeared, and so our return must also prioritize those groups, many of which were marginalised before the pandemic."
She says everyone needs to address sustainability, and travel is no exception. It's why The Travel Corporation (TTC) has announced a five-step Climate Action Plan to ramp up carbon reduction efforts while investing in carbon capture technologies to ensure it achieves its goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. The plan has just kicked off with one of its 40 travel brands, Contiki, making a commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral company in 2022, including all of its trips.
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Actually, most avid travelers do. And as Shannon explains, those who are following sustainable practices at home are likely to also do so when they travel.
“People who have a lighter footprint in their lives generally tend to also bring that on the road, and I think there’s an increase in people considering what that means. The challenge is a lot of travelers say they will choose the sustainable option, but it’s difficult to know if they actually do.”
“We are damaging the planet on a daily basis... we need to make rapid changes to our businesses and our lifestyles.”
She says that’s concerning because while sustainability began with a goal to protect the environment for future generations, it has evolved to include what we are doing now, and in particular, we need to ensure we leave a place better than how we found it.
“People need to realise we are damaging the planet on a daily basis with the impacts that are in our backyard, from fires in California to Australia, and we need to make rapid changes to our businesses and our lifestyles.”
The Sacred Valley in Peru was once the center of religious ceremonies of the Inca people
What can I do?
“Travelers should research who they are traveling with and consider ways to avoid the crowds we saw before the pandemic. Go off-season and stay longer.” Shannon says.
“Most critically you can choose an organization that has detailed its commitment to sustainability with measurable goals, for instance, TTC will be climate neutral well ahead of our 2030 goal, and we’ll report on our progress against that. You need to check for proof points and transparency, everything else is lip service.”
She says as individuals there are also several things you can do to change the way you travel.
“Bring a water filtration device and don’t buy single-use plastics. If we’re all doing even a modest job of avoiding single-use plastics, it’s better than nobody doing it. Also, don’t bargain to save that extra five dollars at the market, and buy goods produced in the region.”
She says animal welfare is also vitally important.
“Don’t travel with a company that allows elephant riding and reconsider what your selfie with an animal is doing to it.”
Shannon says it's important to consider that even small steps by individuals can make a big impact.
“We’ve talked about sustainability long enough, now’s the time to take action and everyone can make a difference, even by changing one small thing, that in itself will have a lasting effect on the environment.”
Six ways you can travel sustainably
Pay it forward on your next trip with travel experiences that make a difference.
WORDS SARAH REID
Power to the People
Learn artistic traditions in Peru
In the charming Andean city of Cusco, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco (CTTC) is a non-profit established by Andean weavers and supporters to aid in the survival of Cusqueñan textile traditions and support the Indigenous women who create them. The center works with 10 weaving communities, whose vibrant creations you can purchase at the CTTC store in central Cusco, which also has a small museum. You can also sign up for workshops to learn Andean weaving techniques, offering a unique way to support Andean culture and traditions.
Break social barriers in Germany
Created by activists and refugees in Berlin, Refugee Voices Tours seeks to challenge misconceptions about 21st-Century migrants on its two-hour walking tours led by Syrian refugees. With passionate guides using Berlin’s landmarks to draw parallels between Germany’s turbulent history and the current conflict in Syria, you won’t just gain a rare insight into the root causes of refugee crises though your guide’s own lived experiences, but also a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the world’s 26 million refugees.
Walk with Wildlife
See how a wildlife sanctuary gives back in Kenya
One of only two conservancies on the ICUN Green List, which recognizes conservation areas that are effectively managed and fairly governed, Ol Pejeta is East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary. On a visit to this incredible Kenyan initiative, you’ll have an opportunity to admire some of Ol Pejeta’s residents – which includes the world’s last two remaining northern white rhinos, and a cheeky community of resident orphaned and rescued chimpanzees – while learning about Ol Pejeta’s goal to support the people living around its borders to ensure wildlife conservation translates to better education, healthcare and infrastructure for the next generation of wildlife guardians.
VISIT OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY
A hands-on experience with elephants in Botswana
How do you protect an animal that doesn’t recognize international borders? This is one of the key challenges Botswana-based charity Elephants Without Borders is working to overcome through its innovative research, education and information sharing designed to encourage mankind to live in harmony with wildlife. Get a behind-the-scenes taste of its groundbreaking work on a day visit to one of its projects as part of an organized tour, which could see you participate in anything from tracking wildlife to visiting a community education initiative. Elephants Without Borders is also working towards opening Botswana’s first elephant sanctuary to house orphaned elephants.
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Lake Matheson on New Zealand's South Island is famed for its clean, green image providing mirror views of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman
Protect Your Planet
Discover the power of green energy in Iceland
Visiting a power plant probably isn’t high on your list of must-visit attractions in Iceland, a nation better known for its landscapes and spectacular northern lights. But located on the mossy slopes of an active volcano, just 20 minutes from the capital Reykjavik, the Hellisheiði Power Station has an excellent geothermal exhibition that offers a fascinating insight into how Iceland utilizes its own natural geothermal energy to power the country. In keeping with the sustainability vibe, you can also pick up sustainable souvenirs at the onsite boutique.
Get a taste of sustainable agriculture in France
In the rolling green hills of Saint-Rémy de Provence in southern France, the brother-and-sister-run Moulin du Calanquet olive oil mill helped to relaunch the region’s olive-growing tradition, which had been extinct for more than 40 years. On a visit to the picturesque mill, you can sample the siblings’ delicious olive oil-based products while learning about their journey to achieve High Environmental Value Certification for the mill’s commitment to minimizing its environmental impact.