In Travel

The Five Commandments Of Sustainable Travel

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Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips these days. From housing to natural resources and energy, it’s one of the key challenges we face as a society today. When it comes to sustainable travel, that’s an area where everyone has the power to make a change.

More than just tracking our carbon footprint, sustainable travel is about making conscious decisions to reduce the negative social and environmental impacts travel can create. As travellers, we all have a responsibility to protect the planet – and every little bit helps.

If you’re looking to be more eco-conscious on your travels, here are five tips to get you started.

Make informed travel choices

Not all travel destinations are created equal. Before booking your next holiday, it’s worth doing a little research into how sustainable your intended destination really is.

Countries tipped to be ‘the next big thing’, for example, may offer the authentic experience travellers crave but are just not equipped to handle the volume of tourists who visit. In turn, this can upset the balance of what it was that lured travellers there in the first place.

A good indicator is the Yale University Environmental Performance Index, an annual report which ranks 180 countries based on environmental factors such as water and sanitation, air pollution, and national policy.

According to the 2018 report, the most sustainable countries – Switzerland, France and Denmark – all have an EPI score above 80, whereas Australian holiday favourites such as Thailand, Vietnam, India and Indonesia all score below 50. Air quality and the need to protect biodiversity are just two of the reasons for low scores.

If the country you want to visit has a low rating, don’t let that completely discourage you from travelling. Instead, use it as a valuable reminder to stay conscious of your impact.

Adopt a holistic approach to travel

Not to be confused with holistic healing, holistic travel is a mindset which considers the bigger picture, that understands even small changes today can have a big impact on tomorrow. It also begins long before you even set off on your adventure.

For example, you can choose a tourism operator who specialises in low-impact tours, hire an independent local tour guide, reduce single-use packaging in your travel kit, buy luggage made from partially or completely recycled materials, or perhaps choose to stay in an eco-rated hotel which takes water and energy saving initiatives seriously. Some hotels are so committed to protecting the environment they’ve chosen to go completely off the grid.

Shop local, eat local

As tempting as it can be to choose the cheapest option, locally made souvenirs are almost always more sustainable. By shopping local, you’re helping to safeguard the livelihoods of the vendors, producers and craftspeople of a destination, not just lining the pockets of offshore mass-producers. And besides, local markets are always more fun to explore.

The same can be said for eating local wherever possible – no big chains. Smaller, family-owned restaurants and cafes can often be found a street or two away from the main tourist areas. Look into the specialty of the destination you’re visiting, do a little research for the best place to enjoy it, and then let your taste buds swoon over those authentic flavours.

The environmental impact of transportation

Train, plane or automobile – which is better for the environment? According to findings by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, your best options are coach or rail. Tourism accounts for roughly five per cent of global CO2 emissions, with air travel the biggest culprit at around 40 per cent. Coach and rail transport account for just 13 per cent.

Air travel is a hard one to avoid. You’re not going to swim to Paris, are you? Yet there are ways to lessen your impact, such as selecting airlines which utilise biofuel or opting in to carbon offset your travel where possible.

Once you arrive, choose public rail transport over taxis and remember, your feet were made for a reason.

Offset your carbon footprint

Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing the world today. Rather than waiting for governments to set climate change policy for you, there are ways to reduce your impact now. One method is carbon offsetting, whereby you donate to environmental projects such as reforestation initiatives in order to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of your travel. Carbon offsetting is possible in many aspects of the tourism industry from airlines to tourism operators.

Above all, sustainable travel is about respect. Respect for people, respect for culture, and respect for the environment. Understanding how your presence impacts a destination is a good way to foster a more meaningful and sustainable relationship long into the future.

But you don’t have to wait for your next big trip to make a difference to the environment. You can offset the carbon emissions linked to your home electricity by switching to EnergyAustralia and on any of their residential plans, you can opt-in to carbon neutral electricity, at no extra cost. Learn more about EnergyAustralia’s Go Neutral program.

Published 16 October, 2018