The future is looking sustainable. Barrons published a 2020 study showing that over 70% of consumers in North America prefer eco-friendly brands. Conglomerates like Kering (home to Saint Laurent and Gucci) have announced sustainable initiatives for their brands. And the Centre for Responsible Travel, Destination Stewardship Centre, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation – have formed the Future of Tourism Coalition to put sustainable travel front and center for the future. It almost seems that various aspects of our lives will become more eco-friendly and ethical. So, as we fulfill our wanderlust dreams, one burning question is, ‘How can we travel and explore the world around us sustainably?’
“The first step for travelers will be to travel locally. There is nothing more sustainable than discovering the local natural environment and by doing so supporting small local hospitality businesses,” Arianna, Green Fashion Tours.
“Decades of unfettered growth in travel have put the world’s treasured places at risk environmentally, culturally, socially, and financially,” The Future of Tourism Coalition.
Air travel only accounts for 2.4% of carbon emissions. It’s a small part of the negative environmental impact of traveling. Packing and tourists’ lazy disregard of the environment that they are visiting is another negative impact. And hotels and attractions catering to this disregard are also part of it. How many pint-sized plastic cartoons of shampoo or water have you wasted on a trip? How adamant were you about recycling during your last European holiday?
Many of us don’t automatically jump into a ‘conscious’ mindset when we’re in holiday mode. Yet, we have to. A study published in Nature Climate Change found that between 2008 and 2013 global tourism accounted for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. Since 8 out of 10 tourists are estimated to seek out a beach vacation, it should be noted that we’ll most likely run into the 8 million tons of plastic waste that have hit our oceans. It’s the responsibility of both consumers and the travel industry to rethink and reshape the future of travel.
“One of the biggest challenges that we [Europe] have is that small hotels are missing out on opportunities for sustainability,” said Dan Pontarlier, author of the Strategic Sustainability Plan 2017-2019 (in collaboration with the Barcelona City Council). As a professor and consultant on sustainability, Dan works between Barcelona and Brussels educating seasoned professionals and pre-graduate hopefuls about sustainable travel. Knowledge is the 1st step to achieving any big change. And, Dan believes that both brands and consumers must learn and understand how their choices are affecting the environment.
And, it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. “Companies must be aware of the impact they are having on society. When you have growth you have to take into consideration your impact,” Dan continued about brands’ responsibilities to society. When I spoke to Arianna from Green Fashion Tours, a Berlin-based initiative, she was of the same sentiment. There needs to be a conscious shift in the travel industry to “implement a holistic perspective to the change that must happen.” In her opinion, as a sustainable travel expert that includes, “diversity of voices, inclusion of discriminated minorities, regeneration of natural resources, respect for the planet boundaries and a renewed spiritual connection with the Earth and the living system we are part of.”
Taking into consideration the problems with the travel industry’s current model and the future of sustainability, Dan and Arianna both mentioned that 2020 heightened consumers’ preference for ‘local’ and the idea of ‘community’ when it comes to sustainable travel. In Berlin, Arianna explains that the “pandemic generated in Berlin a big wave of solidarity towards local and social enterprises.” Supporting small, local businesses is sustainable in that carbon emissions can be reduced with a shortened travel time and it gives an opportunity for underrepresented voices within our communities to showcase their business. “Due to this feeling of community we’re going to be more careful in our decisions,” Dan explained. “We realize that we don’t need to buy all these things. That’s going to change the way we think about consumption.”
“We as a society are more capable of solidarity than we thought, people really care about others. But we also need the joint action of support with policies that generate an economy that values people and planet over profit,” Arianna, Green Fashion Tours