Let us take care of our environment
African Adventure Specialists Ltd promotes responsible tourism practices within the tourism industry. This entails encouraging the adoption of best practices in the use of tourism resources, working with local communities, and managing carbon emissions.
The travel sector accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions*. As this sector is set to grow at 4% per annum, emissions need to reduce, and experts say that carbon offsetting will have to increase to help compensate. From plane flights and boat rides to souvenirs and lodging, various activities contribute to tourism’s carbon footprint. The majority of this footprint is emitted by visitors from high-income countries. As the number of people who can afford to travel grows, so will tourism’s environmental footprint.
Getting from here to there is the most basic component of tourism. Planes, cars, trains, boats, and even hot air balloons allow us to explore destinations all around the world. However, all of our jet-setting and road-tripping comes with a hefty carbon footprint.
Today, transportation is tourism’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions. On average, planes and cars generate the most CO2 per passenger mile, with tour buses, ferries, and trains coming well behind. In recent years, the number of people traveling internationally skyrocketed as airfare became more affordable. Similarly, between 2005 and 2016, transport-related tourism emissions increased by more than 60%.
In the same way your house generates emissions from energy use, so do the hotels, homestays, and rental homes that you stay in while on vacation. Many accommodations rely on heating and air conditioning to keep guest rooms at a pleasant temperature in hot or cold climates. These energy-intensive systems create CO2, as do the water heaters used to warm showers, pools, and spas. Electricity used to power lights, TVs, refrigerators, laundry machines, and other equipment is also a big contributor, especially in areas with dated or inefficient systems.
Emissions from lodging tend to be highest in resorts and hotels that offer modern services, while smaller lodgings such as homestays and guest houses have lower emissions for the most part.
Resorts, airports, and other tourism facilities can produce massive amounts of carbon even before they open their doors to tourists. Constructing a new building is an energy-intensive process – manufacturing the materials, transporting everything to the site, and constructing the building all generate carbon emissions. And it’s not just buildings that leave behind a footprint – the development of roads and other infrastructure for tourism also contributes to climate change.
Destruction of Carbon Sinks
Along with the construction process, tourism development emits carbon through the clearing of natural areas. Ecosystems, such as forests, act as carbon sinks by absorbing and storing emissions. When this carbon-rich vegetation is removed, CO2 is released back into the atmosphere.
The mangrove forests that grow along coastlines in many tropical destinations have a tremendous capacity to store carbon. Studies show that they can store up to 4 times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world. Sadly, vast areas of mangroves are often cleared to make way for tourist infrastructure such as seaside resorts, beaches, marinas, and entertainment areas.
With the impacts of climate change becoming increasingly evident, it is critical that local governments, tourism businesses and suppliers, along with individual travelers all take action to reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.
New technologies such as solar-powered water heaters, temperature control systems, and energy saving appliances allow the industry to lessen its carbon footprint. Yet these innovations are not enough to outweigh the emissions created by a growing number of travelers. Projections suggest that travel emissions will make up 12% of total greenhouse emissions by 2025. For those emissions that aren’t yet avoidable, carbon offsetting should be used to complement sustainability practices and reduce tourism’s carbon footprint.
How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Travels
Over the past year, we’ve seen how a global crisis can bring travel to a sudden halt. Though the pandemic remains front of mind, there is another crisis that will bring even graver consequences for humanity and imperil the destinations we love. That threat is climate change.
In recent years, tourism came under heightened scrutiny for its contribution to the climate emergency. We began hearing terms like “flight shaming” as people became more aware of their impact. Tourism does play a role in the climate crisis, there’s no denying that.
But this doesn’t mean you should swear off traveling altogether. The restart of tourism allows us to rethink our habits and learn how to travel in a responsible way. There are many ways that you can lessen your travel emissions and drive the industry towards a more sustainable future.
1. Book non-stop flights
If you do travel by plane, one way you can reduce your emissions is by booking a non-stop flight. Because non-stops take the most direct route to the destination, they require less fuel than itineraries with multiple legs. Consider a trip from Los Angeles to the Philippines. A non-stop flight directly between the two destinations travels 7,292 miles. However, if you add in a layover in Taiwan, the journey comes in at about 7,600 miles. Those 300 extra miles tack on about 163 pounds of CO2 to each passenger’s carbon footprint.
The shorter distance isn’t the only reason to book a non-stop flight. One lesser known fact is that planes release the most carbon during take-off and landing. It’s better to book one longer flight rather than multiple shorter flights so that you only have to take off and land one time. If you can’t find a non-stop, choose the itinerary that takes the most direct route and makes the least stops.
2. Fly economy
One good thing about flying in economy class? Doing so will lower your carbon footprint. This is because an air passenger’s emissions are determined by the amount of space they take up on the plane. On average, business class seats are two times larger than those in economy. This means that a business class passenger’s carbon footprint is typically double that of a traveler in economy. First class seats occupy even more space and have an even larger carbon footprint. Book economy to save money on your ticket while also saving the planet!
3. Pack light
The heavier your luggage, the more fuel it takes to transport it by plane, bus, car, or train. Pack your bags as light as possible to reduce fuel use and thus, the amount of carbon emitted.
Start off by choosing a lightweight suitcase and carefully consider what you put in it. Bring clothing that you can wear multiple times and that is easy to wash while on the go. Leave larger items like camping gear at home and rent it locally instead. Remove any unnecessary packaging from items and put your toiletries into small, reusable containers.
When we crunch the numbers, we find that lightening your luggage by 15 pounds would decrease your emissions by about 80 pounds on a ten hour flight. Imagine if there were 200 passengers on your flight and they all packed light – It would eliminate 16,000 pounds of CO2!
4. Slow it down
These days it’s easy to find ourselves constantly busy, rushing around, and operating at a fast pace. Travel should be an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle, yet all too often we plan vacations that are even more hectic than our day-to-day lives.
Slow things down by spending more time in one destination rather than trying to cram in visits to every “must-see” place. Consider taking one longer vacation each year instead of multiple shorter trips. Doing so will allow you to more fully experience the destination and build deeper connections. Slowing things down also decreases the amount of emissions that you would be generating by traveling between numerous places. Trust us, you will thank yourself when you return home feeling refreshed, rather than like you need another vacation!
5. Turn down the AC and heat, switch off electronics
High utility bills motivate many people to conserve energy in their homes. But on vacation it’s the hotels that shoulder the cost. This can lead people to be less conscientious about their energy use during their travels than when they are at home. But regardless of who’s footing the bill, our planet will pay the price.
The concept is simple. The more energy we use, the more carbon emissions we generate. Whether at home or away, we should do what we can to minimize our energy consumption. This includes turning off the lights, TV, and any other unnecessary electronics when not in use. If you don’t plan to use the mini fridge in your hotel room, unplug it or turn it off for your entire stay.
When visiting a hot climate, it can be tempting to leave the air conditioner blasting while you’re out exploring the destination. But while you’re cooling down your room, the resulting emissions will be heating up the planet. When leaving your hotel, turn off the AC or set the thermostat a few degrees higher. You can also close the curtains to prevent the sun from beaming in all day. In colder destinations, turn down the heat when your room is unoccupied and close the curtains at night to add some extra insulation. Don’t forget to also adjust your thermostat at home before leaving on vacation!
6. Use the “Do Not Disturb” sign
Along with shutting off all of your electronics, there’s another simple action that you can take to reduce the carbon footprint of your hotel stay: put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign. Hotels want to deliver the best customer service to their guests and make you feel like royalty. But do you really need your room vacuumed every day? Or your towels washed after every use?
Reduce the amount of energy and resources that are used for housekeeping activities by hanging up the “Do Not Disturb Sign” outside your door.
7. Eat the local cuisine
From seafoods to curries to pastas to vegetables, every destination offers unique delicacies and tasty bites. When eating abroad, take advantage of the opportunity to try all of the local dishes that you can’t get at home. Learn about the traditional cuisine, shop at local food markets, and dine at restaurants that source their ingredients from local farmers and fishers. Do your best to avoid imported foods which must be transported from far away and require more packaging and refrigeration to preserve them along the way.
By eating local foods instead of imported ones, you’ll reduce the carbon footprint of your meal while also supporting the local economy. Plus, you’ll get to experience the local food culture and enjoy some of the freshest cuisine out there!
8. Reduce food waste
With all the delicious and exotic food dishes to try, it’s hard not to over indulge while on vacation. But did you know that food production is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world’s emissions? As forests are cleared to graze cows and grow crops, the carbon they store is released into the air. Food also produces carbon when it’s processed, packaged, transported, and refrigerated; and when we throw our uneaten food away, it creates harmful methane emissions as it rots in a landfill.
When sampling the local cuisine, make sure your eyes are not bigger than your stomach. If you don’t think you’ll be able to finish a dish, ask for a smaller portion or share it with a friend. You can also bring a reusable container and take your leftovers back to your hotel. There are lots of collapsible, travel-friendly containers out there!
Beware of all-you-can-eat buffets which are a major food waste culprit. The abundance of choices (at no additional cost!) makes it all too easy to pile your plate high with more food than you can eat. Not to mention all of the food that must be thrown away after it’s been sitting out in the buffet trays. Plus, buffets are a great way to spread viruses and bacteria, so do yourself a favor and steer clear of them altogether.
9. Buy meaningful souvenirs
that you will actually use
How many times have you returned home from vacation wondering why you purchased a particular souvenir? Many visitors fall into the trap of buying tacky items that seem fun at the time, or clothing that they wouldn’t ever wear at home. But everything that is produced has its own carbon footprint, be it a t-shirt, mug, keychain, or purse.
Before purchasing an item, consider whether it’s something that you will actually use at home. Are you really going to wear that sombrero? Is that snow globe going to collect dust in the back of a drawer? Choose practical items that you’ll actually use. Buy meaningful souvenirs crafted by local artisans rather than mass-produced items imported from abroad. Invest in high quality products instead of poorly made items that you’ll have to trash after one use.
10. Stay at eco-friendly hotels
There’s only so much that you can personally do to reduce your carbon footprint. But as a traveler, you have the power to drive hotels and other businesses to take climate action and change their practices. When booking a hotel, opt for one that is dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint. There are many things that hotels can do to cut their emissions such as installing energy efficient fixtures and appliances, utilizing renewable energy, automating temperature control, sourcing products locally, or buying carbon offsets.
To identify if a hotel is taking climate action, start by visiting their website. Most hotels that are doing something to combat their carbon footprint will be talking about it on their website. To identify those hotels who are actually walking the talk, look for specific practices they have in place or data on the reductions they’ve achieved. If you can’t find information online, ask the hotel what they’re doing. During your stay you might notice additional practices or processes that they could put into place. If so, be sure to share your ideas on the guest feedback card. Simply asking questions and providing feedback is a great way to show hotels that their customers are factoring sustainability into their purchase decisions.
Or why not try a cultural experience for a few of your vacation nights? Staying in a homestay gives you the opportunity to live like a local and find some of the best spots to explore that tourists might not usually hear about. And a bonus to this? Homestays with more basic amenities tend to be less carbon intensive than luxury resorts with pools, spas, golf courses, and fitness centers.
11. Offset your carbon footprint
While the steps listed above will help you reduce your carbon footprint, no matter how sustainable your habits are certain emissions will always be unavoidable. Purchasing carbon offsets allows you to compensate for the emissions that you can’t reduce.
When you buy carbon offsets, you are contributing to projects that reduce emissions in another part of the world. For instance, one project might absorb existing carbon emissions by restoring an area of degraded rainforest, while another might generate clean energy by constructing wind turbines. In addition to reducing carbon and mitigating the climate crisis, these projects support community development and protect important habitats.