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Travel for a Healthy Planet

by Steven W. Stavrou

If anything was to characterize the progression of global sustainability in this first third of 2016, it was the celebration of this year’s Earth Day, marked by the signing of the Paris Agreement. Over 150 world leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to sign the historic agreement on climate change – a pledge by all countries involved to limit the rise in global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius, while striving to keep the rise below 1.5 degrees.

Sustainable travel is sure to play a role in the adoption and ultimate success of this pledge, and the tourism industry can contribute in many ways, particularly with regards to reducing the carbon footprint associated with travel, transport and accommodation within the global tourism sector.

One of the arguments for why sustainable travel is believed by some to be an oxymoron is that some of the ways in which we travel (by air, for example) are not very sustainable. However, while air travel technology improves in order to decrease its environmental impact, there are many other initiatives airports and hotels can take to reduce their emissions, and that sustainable travelers themselves can take to offset their carbon footprint.

At the start of the year, more than a dozen New York City hotels – including some of the most iconic hotels in the city, such as the Waldorf-Astoria – pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions from their buildings by more than 30 percent over the next 10 years, adding a new sector to the NYC Carbon Challenge. In February, a United Nations panel called for greenhouse gas emissions standards for airliners.

Full implementation of these standards is expected to reduce carbon emissions by over 650 million tons from 2020 to 2040, and includes improving fuel efficiency. Airports will also be doing their part. At COP21 in Paris (the Sustainable Innovation Forum), the European airport industry pledged to increase the number of carbon neutral airports in Europe to 50 airports by the year 2030.

So, as we travelers plan for our Summer 2016 travel adventures, what can we do to contribute to these global goals on sustainability?

  • Choose eco-friendly accommodations – Look for LEED-certified properties (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and check a hotel’s website for an overview on their sustainable practices. Keep an eye out for green tourism-certified hotels, such as those with Green Globe certification. Minimize your impact by conserving water (short showers, for example), turning off lights and other electronics when leaving the room, and reusing sheets and towels.
  • Travel efficiently – Use direct routes when traveling by air, limiting miles traveled and, as a result, carbon emissions. Use public transportation or, once at your destination, travel on foot or by bicycle when possible.
  • Pack light – Less weight on transport means less fuel used. Bring reusable water bottles and bags, and recycle whenever possible.
  • Offset your emissions – Use tools such as Sustainable Traveler’s Carbon Calculator to calculate your emissions and purchase offsets of equal value.

There’s so much more to look forward to when it comes to sustainable travel in 2016, especially as the world prepares for the UN-declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism in 2017.

 

Steven Stavrou is founder & editor of EcoWanderlust.com.