Going green in travel

11 October 2011

Every morning I pull the bottles, paper, and cans out of the rubbish bin and put them in the recycling bin. Now you may ask why they don’t get put in the recycle bin to start. So far I have failed miserably to persuade my partner Dave to start recycling  so I realised I was going to need some help to write about “going green” in travel, a topic which is coming up at WTM this year.  
Anyway I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt from the “go green” experts about “sustainability” that hot topic that you see quoted widely across an increasing number of websites.  For those of you opening the Times
on Saturday 8 October,  there was a full two page story on the seven billion people that will be living on this planet by the end of this month, and the staggering fact that a population the size of Portugal will be born this month.

Credit Photo: K Bullock Hawaii 

However the key questions for me were how you get started in making greener business decisions and why the travel industry should care. Fortunately I was approached by the Travel Foundation who kindly provided me with some tips. 
For Julie Sustainability is about caring for destinations we love to visit". Some people think it’s just about reducing your “carbon footprint” but it’s quite a far reaching topic which covers the welfare of local people and wildlife, sourcing local products, conserving water and energy, fair employment practices and giving workers a fair deal”. Julie went on to talk about the topic of safari guiding and making sure you keep safe distances from the animals plus projects to minimise tourist hassle on Sri Lankan beaches.
 She had the following tips to share as we embarked on a lively question and answer (Q&A) session.
Q. As a small business where would I start in tackling sustainability and going greener?
A. “It’s best to start by writing a policy and set some goals and targets. You need to get your own house in order first. You can start with a checklist for consumption, looking at electricity, water and waste.
You can then progress to setting some long term measurable and specific goals such as 50% of your product range having some environmental certification within 5 years, which creates a useful target for measuring progress. Or you could opt for starting with a plan to audit 10% of your excursions each year.  Once you have made some progress with your green initiatives you can then start to highlight them in your marketing materials.
When working with ground agents you may need to allocate time for discussing changes to the contract which will create criteria for measuring efficiency. In many cases self auditing can be done and it does not have to be costly. Some of the big players such as TUI have been particularly active and by 2014, 90% of their hotels will have been audited with certification.”
Q. Do you have specific tips on the process for starting your communication plans with customers about green issues?
A. “I recommend looking at your customer journey and at each communication point talk to them about green issues to raise awareness and improve their education. If the customer sees that you care, this can be seen very positively.”

Credit: National Trust Customer Journey

Q. How do you think staff can be involved in this change?
A. “You can set up a “green or ethical team” which can often be good for staff morale and use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to share tips on ways to improve your company’s green credentials. It’s good to have a forum where you can keep everyone up to date on progress so your staff don’t think you are just paying lip service to this initiative. You often need to make sure you have educated your board and shown them the importance of this topic to your future business and why it makes good business sense.”
Q. How much time and resource is recommended to make a real difference?
A. “There’s no hard and fast rule on this and a team effort will get you the best result. I would suggest spending the equivalent of half a day a week of effort for one person. Having a green sponsor on the board is important and setting up regular monthly meetings or making sure green practice is on your monthly team meeting agenda, is ideal.”
Q. If you are relying on other companies to deliver your services what’s the best way to check they are complying with your new green initiatives?
A. “You can run spot checks and inspection trips as you would for health and safety or ask for customer feedback on whether the supplier acted responsibly”.
Q. What do you think those companies coming to the World Travel Market show should be doing to show that they are thinking about their activity in a more sustainable way?
A. “It may be a bit too late this year but I would be thinking about using recyclable materials, make it a feature of your stand and when planning your trip see if you can combine it with other trips and stay longer, rather than do multiple trips. I would look at sharing more information electronically and think of “downloads” rather than more expensive, heavy paper directories and guides.
Q. Have you any examples of changes that hotels have made to become greener?
 A. “I know of a hotel in Marrakesh which has a very committed green team. They have created a way of washing a car with just one bottle of water. They started composting and are now selling it as fertiliser which has created funds for their staff welfare scheme. Their staff turnover figures are much lower and their people have been very motivated to get involved in the different green schemes they have put in place.”
Do you have some “water warriors”?
Having just had recent discussions with the Just a Drop charity team I remember the way they had used Twitter to build a community of “Water Warriors” who are passionate about clean water and who have helped the charity with their fundraising efforts. You could find that your company has an equally committed group of people (partners, customers and supporters) who would love to get involved in some green ideas. Giving them an identity, a voice and recognition for their efforts, can also be very motivating.
You can check out some of the following case studies:

Thomas Cook
They are running a range of community initiatives, including providing funding for local people in rural Turkey to take degree courses in tourism management and
farming projects in Fetiye.

Credit photo: Travel Foundation

Credit: Travel FoundationVirgin Holidays

They have funded the
Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Jamaica, set-up to help aspiring entrepreneurs with a launch pad for their businesses and to provide a platform for job creation across the Caribbean

Hotel groups still wasting energy
My observation as a business traveller is that there are some large hotel groups which have a long way to go on demonstrating energy conservation. I recently arrived at a hotel to discover all the air-conditioning and lights on full blast in the middle of a very cool summer day. It left me with the impression that the hotel had money to burn and was not efficiently run. Maybe it is the voice of customers that will change the status quo.

 We can all act responsibly
In the past I had somehow associated sustainability with a small specialist group of “green eco tourist operators.” However the reality is that we can all act responsibly when we travel and if we see waste or poor treatment of local people we can raise it as a customer issue with our travel providers. This is likely to steer more companies into taking action plus sharing stories about great sustainable company projects is also key. As consumers are interested in taking more authentic holidays it appears to me that this fits naturally with sustainable tourism, so it’s something we can all get involved with as a traveller and as a travel player.

Credit K Bullock –   woman selling handicrafts in Nepal
Porter welfare
Having recently returned from trekking in Nepal tackling Annapurna base camp I had some discussions recently with the IPPG (International Porter Protection Group) which has been campaigning for better porter welfare. This voluntary organisation has created guidelines for adventure companies to ensure that they and their suppliers are acting responsibly. Given the number of porters that have died taking tourists up mountains and have lost limbs to frostbite, it’s an important issue.  I have since discovered that countries like Peru have got weighing stations and strict 20kg limits but others have done little to stop the abuse of porters. If you’ve been trekking, what’s your experience?
Maybe we should all just work less
As I did a bit more research on sustainability I came across a blog from Andy Jarosz  at 501places on whether we should travel at all and just work less. He had read a report from a UK think tank called nef suggesting that the best way to reduce our carbon footprint is for us all to work a 21 hour week.  Now that idea has my vote!! I think that one will go down well with my partner Dave and save me scrambling around in the rubbish every morning!
If you have any tips on how to persuade your partner to recycle or sustainability ideas or projects that have worked for you in travel  – do please share with us by posting your comments below.

[1] The Times Saturday October 8, 2011 Page 8-9 “Global population set to hit seven billion by end of month”

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