Earlier this year, we had the pleasure of connecting with Dr. Susanne Etti, Environmental Impact Specialist at Intrepid Travel, as part of the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Course. In her presentation, Susanne shared her insights and lessons on climate action for tourism businesses (watch the recording here).
We’ve summarized some of the key ideas and insights shared in Susanne’s presentation and our live Q&A. You will also find additional resources to help your business start planning and implementing climate action, including declaring a climate emergency.
Measure Your Impact
You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
You need to first understand your business’ carbon footprint in order to take concrete action to decarbonize your business. So what does it mean for a tourism business to measure its carbon footprint and where should it get started.
Intrepid Travel, which has been carbon neutral (certified by Climate Active* since 2010), measures the main sources of emissions related to each trip that are controlled by the company (transport, accommodation, and waste), and the emissions from its offices (electricity, bottled gas, natural gas, water, flights, vehicles, waste and paper).
*Climate Active is a partnership between the Australian Government and Australian businesses to drive voluntary climate action.
In measuring the footprint of trips, all trips are measured through a bottom-up approach: looking at trips per micro region, and according to trip themes and their styles.
To get started on measuring your impact, tools such as GHG Protocol and Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (a free tool for hotels) may be useful. Or, you may consider opportunities for working with specialists providing services in this area - as Intrepid did; Intrepid worked with a third party carbon and sustainability B Corp consultancy organisation called Ndevr Environmental to compile the company’s annual GHG inventory for carbon neutral certification.
Reduce Your Emissions
In order to preserve tourism assets and our climate, we need to “decarbonize” the whole tourism sector, and we need as many industry players as possible to commit to climate actions as soon as possible. Climate change is a shared problem; Climate action is most effective if there is effective collaboration and sharing of knowledge.
To this aim, Intrepid has published a free resource to help tourism businesses get started: “10-step guide to decarbonise your travel business.”
As stated in the guide,
Once you understand where your emissions come from, you can start to identify opportunities to reduce the carbon emissions your company produces from your daily business operations and travel offerings.
Whether your business focuses on backpacking or luxury stays, cruises or local walking tours, city or nature tours, it is important to measure impacts of any trip by considering its components and where emissions come from.
One key area where a significant saving can be achieved is transportation. For example, looking at the transportation services used by your guests during their time at your destination or as part of your trip itinerary, you can choose public transport options where it is safe to do so and where such options are easily accessible. In destinations where public transport options are not available, consider using e-vehicles for guest transportation.
In the first phase of Intrepid's decarbonization plan, the company will review flights under 1.5 hours to replace where a feasible alternative exists for Intrepid's top 50 itineraries by 2022. For example, Intrepid has traded out internal flights with high speed rail on the majority of its trips in China and continues to make similar changes elsewhere whenever there is a feasible land or road alternative available.
Also for Intrepid, new product development is based on recommendations for low carbon trips, which include sustainability considerations during the itinerary design stage, to guide decisions based on carbon intensity of travel modes and activities selected. For example, Premium trips feature a number of accommodations using renewable energy, and experiences that support community, environmental or wildlife conservation projects.
Support Slow, Local and Regional Travel
And, of course, the emissions related to how travelers get to and from their destinations cannot be ignored. International air travel, in particular, is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
The pandemic has forced many travelers to stay closer to home, and this, in some destinations, has boosted domestic tourism, especially around parks, trails, and natural and / or remote areas.
Intrepid has increased its portfolio of walking- and cycling-based trips, featuring such opportunities as: walk the Peak District in the UK, cycle South Australia’s Wine regions, walk in the Yosemite National Park in the US. These are among the lowest carbon-output trip styles, while also being in high-demand, as more and more travelers seek outdoor active adventures.
Make Carbon Offsetting a Part of Your Climate Journey
Step 8 of Intrepid’s “10-step guide to decarbonise your travel business” is to offset your carbon emissions. To be clear, offsetting should not be seen as a way to shift your responsibility and to reduce your guilt. Rather, as the guide emphasizes, you should purchase carbon offsets after “you have reduced your carbon emissions as much as possible” in order “to take responsibility for your unavoidable emissions and become carbon neutral.”
So what should we keep in mind when selecting carbon offsetting projects to support? Here are three key questions to ask when evaluating a project:
- Is this project benefiting more than just one sustainable development initiative?
- Does the project generate benefits that are independently verified and monitored?
- Is the project designed to address and work with the local social and cultural contexts?
An SDG icon, or a statement about sustainability commitments, does not necessarily stand for a genuine project. To make sure the project is trustworthy, ask the offsetting provider for verified reports of the project’s impacts.
If you want to learn more about how to choose the right offsetting project, see the Gold Standard’s guide, “Making the right choices”.
In Intrepid’s case, the company invests in offset projects at destinations where it operates tours, so that those projects are geographically relevant to the business. Susanne has also noted that investing in genuine offset projects usually has various co-benefits, such as protecting local biodiversity, supporting local employment, helping improve health and educational efforts, and providing access to cleaner energy.
Source: Climate Active - Carbon Offsets
One important - and inspiring - aspect of such co-benefits is supporting local efforts to empower girls and women. Gender equity may not be viewed as directly relevant to carbon offsetting or climate actions. However, as Project Drawdown highlights, human rights and gender equity-focused health and education efforts lead to positive ripple effects of access and agency, which are among the most important climate solutions.
“Women are not only the best solution to prevent further degradation and adapt to climate change; they have a vested interest in doing so, for their communities and families. There has never been a more imperative time to support, educate and empower women to fight the catastrophic unfolding of climate change and participate in climate actions at all levels of decision-making processes.”
- Dr. Susanne Etti, Why we need women to tackle the climate crisis (Travel Weekly)
Wherever you are on your climate journey, you have a lot of opportunities to improve your impacts. Start measuring and monitoring your emissions. Identify ways to reduce your emissions and make your operations more efficient. And invest in solutions that create positive ripple effects for people and the planet.