Traveling internationally is destined to be invigorating for the soul. With every brush of new culture and climate, our perspective is re-framed and our canvas of life altered. However, when attempting to incorporate sustainable approaches while traveling, our ability to calculate and accurately affirm our impact is impeded.
It comes as no surprise, that despite a welcomed exposure to previously concealed experiences, the inability measure our environmental impact can result in a conflict of conscience as our choices abroad may not reflect our behaviours at home.
What constitutes ‘sustainability’ is open to a wide variety of interpretations, not just in the context of cultural acceptance, but also in the appropriateness of implementation. The result can be dramatically different in terms of desired impact. As travelers, our ability to implement actions towards more sustainable causes is generally limited by time and influence.
Maintaining day to day acts of impact reduction such as refusing single use items, following correct waste practices, and respecting local culture is a great start. However, if you’re looking to deepen your experience while abroad, then rudimentary efforts may not be enough to get you off the ground.
To provide solace for your inner eco-warrior, try observing sustainable behaviours and practices from the place that you’re visiting. Take the opportunity to shake-up what you think you know about sustainability and instead, “do” like the locals to reduce your impact. The following ideas have been developed using this approach, and may help fuel your efforts to practice better sustainable travel behaviours:
If you’re based in Australia and want to travel internationally, chances are you will be flying. In addition to searching for the best price and route, try incorporating environmental initiatives into your decision making.
This can be as simple as basing your choice off the ability to elect an offset of emissions, or donation to charity as part of the price of your ticket. Purchasing Carbon Offsets is a direct way to donate to global carbon emission reduction projects. Many Australian airlines offer this option, including Jetstar, Virgin, and Qantas.
Despite 100% of funds raised by these airlines being donated to verified National Carbon Offset Stand programs, voluntary offset purchasing has not been adopted as widely as anticipated. This is partly due to the relatively ineffective way of managing emission production, so offsetting should be considered in conjunction with other energy reducing approaches to travel such as flying a direct route, or donating directly to chosen carbon reduction project.
Many organisations acknowledge the shortfall and If we’re lucky, in a few years we may be able to choose routes operating on a low-carbon alternative fuel, but for now these types of aircraft are still in trial stage.
Once transit, prepare for landing by checking out eco-programs at your destination airport. Information about program is readily available and will help you find which are performing and which are jet-lagging.
Many airports have incorporated water, and energy reduction initiatives into the operation of their terminals, such as Narita Airport, in Japan. Narita has incorporated a number of initiatives as part of it’s “Eco-Airport Vision and Master Plan 2030”. These range from greater care to conserve natural vegetation, to thermal recycling for power generation.
Gaining an understanding of what steps are being taken provides a greater appreciation of the constraints each organisation is working within, as they transition to more sustainable operations.
Integrating sustainable practices into areas of society previously unfamiliar to the concept can be likened to an exercise in clearing customs. At the customs gates, newcomers are often met with unfamiliar cultural formalities and suspicion by conservative officers. Similarly, when attempting to inspire practices of sustainability abroad, it is important to be aware of potential cultural resistance to change.
Resistance is complicated and varies significantly between culture. Tradition and ritual are so ingrained in many societies, that any behavioural change can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect to past practices. In order to overcome resistance, it is important that sustainability is introduced as a valuable addition to traditional practice. During your travels, creating time to converse with people about the value of sustainability can help stimulate creative solutions and break down barriers.
Exiting the Airport, and Embracing the Unknown
Embarking on a trip in the 21st century will inevitably incorporate technology. Entire trips can be planned, experienced, and paid for with a few taps of a smartphone, so why not further embrace it through smart, eco-conscious tourism. Utilising apps and programs that combine eco-consciousness with the spirit of local knowledge is the ultimate guide for a successful trip. To get you started check out some well established apps and sites here.
As we continue onward in our journey, we should not forget to acknowledge the call to action from the 2017 ‘United Nations World Tourism Organization’s — Year of Sustainable Tourism’. Travelers were encouraged to enable ICT capabilities and harness the powers of smart tourism. In the words of Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman of the (UNWTO), “I believe that the way forward in our journey to 2030, is smart tourism. I call on all of you to guide me and support me in this endeavor”.
Doing so will not only create an enhanced depth to your international experience, it will provide a souvenir far more valuable than anything available in a gift store.