Ways to reduce the environmental footprint of travel

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Editor’s note: This guest post aims to increase awareness of the environmental footprint of travel, so that we may make more sustainble and eco-friendly decisions.

A confession is in order first – I don’t follow some of the sustainability tips outlined in the article myself. But like the author says, “Being a conscientious traveller is no longer a choice today.” And even if we try and take a few steps to travel more responsibly and keep attempting to do more, that’s an effort in the right direction.


eco-tourism
Fragile ecosystems need to be protected.

Travel is an amazing way to expand one’s horizons and to see some of the greatest natural wonders on our beautiful planet. Travel, unfortunately, can also have a massive ecological footprint that is slowly destroying the very things we want to see.

Flying halfway across the world to see the Great Barrier Reef contributes to the bleaching of the Reef due to carbon emissions. Being a responsible traveller is no longer a choice today. No, I am not asking you to stop traveling. But there are ways to travel more responsibly and sustainably.

3 Easy-to-Implement Sustainability Tips on your Travels

Reuse bottles

Personally, one of the biggest sources of waste when I travel are plastic bottles. In most European countries, tap water is perfectly drinkable. Many places also have public taps. Carry a sturdy, reusable bottle and you’re good to go.

plastic-waste
Plastic waste has ruined mountains, beaches and cities.

When travelling within India or similar countries, buying bottled water is a necessity as municipal supply is often not fit for human consumption. In fact, this plastic problem is currently destroying Indian hill stations.

But going plastic free is possible! If you travel regularly, do invest in a Steripen, which is a pocket-sized UV purifier. You can also buy bottle purifiers or family-sized portable purifiers, depending on your needs.

reusable-bottles
It is easy to use reusable bottles.

If these options are too expensive, ask your hotel to give you filtered water instead of bottled water. In my experience, most Indian hotels comply. If these options are unavailable or if you are travelling to a place with heavy metal contamination, buy large canisters of water rather than those tiny bottles. Many places also sell reusable cannisters.

Eat local

Local cuisine made with local produce is not only guaranteed to be more delicious, it also has a much smaller carbon footprint! The same goes for the local brew over a mass-marketed packaged beverage.

the-market-eat-local
Eating local reduces carbon footprint.

Select your souvenirs with care

Instead of chinese-made plastic magnets, buy handmade products at local artisan-supported souvenir stores. They tend to be a little more expensive but they’re worth it. Remember to slip a reusable cloth bag in your day bag for your purchases!

fenghuang-local-souvenirs
Buy local artisanal products.

5 Sustainability Tips while planning your travel

Your travel choices can have a massive impact on the environment. Make wise choices while planning your travel.

Eco-research before you travel

Everyone’s used to looking up famous landmarks or local delicacies before they travel. You should also make it a habit to look up ecological warnings before you travel. Whether it is the impact of shark cage diving or the impact of your sunscreen on coral reefs, such information is readily available. Do a bit of research and make yourself a better traveller.

Stay at eco-labelled hotels

Another great way of reducing your energy and waste footprints is to consider staying at an eco-labelled hotel. Many countries have their own eco-label, or globally recognized certifications like Green Key, Global Sustainable Tourism Council and LEED – so don’t just rely on the hotel’s claim! Trip Advisor’s green hotel tool is helpful for research.

If you can’t find one within your budget, consider home-stays or co-op run lodges— not only are they more sustainable, but your money supports the local community.

Choose Greener Cruise Liners

Cruises can be amazing— all your needs taken care of in one place, variety of diversions, plus entertainment for the kids. What could possibly be wrong?

cruise-ship
Choose your cruise wisely.

Unfortunately, cruises are also a dirty industry. Many dump sewage and garbage directly in the ocean and are big-time fossil fuel guzzlers. Also, cities like Venice and Dubrovnik’s historical splendors are being slowly but surely degraded by the mass influx of tourists coming from cruise liners.

If you are inclined towards a cruise vacation, do some research and choose a Greener Cruise.

Impact of flying

Flights have an enormous carbon footprint. A single Delhi – Bangalore flight alone is about 620 kgs of CO2 per person so you can imagine how much bigger the impact of an intercontinental flight is (the annual carbon budget for each person on earth is only 2300 kgs). So think twice about whether you really need to fly to that location: if it’s for work, can you Skype instead? If it’s for leisure, can you visit a place closer to home?

aircraft
Think before air travel.

Trains, buses or cars are usually greener options than flying. Here’s a great tool from WWF to help eco-plan your trip. You could also consider offsetting your carbon footprint. (Caution: carbon offsets are considered a temporary, imperfect solution).

Limit travel to fragile ecosystems

Most of us dream of travel to far-flung corners of the world — to see penguins in Antarctica or scale the Everest. The extreme conditions, their pristine beauty and relative difficulty getting there are what make these places so attractive as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ destination.

In Antarctica, even a short visit can irreparably damage the environment. Mount Everest is currently strewn with junk from previous travellers. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not travel to such fragile places.


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This is a guest post by Lekha Sridhar. Lekha is a climate policy researcher and lawyer, currently working as a consultant with UN Environment on implementation of the Montreal Protocol. Follow her on Twitter.


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