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The Future of Tourism 2 – Going Greener


-Image by Steve Buissinne per Pixabay

The Challenge

Many individuals, environmental groups and others have long been aware of the impact which tourism is having on the environment. In consequence, far -sighted tourist operators have begun to improve their practices.

 By way of example, here are some of the things which Norwegian Shipping company Hurtigruten (Viking) which conducts cruises and tours in sensitive places such as the Svarlberg Peninsula and the Arctic,  has been doing to ensure that it will remain in business in future. Recognising that shipping in general and cruise ships in particular, are responsible for a large share of global emissions as well as other environmental damage such as pollution, it has been working hard to minimise its impact and be emission free by 2050. According to its annual Sustainability Report:

·         It has not used the heavy bunker fuels which contribute disproportionately to emissions, since 2009.

·         It uses shore power from renewable sources whenever it is in port.

·         Starting in 2016 it has been progressively converting its fleet to battery hybrid powered electric operation. It uses an electric bus to carry its passengers onshore and silent, emission -free battery powered snowmobiles for onshore excursions. This avoids disturbance of wildlife. It is also commissioning a silent, hybrid sightseeing vessels for the same reason.

·         It has banned single use plastic and complies with global standards regarding no dumping of garbage from ships

·         It has reduced food waste and  produces its own water through on board salinisation and purification. It also has a state -of -the art Waste Water treatment plant

·         It contributes to scientific research and educates its tour guests about nature, culture  and the environment and making conscious choices to protecting them. They also monitor seabird and penguin populations and report Cloud Observations and Algal Blooms

·         Its latest ships have laser leak detection equipment which they use to report all oil pollution detected from land or sea,to the relevant authorities.

·         Its seven coastal vessels provide emission – free transport 600,000 tonnes of goods many thousands of kilometres which would otherwise be going over land by truck

·         It collaborates with others with regard to making its operations greener and to protect Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Read also how Edition Hotels are leading the charge on going plastic free - no more plastic water bottles, no plastic shampoo bottles, plastic straws, keycards, toothbrushes or plastic min bar stock and what a difference that will make.  To date it has eliminated 397,000 plastic cups and 9,000 plastic bottles.

There are even Carbon Zero hotels which seek to reduce their emissions by using natural materials or low carbon materials in their construction or operation. Cement and steel for example, are very Carbon intensive, whereas timber, bamboo or recycled materials are much less so. As far as reducing operating operational emissions go, this can be done by using renewable energy or adding energy -saving measures such as LED lighting or sensors to control light and heat. The third way is by offsetting which means by funding projects which reduce emissions elsewhere such as carbon capture e.g. planting trees, or renewable energy projects. To find out why it's so essential for hotels to reduce their impact, read more here.

Unfortunately, until recently there has been little consistency in this process. There has been a scattergun approach without uniform standards and no way to compare or measure overall effectiveness, particularly in the case of off -sets. 

Pathways to Change

In 2021 at the COP 26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, 700 delegates signed The Glasgow Declaration pledging to reduce their climate impact by 50% by 2050.

A collaboration between UN agencies and environmental organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance, led to the establishment of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) – a non – profit organisation based in the USA to establish some common standards and definitions, to provide training and to vet accreditation providers within countries. 

It defines Sustainable Tourism as follows:

Sustainable Tourism refers to sustainable practices in and by the tourism industry. It is an aspiration to acknowledge all impacts of tourism, both positive and negative. It aims to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the positive ones.” It also mentions the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and the importance of finding a suitable balance.

The overall goals for sustainability have been set by the UN and cover four broad areas.

1.       Sustainable Management

2.       Socioeconomic impacts

3.       Cultural Impacts

4.       Environmental impacts including consumption of resources, managing pollution, conservation, protection of biodiversity and landscapes.)


There are two main sets of criteria. One is for Tourist Operators and Accommodation Providers. The other is for Destinations and is primarily intended for policy -makers and destination managers. 

The Program for Tourist Operators

The program requires Accommodation Providers and Tourist Operators to report on many aspects of their business such as where they are getting their water and electricity, how they are managing their waste, whether they offer vegan dishes and what they are doing to protect the environment, as well as making sure that their local community benefits as well. Food and other services must be purchased locally where possible and from sustainable sources. It includes providing a showcase for local culture and artwork and receiving feedback from visitors. You can see the full requirements here

The Program for Destinations 

Globally some 200 cities have now been recognised by the GSTC. You can see the list of this year’s winners here and also why they were selected. Though  Gothenburg was the overall winner, several other Scandinavian cities were also in the top ten, along with Ireland, France, Scotland and cities such as Singapore and Goyang (South Korea). 

Eco – Tourism

Eco– Tourism is a Subsection within the Sustainable Travel category and is primarily about tourism activities which occur in a natural environment. 

While the list for meeting Eco – accreditation is similar to that for other operators that is -  it includes protecting the natural environment, education, involving the local community and promoting local culture, it is even more stringent. In Australia, Eco Tourism is the accrediting agency. A non -profit, its list of requirements also includes the following:

1.       There must be interpretation and education about natural and cultural values
2       There must be a contribution to conservation, education and combating Climate Change
3.       The business must involve local communities in supply of resources and provision of employment
4.       Cultural Respect and Sensitivity. This requires knowledge of Traditional Ownership and sites of cultural significance, Consultation and Training and Permission  deliver and determine accuracy of information
5.       Promotion of Indigenous goods, services, with emphasis on authenticity and, respect to copyright, patent and intellectual property rights
6.       Suppliers must also work towards emission reduction, collaboration and making a positive contribution to their local community
7.       Structures must be environmentally sensitive and aesthetic


 There is initial verification and inspection every three years and operators must show continuous improvement. Those who become accredited receive a badge which they may display on advertising and listings. There is also city section. 

How do we find Sustainable Travel?

In short, with difficulty. So far, very few tourist enterprises seem to have this type of accreditation. Of the mainstream booking agencies e.g. TripAdvisor, Viator etc. only seems to make any reference to sustainability at all. Booking's Leaf rating system conveys at glance what level of "greeness" could be expected and its 34 point checklist covers much of the same ground as the GSTC.

It’s a great pity that more of the international booking agencies aren’t doing this as they could very quickly drive the sustainability process forward. Tourist enterprises should be boasting about their efforts to be more sustainable in the same way as they now boast about having WIFI or Tea and Coffee – Making Facilities. How hard would it be to add another box – “Green Initiatives”  which opens in the same way that Amenities does and displays what they are doing to reduce their impact?

 Others continue to use various other Accreditation Schemes which are already in place. The Viator Badge of Excellence for example, is all about the visitor experience. Similarly, Australia and Tasmania use a Quality Tourism Program which is run by the Tourist Industry Council. Established over 20 years ago, it too is more concerned about visitor impressions than the environmental impact of a facility or service. While the logo does appear on a number of listings and this agency also has subsections which include  Sustainability and an Eco -Star Program, they are not yet a common feature.

Like the GSTC it also has annual Top Town Awards for towns of varying size, though again, these are based on amenities on offer, rather than on environmental performance. 

Perhaps I shouldn't too judge too harshly. It is early days in the Sustainability Project and in addition to making changes, there's a fee involved in the accreditation process and it takes quite a long time to get it.  

Lack of Promotion

I noticed too, while in New Zealand, that many Hostels were doing the right thing – few still had single use plastic, nearly all had recycling facilities and compost bins etc,  (some in Chile too), but this fact wasn't well advertised. Hostels particularly should advertise such things more as many young people travel and are often already very concerned about the environment. They could subsequently play a powerful role in engaging their peers and families to do likewise.

For tourist operators it is an opportunity to differentiate their product, especially when other factors such as cost and location are similar. Environmentally conscious travellers also tend to stay longer and spend more and surveys show that they are also willing to suffer a little inconvenience in the interests of reducing their impact.

 Aiming for sustainable tourism is a big plus for host communities too. The emphasis on supporting local suppliers and services means that more tourist dollars stay within the community, whereas at present, only as little as 5%- 10% stays in places where it is spent. 

 How Travellers Can Help

1.       Making better choices. Reward the operators who are trying hard. Book with accredited agencies which have shown Green Credentials, or choose from some of those below

2.       Verifying that those who claim to be Green are in fact doing what they say they are doing. Many schemes rely on self – reporting

3.       Gently asking those which aren’t,  what they are doing about Sustainability. Ask for instance if they are considering adding water saving toilets or showers or alternatives to single use plastics and bottled water. Be kind. Some places simply aren’t in a position to do more than they are doing, but by asking you are moving sustainability forward. Give feedback and especially positive feedback about any efforts made

4.       Stay with small family run places, rather than the big chains. Eat local. Buy local. Contribute if you can

 5.     Set a good example. Use little. Don’t be extravagant with water or other resources or insist on daily cleaning and towel changes. You might think that the latter couldn't possibly make a difference, yet as reported in Lonely Planet the ACCOR Hotel group has planted 17,000 trees on local farms with the money saved by guests doing this. Turn off lights you aren’t using.

Beware of Greenwash.  Many places claim to be Eco – friendly for example, because they happen to involve nature, but aren’t necessarily so. 


As far as Eco Tourism goes, there are several well - established agencies such as Contiki or Intrepid which do small group Tours as sustainably as possible. Lonely Planet offers some useful suggestions for more Sustainable Travel on its website such as great train journeys and has its own list of environmentally -friendly cities and has a lot of tips on travelling more sustainably.  For Australia Eco - Tourism publishes a Green Travel Guide

The following list of Greener Tourism organisations has been generated by Bing Chat. I have no affiliation nor personal  experience with them. Nor do I receive any compensation  - monetary or otherwise.

  1. Responsible Travel: This company has been leading the way in eco-friendly holidays since 2001. They offer a wide range of trips that are designed to have a positive impact on local communities and the environment.
  2. AndBeyond: This luxury sustainable safari tour operator is committed to conservation and community development. They offer tours in Africa, Asia, and South America.
  3. Intrepid Travel: This company offers small group tours that are designed to have a positive impact on local communities and the environment. They have a range of initiatives in place to ensure their trips are sustainable.
  4. Seacology: This non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving island ecosystems and cultures around the world. They work with local communities to develop conservation programs that benefit both people and nature.
  5. Undiscovered Mountains: This company offers adventure holidays in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Canada. They are committed to responsible tourism and have a range of initiatives in place to ensure their trips are sustainable.
  6. G Adventures: This company offers small group tours that are designed to have a positive impact on local communities and the environment. They have a range of initiatives in place to ensure their trips are sustainable.

 Next time we'll look at what is being done about some of the other less desirable aspects of tourism. I'll try to keep this fairly short as there's something more upbeat and exciting I want to tell you about. I don't think any of us want to think about possible restrictions on our freedom to travel, but it needn't be that way.