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What is sustainable travel? Here's everything you need to know.

1 Feb 2022 5 MIN READ

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Home>Resources>Blog>What is sustainable travel? Here's everything you need to know.
What is sustainable travel? Here's everything you need to know.

From Greta Thunberg sailing to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York on a racing yacht, to hotels ditching single-use plastics, to you choosing to take the Eurostar between London and Paris—sustainable travel is all around. 

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about sustainability in the travel industry. Questions like what does it mean to travel sustainably? or how can I reduce my company's carbon footprint on business travel? have been on people's minds as the realities of climate change start to sink in for us all. The coronavirus pandemic brought on a sort of collective consciousness on the importance of sustainability as a guardian to preserve our way of life and our planet. Travel, whether that's for business or pleasure, has a key role to play in mitigating the environmental impact we have on our world.

Back to basics: sustainable travel

So, what actually is sustainable travel? According to the UNWTO, it's:

Travel that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.

UNWTO

Sure, it might be a bit of a mouthful. But, in essence, it's all about traveling in a way that minimizes our impact on the planet and everything living on it. That can be anything from engaging with carbon offsets to using public transport whenever you can to drinking from reusable water bottles throughout the duration of your trip. 

What does that mean in practical terms?

Whether we're talking about business travel or sustainable tourism, the practical applications of the principles of sustainable travel are the same. The bottom line is to do what you can to reduce the negative impacts of any trip on the environment, society, and economy as you travel. 

Traveling & the environment

woman on train

What do we mean when we talk about sustainable travel in relation to the environment? Well, can you picture those giant cruise ships pulling up into Dubrovnik with tens of thousands of Games of Thrones fans pouring out all over the city, chips bags and candy wrappers on the floor, and literally tons of sewage being spilled into the bay? It's not that. 

The way we travel and our travel experiences have a huge impact on our ecosystem. According to a recent study, travel accounts for around 5% of global warming as a result of the C02 emissions that come from air travel, among other things. But it's not just about emissions—traveling can also lead to overuse of water, degradation of land, improper waste disposal, greenhouse gas emissions, and more. 

So, what are some of the ways travel can be made more responsible from an environmental standpoint?

  • By replacing short journeys with trains instead of planes to reduce carbon emissions (in fact, our data shows that 1kg of C02 emitted by a train journey is equivalent to 22kg of C02 emitted by a flight journey). That's actually become a legal requirement in countries like France recently, with the UK and Germany soon to follow suit. 
  • Through carbon offsetting initiatives that have a positive impact on the environment and local communities. We're proud of our carbon offsetting projects at TravelPerk—check them out here!
  • With travel industry players making decisive moves in the right direction. RyanAir, for example, has pledged to dispose of all single-use plastics in the next 5 years. InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott International are completely phasing out single-use plastic toiletries bottles. 
  • With airlines looking for alternate sources of energy. Qantas, for example, has conducted pan-Pacific flights using a 10% biofuel blend as an alternative to the fossil fuels that are currently commonplace. 

Social & economic dimension of sustainable travel

cool street in romania

With so much focus on responsible travel for the environment, the social and economic aspects of this can get overlooked. But the travel and tourism industry is one of the few that has a direct impact on virtually all of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The social dimension of the travel industry's sustainable responsibility focuses on supporting local culture, cultural heritage, and local economies by making sure that the money spent on travel in a certain country remains within its borders. It's also about protecting local people and local businesses, celebrating culture, and promoting good health and wellbeing. 

Simple changes to the way we travel can go a long way in this area. Encouraging travelers to eat at locally-owned restaurants is a great way to ensure that money stays in the local community. Working with travel management platforms, tour operators, or other travel providers that contribute to social causes can also make a huge difference. 

There's still a long way to go towards making travel truly sustainable, however strides are being made in the right direction. From sustainable air fuels to laws mandating all short-haul domestic trips be taken on the train, here are a few of the top trends:

Wrapping up

There's no denying that global travel has huge repercussions on our planet, society, and economy. It's a sector that can drive significant change by touching on most of the Sustainable Development Goals—and it isn't difficult to introduce sustainable practices into the way we travel for business or pleasure. 

For more specific travel tips on how to make business travel greener, check out our article here.

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