Earth Day 2021: 6 Ways to Be a Greener Traveller Today
Let’s face it: Travelling is not exactly good for the environment. From the carbon emissions of excessive air travel (that resulted in flygskam or the flight shaming movement in 2017) to the enormous amount of resources it takes to run a hotel, the way we travelled before Covid-19 was not wholly sustainable.
A lot of the changes that need to be made are systemic and depend on major players in the travel industry. But as consumers, we also have the power to shape the way travel will look as we emerge from the pandemic. While we’re all itching to get away, now is the perfect time to stop, rethink our approach and demand better alternatives.
Sustainable travel has long been heralded as a solution but in this post-pandemic era, we need to go beyond eschewing plastic and progress to choices that truly regenerate the earth. “The biggest difference between sustainable travel and regenerative travel is that the former talks about net-zero impact whereas the latter is about creating a positive impact,” says Amanda Ho, co-founder of Regenerative Travel, a company that champions regenerative hotels and experiences.
“Regeneration is a mindset and a daily practice that a traveller should embody as their aspiring outlook on life, both at home and on the road. It is understanding that all parts are interconnected through a regenerative principle called “whole systems thinking”. We need to make daily decisions that contribute positively back to our community and play an active role in being part of that change,” stresses Ho.
This fully aligns with Earth Day 2021’s theme of “Restore Our Earth”. So, before you embark on your revenge travel trip, why don’t you mull over these easy ways to make a positive impact:
Travel less and with meaning
We all have the same trick—look at the public holidays six months before and plot out the long weekends to maximise. But think: do you really need to go on weekend city breaks every time there’s a public holiday that falls on a Friday?
Travel won’t be the hassle-free experience as it was before, which urges us to be more selective on the type of travel we embark on. Even hardcore jetsetters are pledging to travel less frequently, especially with fewer business trips to go around and the option to work-from-anywhere.
Stay just a little bit longer
If you’re taking fewer trips, it makes sense to extend them. Travel experts predict that post-pandemic travel will involve longer stays, a slower pace, bigger groups (in Asia, mostly multigenerational), and a greater demand for self-catering accommodation.
One aspect of regenerative travel is to truly immerse yourself in a destination instead of just passing by. “You can connect deeply to the place through the companies, individuals, and businesses you support and the stories you learn as a result of those experiences. Seek to learn from locals and engage in a way where they develop a relationship with the destination,” shares Ho. A month in Bali for a family trip and a workcation is infinitely better than a pithy three-day trip.
Go for a plant-based meal when you can
What you eat has a huge impact on your health and the environment. There’s plenty of literature proving that lessening our meat consumption even a few days a week has a significant impact on the earth. Whether you’ve watched Seapiracy on Netflix or read any of Michael Pollan's book (hint: he has a new one, This Is Your Mind on Plants, on sale in July), going plant-based is a great step.
Ovolo, a forward-thinking boutique hotel, is serious about supporting the plant-based movement. In October 2020, they launched ‘Year of the Veg’ and became the first hotel group that went completely plant-based across its F&B outlets in all their hotels worldwide.
“Dining out is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We want to be conscious about what we’re consuming and practice sustainability as much as we can because we believe this can have an enormous impact on the environment and humanity at large. To that end, we’re evolving our food offerings so that our guests can continue enjoying great dining experiences in a more sustainable manner,” commented the founder of Ovolo Hotels, Girish Jhunjhnuwala.
Carefully consider how you get there
When we travel, the bulk of our carbon footprint has to do with flying. If there are alternative ways to get to your destination, then hike, cycle, drive, or take a train there—that could even be the travel experience in itself. Recently, lawmakers in France voted in favour of banning short-haul domestic flights to places that can be reached by train in 2.5 hours, a move that could be replicated in other countries.
Consider supporting airlines that are continuously innovating to find eco-friendly ways of operating. Japan Airlines is a good example. In February 2021, it successfully launched its first commercial flight powered by fuel derived from used clothes—a Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) made fully in Japan. They’ve been piloting this initiative for over a decade, and it’s amazing to see it bear fruit.
Choose hotels and experiences that are seriously green
Greenwashing is common in all industries, so “you have to be careful when words like ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’ are used without much more detail of what exactly they are doing. The more transparent they are, the more you can trust that they are actually doing the work,” shares Ho.
The difficulty in discerning which hospitality players are serious about their environmental commitment is being addressed by large brands and independent purveyors alike. The Preferred Group have recently launched Beyond Green, “a purpose-driven hospitality brand featuring a global portfolio of 27 hotels, resorts, and lodges that exemplify sustainability in action” featuring The Brando in Tahiti to andBeyond's portfolio of lodges spanning Africa and South America.
Homegrown brand Banyan Tree also makes it easier to do good. They’ve launched an Earth Day offer available at 39 properties, and a portion of each night’s purchase or stay during the sales period “will be donated to EarthDay.org and its reforestation programme, The Canopy Project—where every US$2 will see one tree being planted in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.”
Scrutinise how each company supports our planet
A common misconception is that sustainability and regeneration is all about the environment, but it has to do with the entire ecosystem. Just a quick glance at Regenerative Resorts shows that they spotlight hotels with solid green credentials as well as those that are embedded in the community like Fogo Island Inn.
Safari brands also tend to embrace a holistic approach. In fact, most of the conservation efforts are directly funded by travellers themselves. This model may be in peril at the moment but speaks to the way we should approach travelling in general—as a force for good.