Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries the world over and although it offers opportunities for greater understanding of the environment and enhancing people’s lives, it can equally have significant environmentally disastrous impacts.
Sustainable tourism (i.e. tourism that limits or avoids negative impacts on the environment) is the key to managing tourism and ensuring it can be enjoyed without the guilt of knowing you’re damaging the planet so future generations won’t be able to enjoy it as we have. It makes sense to everyone – if you can ensure there’s a planet to travel in the future, businesses can plan a long term future and we can all do our bit to make sure these fantastic places we all want to visit survive into the future.
There are lots of things we can do as travellers to reduce our impacts on the environment - it only through our demand that we can influence the availability of "green" alternatives. These can be as simple as avoiding air travel, buying locally produced foods and products or supporting the conservation of our natural habitats and species. All these things add up to helping reduce transport miles and pollution and help ensure that the habitats and wildlife that provide us with the spectacular scenery we see on our travels continues to survive and enhance our lives.
Tourism is ever increasing as people’s quality of life increases and more are able to afford to travel. The impacts of people travelling all over the world have significant impacts on our environmental resources such as air quality, water availability and wildlife species and habitats. These resources are not inexhaustible and careful use of these is essential if we want to ensure our planet can continue to provide the functions that we rely on for our survival.
We depend on the functioning of the water cycle for our water; we need to ensure sufficient air of good quality is produced for us to breathe and to grow the food we require. Habitats play a crucial role in the functioning of these cycles and when functioning effectively they prevent potential disasters such as flooding as it is absorbed into floodplains and bogs, or landslides that can occur when land is deforested for agriculture. It is only when man has interfered with these naturally occurring processes that we find we have problems.
Britain has been slower on the uptake in promoting the need for individuals and businesses to lead eco-friendly or “green” lives. Scientists and environmentalists having been trying to raise both political and public awareness of the impacts of our actions on the planet for years; but it is only now after the increase in flooding incidents and changes in climate that it has shifted up the political ladder. Basically if we go on using natural processes and wasting them as we have done since the nineteenth century, we are likely to alter the climate to such a degree that weather and the functioning of natural processes will change, causing severe problems for survival.
In Britain eco-friendly or “green” tourism is now becoming more commonplace. A proportion of individual travellers and businesses have taken their own choices and successfully incorporated sustainable tourism into their travel and businesses for a long time, but it is only now that both political and public awareness has increased that the mainstream businesses are jumping on the bandwagon and promoting their green credentials. It is now much easier to find greener travel choices and businesses so that you can incorporate these into your holiday and have an eco-friendly, guilt-free holiday.
Having said that some apparently green options can be misleading. Wind turbine fields can have impacts on wildlife such as damaging blanket bogs on moors or increasing the risk of bird and bat collisions with the blades. Organic food that has been shipped in from foreign countries effectively makes the organic food non-environmentally-friendly due to the pollution and energy used in transporting the foodstuffs to this country. Spending time out in the countryside is a wonderful tonic but excessive trampling on some habitats like grasslands and heathlands can actually damage it. Footpaths are often laid or marked, even up mountains, to limit the amount of erosion caused by trampling – so these are good reasons to stick to marked paths. Discarded litter in the countryside can be fatal for birds and animals as well as marring the landscape – so take your litter back with you and recycle anything you can. Recycling bins are more frequently popping up at visitor centres and visitor car parks so there’s no excuse.
There are a lot of initiatives that help you calculate your personal carbon footprint (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/). This is essentially a measure of what resources you are using to live. The higher the it is the more resources you are using. The calculators often give you a target of what a sustainable personal carbon footprint should be so you can compare how you're doing! These are useful for helping you understand how environmentally friendly your current way of life is (or not!) and identifies what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint or offset it with the choices you make in everyday life. However, beware of initiatives where you can buy points to offset your carbon footprint. This is really just an easy get-out rather than encouraging you to take responsibility for your choices that could help you lead lives nearer the carbon neutral mark.
Green tourism accreditation schemes such as The Green Tourism Business Scheme are widely promoted. It is the largest accreditation scheme for businesses that meet certain eco-friendly criteria. The scheme started out in Scotland (http://www.greentourism.org.uk/) where tourism is largely based on its natural environment – all those stunning Scottish landscapes are down to nature and much of Scotland’s attraction is the wilderness and apparent lack of human intervention so it makes economic sense to use it wisely.
The Green Tourism Business Scheme has now has widely been adopted across the UK and is already operating in Scotland, North West England, Yorkshire, West Midlands, South West England, London and South East England. Businesses apply for grading and are assessed using a list of comprehensive criteria covering all aspects of sustainable working including Energy and Water efficiency, Natural and Cultural Heritage, Environmental purchasing and Transport amongst others. Businesses are graded Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on their level of “green” performance.
There are a range of businesses included in the scheme including hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, self catering accommodation, hostels, visitor attractions, tourist information centres, restaurants, cafes and shops. You can search the Green Tourism Business Scheme website (http://www.green-business.co.uk/) and Scotland’s Sustainable Tourism Unit (http://www.greentourism.org.uk/visitors.html) for businesses having been awarded Green Tourism accreditation in the different regions of the country. There is now a growing sector of the public who will make holiday choices based on the green credentials of a business so it makes good business sense to gain this accreditation and often the requirements to fulfil the criteria are not overly taxing.
Other than choosing tourism businesses that display eco-friendly accreditation, there is lot that the individual traveller can do to make tourism green. Everything you do, travelling and during your stay, impacts on the local environment – use of heat, lighting, water, food, transport and places you visit. You will have long seen the notes in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation that asks you not to get your towels washed every time the room is made up during your stay in order to conserve water. This is an example of one way that individuals can help tourism businesses cut down on the resources used unnecessarily. Here are few more choices you can make:
Choose accommodation that: Supports local businesses by using local produce (encouraging less travel time of goods, less fuel/energy used); Uses organic produce (supports environmentally friendly farming that has wildlife and health benefits); Is near public transport (trains, buses, metro) so you don’t need to use cars and increase pollution - this may also have some cost benefits to you; Only ask for towels and linen to be cleaned when absolutely necessary – not every day as has been the norm (this uses less energy and decreases pollution into rivers).
When you're out and about during your holiday consider: Buying organic and/or locally produced goods and food/drink, use public transport wherever possible to travel to visitor attractions (rail and bus companies have some useful online travel planning aids). If using hire cars, choose the environmentally friendly options offered by some companies, e.g.: Hertz. Get on your bike – there are lots of activity holidays that can be green. How about walking or biking your way round? There are lots of long distance routes where you can find holiday accommodation along the way. There is often luggage transport options so you can send your luggage on ahead while you enjoy the countryside. Switch off lights and appliances when not in use – especially don’t leave TVs on stand by as they often are in hotel/B&B rooms. Air travel is the most polluting -don’t use air travel or minimise air journeys by using other options, e.g.: ferries, rail. Carbon emissions are at their worst during take-off and landing so if you are flying minimising stopovers can make a difference. Recycle items such as plastic, cans, glass – there are usually recycling facilities available at supermarkets and in most towns and villages – collect your rubbish along the way and recycle when finished with. Respect wildlife and semi-natural habitats: don’t go off paths and trample vegetation (trampling heather fragments it quickly), don't pick wild flowers – not only is it illegal but it reduces the available wild flowers left that can set seed for next year’s flowers, or even contribute to organisations who actively manage nature reserves by getting involved in volunteer work days, leaving donations or buying books and products on sale that help support their work. The more that you as the customer demand in terms of green businesses and options, the more businesses will respond. So what you think might just be a minor choice can really add up to making a difference.