There’s no doubt you’ve heard the term “sustainable travel” cropping up more and more in recent years. And that’s no surprise, with over 80% of travelers believing that sustainable travel practices are important as we inch ever closer to the deadline to reach the 2030 Agenda.
The onus is on all of us to try to reduce our carbon footprints when we travel. From tourists and business travelers opting to travel by rail, to airlines shifting to the use of sustainable air fuels, to the hotel industry exploring new ways of reducing plastic waste – here are 6 of the biggest trends in sustainable travel.
1. Committing to the use of sustainable air fuels
Sustainable air fuels represent one of the most promising shifts towards more sustainable travel. Produced from sustainable feedstocks, this type of fuel is not fossil-derived, although it has similar properties to conventional jet fuels. In fact, it can reduce carbon emissions by about 80%.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office, a number of natural resources can be used to develop sustainable air fuel. That includes corn grain, oilseeds, algae, agricultural residue, and wood mill waste, among several other options. Leading airlines from around the world have already entered into forward-purchase agreements for sustainable air-fuel, including United, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Delta, and KLM. Not only that, but several airlines have already been operating flights with SAF in the fuel mix – 370,000 flights since 2016, to be exact!
According to Boeing’s CEO David Calhoun, SAF is “the only answer between now and 2050”.
2. Investing in carbon removal technology
Also known as negative emissions technology or direct air capture technology, this is a method that instantly, physically, and permanently removes carbon from the air. While often associated with carbon offsetting, which can often be hard to quantify, direct air capture is often lauded as a more concrete solution.
On a mechanical level, a Swiss company called Climeworks is pioneering a new technology that uses fans in modular machines to draw air into a collector. This, then, catches the carbon with a filter made of organic compounds. Once the filter is full, the collector is closed and heated to 100°C (212°F), releasing pure carbon dioxide (National Geographic).
There are other, more biological ways to remove carbon from the air as well. Afforestation, reforestation, bioenergy, and enhanced weathering are just a few examples of how direct air capture can help make green travel a reality sooner rather than later. In fact, Science Direct indicates that we have a global capacity to store between 5 and 30 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide!
3. Opting for more eco-friendly transport options
Governments around the world are implementing measures to help make travel more sustainable as a whole. Legislation is being passed in countries like France mandating that all short-haul domestic trips with a travel time of fewer than 2.5 hours be taken on trains instead of planes. The positive impact of such legislation is quite clear – policymakers in France claim that such a use of rail services could cut emissions by as much as 40% by 2030.
And it’s not just governments that are showing an interest in this. Travelers themselves are choosing the greenest and most environmentally friendly options when it comes to how they’re going to travel. According to our own data, train travel is gaining momentum and catching up with air travel – particularly in Europe. In fact, over 30% of all business trips across Europe are booked on trains on our platform. If all trips from London to Paris were taken on a train instead of a plane for a year, 189,120 tonnes of CO2e would be saved. You’d need a forest the size of New York to remove the equivalent amount of CO2e.
What’s more, encouraging more responsible travel practices for business travelers and tourists alike will go a long way. Things like using public transport over private taxis, or renting an electric vehicle will make a huge difference. Our recent calculations have shown that 507,900 tonnes of CO2e would be saved if all car rentals in the EU were electric for a year. The CO2e savings of such a shift would be the equivalent of all vehicle emissions in a city with a population of 450,000 for one year. That’s the size of Miami!
4. Focusing on regenerative travel
Regenerative travel is all about enabling and helping an area to grow stronger, whereas sustainable travel looks at minimizing the negative effects of travel on ecosystems, habitats, local communities, and more. Traveling in a regenerative way is all about informed decision-making. It’s about understanding how the way that you travel impacts your destination, and consciously choosing vendors that address and help repair the area in which they operate.
And no – it’s not the same as ecotourism. Think about it this way. You could be a business traveler based in New York who frequently needs to visit the London office. To be a regenerative traveler, your first step would be to arm yourself with the right information so that you limit the damage your business trip can do to the environment. You could significantly mitigate your effect on the environment by consciously choosing to fly with airlines that emit less carbon or opting to stay in hotels powered by renewable energy. You could also work with a travel company that helps you offset your carbon footprint, and make a point of purchasing or paying for locally sourced goods and services.
The same applies to leisure travel. Sustainable tourism can easily be combined with regenerative practices in a way that enables you to enjoy your travel experience and leave behind a positive impact. You could look into local non-profit organizations that can help you participate in volunteering projects with local people like national park clean-ups. Not to mention that you can plan your entire holiday with tour operators or travel agents who value sustainability and help make your trips as “green” as possible.
5. Supporting a plastic and paper-free travel industry
Hotels above all are making commitments to ditch single-use plastics for toiletries and disposable cutlery, for example. Given that the hotel industry uses 150 million tonnes of single-use plastics each year, moves like these represent an important shift towards a more eco-friendly travel industry. Easy actions can go a long way for the hospitality sector, including things like:
Eliminating the use of plastic straws, cutlery, shampoo bottles
Replacing plastic bottles with glass or reusable water bottles
Implementing mobile keyless entry to hotel rooms
Setting up plastic recycling stations across their properties
Introducing paperless invoicing at check-out
Many hotel chains have started implementing effective policies in an effort to say “no” to plastic. Hilton was one of the first-ever major hotel chains to make science-based carbon targets aligned with climate science and the Paris Climate Agreement, and approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in an effort to combat their effect on climate change. The chain is determined to cut waste by 50% by 2030 – to do so, they’re replacing all miniature amenity bottles with full-sized ones across all their properties and will be fully miniature-free by 2023. They are also using a digital key program to open guest room doors without the use of plastic keycards, reducing plastic 125 tonnes of plastic waste.
Yes, you can help make travel greener too!
No matter whether you’re traveling to Costa Rica for your family vacation, jetting off to Shanghai for that all-important business trip, or meeting your team for a retreat somewhere in the Caribbean (lucky you) – there are many ways you can be a greener traveler.
Here are just a few quick travel tips on what you can easily do to travel more sustainably:
Learn about sustainability and sustainable travel and keep yourself updated on the latest news and trends
Don’t print your travel documents
Choose airlines and hotels based on their environmental policies (or, at least, inform yourself of what the providers you choose are doing)
Take a train instead of a plane where you can
Rent more efficient vehicles like hybrid or electric cars
Be a responsible citizen of the world and don’t leave a place in a worse condition than you found it (basically, don’t litter)
Where possible, do what you can to leave a positive impact on your destination
Work with a travel management company or agent that gives you access to information on your carbon footprint and provides you with tips on how to reduce it
Participate in carbon offsetting initiatives when you travel