To celebrate World Environment Day, we’re reflecting on how we can be more responsible travellers when borders open up and people start exploring again.
But first, a bit of background. World Environment Day is an annual celebration, first introduced by the United Nations in 1974. The aim is to raise awareness and inspire action for the protection of our environment. It stretches far beyond keeping our city parks clean and saving the whales. It tackles all kinds of environmental concerns including marine pollution, human overpopulation, global warming, sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
In recent years, social media has made it far easier to raise awareness. Enter the humble #WorldEnvironmentDay hashtag. Hopefully you’ll be seeing it a lot this coming Friday.
While the detrimental impact of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be downplayed, one positive to come out of it is that it’s given the environment a little more breathing room. Fewer planes in the air, fewer cars on the road, fewer emissions being pumped into the atmosphere. In fact, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science has reported a significant improvement in air quality in cities around the UK and Ireland. A similar story is playing out in India, where residents of northern Punjab are seeing the Himalayas for the first time due to increased visibility.
The rapid reduction in pollution caused by humans is astounding but will it last? That is a question for the experts. But there are ways we can help maintain the positive impact on the environment. When we go back to work, school and our regular lives, and particularly when we start to travel again, these are a few things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.
Offset your carbon emissions
Many transport companies now give you the option to offset your journey. You can do this for bus, plane and train tickets. It’s usually only a few dollars. Some pessimists might argue that it's a band-aid fix that only serves to put your conscience at ease. Carbon offsetting doesn’t change the fact that the emissions were made in the first place, but it does take that money and re-invest it in projects that benefit the environment. It’s not always about planting trees. Your offset fee might go towards renewable energy construction or the rehabilitation of polluted or contaminated land.
Reduce your consumption of single-use items
It’s extremely difficult to cut out all single-use items from your life (though, it is possible! Search the “zero waste” hashtag on Instagram for inspiration). It’s even harder when we’re travelling. Every time we grab food to go, tuck into our in-flight meal, or buy a transport card we know we’ll only use for a few days, we contribute to the 6-million tons of single-use plastic that gets tossed out every year. Some of this is unavoidable, but the best way to make a difference is to identify easy swaps you can make to reduce your waste output.
Everyone should be using a reusable coffee cup by now, and it should be a crime not to be using a refillable drink bottle. You can also throw some cutlery in your bag so you can say a self-righteous “no thank you” when the person at the takeaway shop asks if you need a plastic fork. Metal straws are all the rage now too.
Avoid buying “travel size” toiletries and instead, buy a few refillable bottles and use the products you’ve got at home. And when it comes to buying and printing tickets, see if there’s a mobile ticket option.
Take local and public transport
Those who have enjoyed (or endured) an overnight journey in substitute of a flight can pat themselves on the back. While there’s a colossal difference between the luxurious Orient Express and the 12-hour slog from Cappadocia to Istanbul, both offer their passengers a far less fossil-fuel thirsty way to travel.
Even on short term journeys, taking the metro or tube rather than a taxi or driving can make a huge difference. More often than not, it’s a lot cheaper too. It also brings you closer to local life. Jumping in a tuk tuk or squeezing onto a minibus (which is actually more like a cattle truck) isn’t the most glamorous way to get around, but it’s a travel experience you’ll likely never forget.
Give housekeeping a few days off
How often do you change your sheets at home, really? It’s definitely not everyday. I’d be willing to wager it’s not every week either. Having your room made spick and span and your bed made with crisp white bed sheets each day is one of those luxuries you only get on holidays, but consider whether it’s worth the gallons upon gallons of water and massive amounts of energy it takes to clean and dry them en mass.
The same goes for towels, to an extent. Make sure you hang them up to dry and re-use them for a few days before swapping them over. Most hotel rooms will have a note or something to hang on the door to let housekeeping know you’d like to re-use your linen.
Look into purchasing carbon credits
There are hundreds of companies and not-for-profits offering these services to environmentally-conscious individuals. Purchasing carbon credits is a way to “balance out” the carbon emission we produce on a daily basis. You begin by calculating (or estimating) your emission output and pay a fee according to that output that funds climate positive activities.
It’s not just individuals who can take this step. The bulk purchasing of carbon credits is being adopted by companies all around the world, from huge multi-nationals to small businesses who want to do right by the environment.
There are even subscription services for this. Offset Earth is a great example. It’s basically a membership to the “we care about the environment club”. You select a plan that best suits your carbon activity. If you travel a lot for work or leisure, you can opt for the higher package. Or if you only take a quick getaway here and there, £1.25 a week is enough for you to become climate positive.