“It’s just one straw,” said 7.8 billion people.
The pandemic has reinforced the reality that travel is a privilege, not a right, and it is more critical than ever to do so sustainably. Every choice we make as travellers must be made consciously to minimize our impact on the environment.
Here are five tips for sustainable and eco-friendly travel—whether you’re exploring locally or planning future international adventures.
1. Opt for Green Transportation
During the pandemic, Canadians have discovered that we don’t have to go far to find stunning natural landscapes. When it’s safe to do so, we can head south of the border by an eco-friendly vehicle or train. Choose transportation with minimal environmental impact such as walking, biking or taking public transport. The average passenger vehicle emits up to nine tonnes of CO2 each year. To offset that carbon, you’ll need to plant about 50 trees every year.
While we tend to associate travelling with getting on an airplane, flying isn’t the greenest option. Aviation produces two to three per cent of global carbon emissions, prompting many climate activists to advocate for going flight-free.
If you want to give up flying for good, don’t fret—get creative! There are other ways to cross the pond; take it from 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-carbon-emissions sailboat and hasn’t flown in 12 years!
2. Book with Sustainable Companies
Look for accommodation or tour companies with sustainable practices including using local guides, donating to the environment and community or implementing eco-friendly features such as motion-sensor lighting and automatic/timed taps and showers.
If sustainability is important to a company, this value will likely be clear in the brand messaging. For example, JetBlue Airways is working toward carbon-neutral flying by purchasing offsets, using sustainable aviation fuel and investing in NextGen technologies. Hostelling International Canada employs sustainable features at some locations: Banff’s Rampart Creek has off-grid fridges, Athabasca Falls in Jasper has solar-panel electricity and Bonavista in Newfoundland and Labrador has wind turbines.
3. Pack Responsibly
Avoid packing products that produce unnecessary waste, such as single-use or plastic packaging, and items that could harm the environment, such as microbeads and aerosols.
In addition to reusable and recycled items, consider bringing shampoo bars from companies like Lush, reef-friendly sunscreen such as Thinksport, sustainable laundry detergent like Tru Earth and lightweight containers such as bento boxes so you can take leftovers or take-out without wasting a disposable box or bag.
If you’re flying, pack as light as possible. Travelling lighter will remove excess weight from the airplane, which will require less fuel, emitting less CO2 into the atmosphere. Having lighter luggage will also make you more inclined to take public transport instead of renting a private vehicle.
4. Support Local
Skip the tacky tourist shops and mass-produced souvenirs—support street vendors and local artisans instead. Invest in experiences rather than things, booking with local companies that prioritize sustainability.
Why not embrace the digital age and consider photographs your souvenirs? Otherwise, go for items that hold sentimental value and will last beyond your trip or serve a purpose, such as a towel or a hat. Make sure the product is high quality, locally made and fair trade.
While shopping, avoid animal products such as horns, tusks, teeth and skins that may have been sourced unethically, as well as natural artefacts that have been plucked from their environment. Removing any part of nature may have a detrimental effect on the environment where it belongs. For example, taking a sand dollar as a souvenir will prevent it from its purpose as an ocean filter or food source. Every part of nature has a role to play!
5. Minimize Your Waste
Request not to be given straws, plastic cups and single-use packaging while travelling. Learn phrases like “no straw, please” or “no bag, please” in the local language.
Decline disposable toiletries and room cleaning; use the same towel and linen for the duration of your stay. Go paperless with electronic tickets for tours, flights, trains and buses. Take photos of brochures or other materials on your phone rather than taking a paper copy.
Keeping these tips in mind will decrease our carbon footprints and increase our chances of being able to explore our beautiful planet for generations to come.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Canadian Traveller.