Feature

Adventuring with awareness

Green Lifestyle magazine

Without taking the shine off your adventures, there are ways to lighten your footprint and ensure your travel life is as green as your everyday life.

aware adventure

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Once upon a time, acts of hedonism and carelessness were considered to be the hallmarks of a good holiday. These days, responsible and sustainable travel is gaining traction, with travellers becoming increasingly aware of the impacts their holidaymaking have on the Earth.

Community and culture

Donna Lawrence, responsible travel manager of adventure holiday company World Expeditions (www.worldexpeditions.com.au) notes that while minimising environmental impacts is an important element of sustainable travel, preserving and protecting local culture and communities is also a significant part of travelling responsibly. This can mean everything from being careful when viewing Indigenous rock art in the Northern Territory to ensuring the porter helping you while trekking in Nepal is treated fairly and paid an appropriate wage.

“As founding supporters of the International Porter Protection Group, World Expeditions has a long history of ensuring local porters and workers are treated fairly,” Lawrence says. This includes ensuring porters and guides have adequate clothing and safety equipment while operating in challenging environments such as the Everest region. If travelling as a part of an organised tour, choose travel companies that employ locals, pay fair wages, and invest in the local community, to avoid unwittingly contributing to exploitation of workers.

Many travellers arrive in countries with good intentions, but their choices may lead to inadvertent negative outcomes. ‘Orphanage tourism’ is a controversial term used to describe foreigners visiting orphanages in developing nations. While many childcare providers and orphanages are responsible for outstanding work, others have been exposed for child trafficking, abuse, unlawful adoptions and misappropriation of donations. With this in mind, careful consideration should be taken before choosing to volunteer at or visit orphanages in developing nations, as child protection and welfare is a complex issue, made even more complicated by tourists, even the most well-meaning.

Atmosphere

Travelling by air represents a conundrum for eco-conscious travellers. Australia’s distance from the rest of world makes it difficult to travel overseas without hopping on a plane and incurring a heavy carbon debt. Most airlines now offer a carbon offsetting option while booking, with companies such as Climate Friendly (www.climatefriendly.com) using this money to fund renewable energy projects and tree planting programs designed to reduce and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

While contributing to these programs is admirable, avoiding air travel altogether is a far better option than flying and paying the carbon offset. With this in mind, exploring Australia is a more sustainable option than jetting to Europe. Looking to the future, the aviation industry is currently trialling the use of sustainable biofuels, with Dutch airline KLM successfully launching a weekly biofuel-run trans-Atlantic flight earlier
this year.

On the ground, choosing environmentally friendly transport is second nature for any seasoned greenie. Walking, cycling and public transport are always preferable to hiring a car or sitting on an air-conditioned coach, which both consume fossil fuel and add to traffic congestion. With forward planning and research, many short-hop flights can be avoided in favour of train travel, especially in countries with efficient, cross-country rail networks.

Environment

While it’s important to tread carefully when visiting notoriously fragile ecosystems like Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands, it’s equally important to respect the local environment when travelling in Bangkok or Delhi. The temptation to buy single-use items while on the road is greater than when at home. The convenience of bottled water and plastic bags, coupled with visiting a country without an adequate recycling system and questionable water quality, can mean that your impeccable green habits of home may vanish while travelling.

But there are nifty ways to ensure your waste is minimised on holidays. Australian adventure travel company Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com.au) encourages their passengers to minimise waste by giving out reusable chopsticks and calico carry bags to passengers on the first day of their Asian adventure tours. Packing accordingly can also make a difference. Durable, reusable water bottles and food containers (such as those made by Klean Kanteen, ECOlunchbox or Smart Planet) are ideal travel companions for camping trips, city stays and road trips.

When it comes to accommodation, investigate the green credentials of hotels before booking. With many hotel groups now recognising the importance of minimising energy and water usage, it can be tricky to differentiate between those with superior green credentials and those doing the bare minimum. Winner of a 2013 Green Lifestyle Award and other accolades, Ecotourism Australia (www.ecotourism.org.au) developed and implemented an accreditation scheme for businesses in the travel industry to prove their green credentials. When booking, look for businesses displaying their stamp of approval, as this means they have passed the eco-test.

Famed eco-lodges like Paperbark Camp (www.paperbarkcamp.com.au) in Jervis Bay, NSW, are on the list, but urban accommodation providers are also stepping up their approach to sustainability. Melbourne’s multi-award winning Alto on Bourke (www.altohotel.com.au) is one of Australia’s greenest hotels. As Australia’s first city hotel to offset all calculated carbon output, the Alto is a leader in the field. Taking an innovative approach to sustainability, the hotel generates 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, uses rainwater for gardening, cleaning and toilet cisterns, has a compost system for food waste, an onsite book exchange system for guests to share good reads, and uses biodegradable keycards made from corn starch. With many more green initiatives, the Alto proves city hotels can operate more sustainably too.

Animals

Seeing exotic wildlife is a big drawcard for many travellers, but it’s worth thinking about the price animals pay for being a tourist attraction. Many animal protection groups champion the cause of elephants kept in captivity in southeast Asia, highlighting that elephants made to perform tricks or offer rides to tourists are often taken from the wild and subjected to cruel treatment, confinement and abuse.

Elsewhere in the world, animals such as donkeys and camels are used by the tourism industry, sometimes to the detriment of their welfare. Finding grassroots groups and organisations that legitimately support animal welfare is a good way to interact with animals without exploiting them. In Luxor, Animal Care in Egypt (ACE, www.ace-egypt.org.uk) alleviates the suffering of donkeys by offering free veterinary care and animal education programs. Travellers interested in animal welfare often make stops at ACE, with their patronage (and donations) helping to keep the organisation operational.

Deforestation at the hands of hotel development also has implications for native wildlife, with loss of habitat being a genuine threat to many species. In Nepal, World Expeditions opts to avoid traditional teahouse accommodation in favour of eco camp sites, as the wood used to build and heat tea houses adds to deforestation in the region.

Whether you’re in Borneo, Brazil or Broome, choosing accommodation that has been built ethically, with
minimal disruption to the local habitat, is a good way to support companies that invest in sustainable development practices.

Air, car, train or bus?

A UK study found that 175 g of CO2 per person is emitted for each kilometre of air travel. In comparison, a road trip with a full car uses 50 g/km per person and public transport can use as little as 30 g. For more info on what type of public transport is greener, read our feature, Trains Versus Buses.