THE COLOUR GREEN
All set to celebrate World Environment Day, Barry Oliver considers the push towards guilt-free holidays
I’ VE only just realised it, but my green travel credentials go way back. Well, quite a few years anyway, to when I spent a few balmy days and nights exploring New Zealand’s Queen Charlotte Sound. Our mode of transport was kayak and our South Island accommodation was a tent under the stars surrounded by curious sheep. The airconditioning was a gentle sea breeze. No towels and sheets to wash; no electric lights to leave on. We left, at the most, a tiny footprint.
Unfortunately, I spoiled it by arriving from Sydney by plane (well, I could hardly go by bike), but I like to think my little water adventure offset quite a bit of those nasty carbon emissions, even if I didn’t realise that was a problem at the time.
Green travel has arrived in a big way. More and more companies are getting in on the act, spurred, perhaps forced, by the weight of public opinion. World Environment Day on Tuesday will only add to pressure on the travel industry to get its greenhouse gases in order, especially with politicians furiously trying to get the country on the right environmental track.
Hotels started the green ball rolling years ago with the bright idea that sheets and towels didn’t need changing every day. Guests were told they could do their bit for the environment by using them for an extra day or two, or three . . . Then came turn off the lights, turn off the airconditioning, use environmentally friendly toiletries, don’t waste water. ( A study in The Philippines found hotel guests used as much water in 18 days as a rural family did in a year, while in Egypt it was found a large hotel used as much electricity as 3600 families.)
At present it’s all about carbon emissions, either not causing them or cancelling them out, so you can holiday with a clear conscience. Since we’re not all going to suddenly stop travelling by plane, hiring cars and staying in energy-guzzling five-star hotels, we can clear our debt to the environment by buying carbon credits that will go to a company that operates environmental schemes (planting trees is popular). That way we’ve balanced the ledger: no harm done, or at least the harm has been balanced by the good. Simple.
Travel.com.au has just started offering CO offsets on flights, accommodation and
2 car hire. Customers can use a CO calcula-
2 tor on its website to work out the carbon emissions for their trip, then buy credits to wipe out the effect on the environment. In partnership with Australian-owned Easy Being Green, a money-making business, the credits are used to fund projects aimed at reducing global warming. Easy Being Green’s chief executive Paul Gilding says tree planting is the cheapest way of absorbing CO but is ultimately not the
2 solution. ‘‘ We can keep on emitting more and more CO and buying our way out of it
2 but eventually there will be no space left to plant trees.’’
Gilding says his company’s aim is to cut CO production at the source by installing
2 energy-saving light globes and water-saving showerheads, which will reduce the amount of coal-fired power that is used. When that’s done, the company will move on to solar hot water systems, which cut a lot of CO
2 but are a more expensive solution.
How much does it cost?
It costs only about 38c to offset the pollution caused by hiring a medium-sized car for a day; on a return Sydney-London flight the cost would be a heftier $74.89. For an around-the-world trip, expect to be looking at an extra $260; to India, $125.
You don’t have to pay, though a few brave travel companies in other countries are making it compulsory to buy carbon credits when flying. Here, so far, it’s left to the travellers’ conscience.
Travel.com.au managing director Adam Johnson concedes that carbon offsetting isn’t the perfect solution but sees it as a positive first step. ‘‘ Until we have more climate-friendly planes in the sky, offsetting their contribution to global warming is very important,’’ he says. Johnson says his company is also getting its house in order by minimising CO emissions and switching to
2 100 per cent GreenPower.
Leading Hotels of the World has linked with Sustainable Travel International to give guests the option of a carbon-neutral stay. The good news is it’s LHW, not the customer, who buys the credits: about $1 for a one-night stay.
Will travellers pay more?
Young Australians are willing to pay to offset carbon emissions, according to a survey by STA Travel. Eighty per cent said they would buy carbon credits to balance a flight and would chose a travel agency or airline that offset emissions over one that did not. Ninety-six per cent of those surveyed — aged 18 to 30 — said they were concerned about carbon emissions by planes and the effect on the environment. But only 11 per cent said this would stop them flying.
STA runs a carbon credits scheme, Your Trip Shouldn’t Cost the Earth, through Origin Energy, which funds programs such as tree planting, investing in solar energy and fighting deforestation.
Abercrombie & Kent has taken up the green baton through its Climate Change Challenge, which aims to raise $US1 million ($1.2 million) worldwide. The Australia Museum’s Queensland Lizard Island research station, which is helping in the fight against climate change, is one of the beneficiaries. Part of the push is a Walk-aThon being held in July with former Australian middle-distance runner Craig Mottram. A & K wants volunteers to form teams and walk 10,000 steps a day, about 8km, rather than drive, and find sponsors for the number of steps taken. Mottram will be doing his bit — no cheating as he’ll be wearing a pedometer to count his steps — with progress reported on the website.
In a separate initiative, A & K plants a tree for every holiday booking made through the company.
What should we be doing?
Most of the environmental damage occurs when planes take off, so short flights should be avoided. Carbon emissions from trains are one-third that of planes. Ships are better, if slower; kayaks, sailing boats, bikes, horses and walking are the green way to go. (Of course, it depends what you step on.) Camping has been described as the original green holiday and will take you places that five-star hotels cannot reach.
The renewable energy charge has reached Australia’s snow resorts. Perisher Blue’s Village 8 Express chairlift has switched to green energy for the coming 2007 winter season. It’s the first of the NSW resort’s 50 lifts to be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy.
Adventure company Peregrine is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2008. It urges its customers to offset flights through Climate Friendly, which has a carbon calculator on its website. Visitors can work out carbon emissions for everything from flights to running their office, car or home. There are even gift certificates. You can neutralise emissions caused by an average wedding — 16 tonnes — for $352. A practical, if unusual, present for the happy couple.
Ecotourism Australia’s latest Green Travel Directory offers a carbon offset option for air or road travel. The directory, released last month, lists more than 700 eco-certified operators nationwide. Available for $5 plus postage (www.ecotourism. org.au).
News Corporation, parent company of News Limited, publisher of The Weekend Australian , has committed to being carbon neutral by 2010 through energy efficiency, buying renewable power and offsetting unavoidable emissions. Chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch says the climate problem will be solved only with mass participation by the general public. www.newscorp.com/energy www.lhwgreen.com www.easybeinggreen.com.au www.climatefriendly.com www.climatecare.org www.peopleandplanet.net www.abercrombieandkent.com.au www.statravel.com.au
Carbon neutral: Canoeing at Myall Lakes, NSW, main picture; right from top, trekking in Nepal, camel-riding on Sydney’s Manly Beach, and cycling in Western Australia