Back in 2012 I remember stumbling to the WWF footprint calculator and was down for a great shock and making me think on my sustainability behaviour. I was in for a big surprise! If all of us lived like I did, we would need two more planets. What surprised me most is that I considered myself a very sustainable person, who recycled regularly, shared a car, used power and heating only when needed and cycled to most places. I could only guess what the figures would have been for those that don’t follow any of the above steps. I must confess though that most of my carbon emission came from travelling abroad, on average about three times a year.
Five years ago, when I still was a student, the sustainable debate had built strongly on a framework of the Brundtland Report (1987) and Kyoto Protocol which aims at binding legally the commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or manage those under three main platforms:
- Emission trading
- Clean development mechanism
- Joint implementation
The latest round on international level has been the Doha Climate Change conference that extended the Kyoto agreement up to 2020, but some key developed countries have unfortunately resisted into entering such an agreement showing unwillingness in reducing the greenhouse gases and supporting developing nations in the pledge of cutting emissions.
I must say regardless of the fact that a lot more could have been achieved, the sustainability action is being embraced a lot more. Embracing it in our academic institutions is surely the best lesson for the younger generation, especially if they are taught at an early age.
I have been a strong believer that the most effective approach to resolving the sustainability issues around the globe is a bottom-up, that is to say from the individual to international level. It has to come from the individual to cut down on electricity and heating, car journeys and wasting food. To do as much recycling and demand more product with higher recycling materials, and not allow the extra premiums affect our choice of buying such products. There will always be instances where carbon emissions are unavoidable, especially when it involves travelling long distances, but we need to evaluate the how those trips will affect other pillars of sustainability. That is right: sustainability is not only about cutting emissions and protecting the environment, but also about improving our social engagements and economic benefits where we live and where we travel.
Don’t forget that tourism benefits almost all destinations and their local communities, at least economically. Hence, it is important to find the right balance in positively contributing to all main pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economical. They are so closely related that if one of the pillars is over or under achieved it will create a series of effects that impact the other two.
There are many examples, but Tourism Concern shows a clear indication of the economic power of tourism development putting pressure on local resources, often scarce, to create a comfortable or luxurious ambient for the tourist. This often leads to social antagonism and environmental depletion.
On an individual level there is nothing wrong in seeking luxury on your holiday, however the demand for such experience should not come at the cost of local communities. Finding out a bit more about the hotels, local communities and tourist developments issues before you book could put pressure on those shady developers and make them think twice and take into account the sustainability of their projects.