For all of its exciting, educational and life-changing glory, it’s old news that tourism is a major culprit in environmental deterioration and has been for decades.
Realizing that it’s time for an overdue shift in consciousness, the United Nations (UN) named 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. This comes at a time when green travel has made its way into the mainstream, with sustainability becoming a resonating theme through all sectors of the travel industry – even at luxury resorts – not just at “granola” eco-travel establishments.
Travelling sustainably means more than reusing your towels in your hotel and opting for luggage made from recyclable materials.
And the good news is that now the entire travel industry is making it easier for us to explore without making too much of a sandal-clad carbon footprint. The hospitality sectors in many regions are rolling out some pretty impressive outside-of-the-box initiatives that go beyond VOC-free rugs and curtains and low-flow showerheads (although those are all undoubtedly impressive as well).
For example, many hotels in India now have fixtures that operate by detecting your presence in the room and do things like adjust to your body temperature. A new feature is able to automatically pre-set room conditions based on booking schedules and room occupancy in order to maintain air circulation. They also feature things like programmable mattresses and customized temperature controls. Some are looking toward circadian lighting, which is responsive to your body’s rhythm, and becoming more popular in hotels around the world.
Recognized as the “greenest luxury hotel chain in the world,” India’s ITC has 13 LEED Platinum-certified buildings, including the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai.
The Grand Chola uses bio-diesel, has a self-owned wind farm and uses an iPad-based room climate control system. As other hotels follow suit, we’ll see more green initiatives – like bed and bath linen made from recycled plastic, the use of solar-heated water, rainwater harvesting and a reliance on wind power – become commonplace across the board.
An increasing number of hotels around the world are also offering eco-friendly extras like charging stations for electric cars. In Dubai, Tesla Destination Charging connectors are staples at three Seven Tides properties; Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort and Dukes Dubai on Palm Jumeirah and at the Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate.
Many of the more mainstream hotels and cruise lines have also ramped up their environmental initiatives as of late.
For example, the Hilton Chicago is all about urban agriculture, featuring a rooftop farm where all the fruits and vegetables served in the hotel are grown.
Air travel has also been given an eco-friendly facelift as of late, thanks to growing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions. Last October, representatives from 191 countries united in Montreal at the International Civil Aviation Organization meeting to commit to a goal of carbon neutral growth starting in 2021.
In a headline-making move, last year, JetBlue was praised for its purchase of 330,000 million gallons of biofuel that it’s set to start using in 2019, beginning in New York City-area airports.
The fuel is made from organic matter like agricultural products and marks a major step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, Lufthansa has ordered 116 new Airbus planes that are 15 per cent more fuel-efficient than comparable models, five of which are already in the sky. Furthermore, both Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures have backed Zunum Aero, a startup that is developing a hybrid-electric aircraft that promises fast and affordable regional travel for up to 1,000 miles. It will hit the market by the early 2020s.
Of course, it’s not only planes, but airports as well that are responsible for high carbon emissions, and airports around the world are now going green. For example, Indonesia’s first green airport recently opened for operation.
And at London’s Gatwick airport, they can now convert leftover food into heat and power thanks to the world’s first waste plant that puts waste from planes to practical use.
According to the UN, there were almost 1.2 billion travelers in 2015 – a figure that’s up from 674 million in 2000, and one that’s expected to grow to 1.8 billion people by 2030. With that sort of pressure, there really is no choice but to go sustainable – and now.