Vebjørn Walen Simensen
Is the future of travel carbon neutral?
The problem we are facing During these times of global isolation and travel restrictions, many in the travel trade have taken time to reflect on the future of the industry. In doing this, one keeps coming back to one major obstacle we are all facing – the negative environmental impact that comes with travel. It has always been the biggest downside of our industry, even though some are reluctant to admit it. The facts are that the tourism industry accounts for about 8% of carbon emissions globally, and that this number is expected to grow rapidly, as emerging consumers around the world adopt the travel habits of Westerners. More and more people are becoming aware of this, and, quite rightfully, concerned by it. Slowly but surely, though, sustainable travel is progressing, as devoted airlines, transportation companies, hoteliers and travel agents combine forces to secure more sustainable means and forms of travel. There are already many examples of such progress, and we are about to share some of them with you, but first, one very important question must be asked. Can travel ever become 100% emission free? We believe it can.
The future of aircraft sustainability Recently, Airbus unveiled the “ZEROe” program and announced their ambition to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. They are planning to build hydrogen-powered aircrafts with the potential to reduce aircraft emissions by up to 50%, or perhaps even more, should the development of hydrogen technology progress further. Although even Airbus themselves admit that the 2035 timeline is ambitious, one cannot help but think that, given the lack of material progress in aircraft sustainability over the last few years, a bit of ambition is just what the doctor ordered.
Other aircraft manufacturers and airlines have also joined in on the pursuit of more sustainable means of air travel, like EasyJet, who recently announced that they are working on developing battery-powered aircrafts. Most of us know plenty about the progress of sustainability in other sectors of transportation, be it electric cars, buses, railways or boats – so surely it must be possible to achieve the same with aircrafts?
Sustainable hospitality When it comes to hospitality, many of our hotel partners are already leaders in the field of sustainable tourism. What has become evident to all of us is that sustainability does not need to compromise the level of comfort or luxury travelers experience at a given hotel or resort. In fact, a majority of the hotels our clients keep going back to have a strong emphasis on sustainability, and several of them are 100% carbon neutral. Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives, is one example of such a property. Plastic free, with organic gardens, in which they grow herbs, fruit and vegetables for their restaurants, as well as a waste management facility that allows them to recycle 90% of all their waste. All of this they have achieved, while maintaining the highest level of comfort and luxury for their visitors. At Soneva Fushi they even take it one step further, by educating their guests, to inspire a love and appreciation of the ocean and the local environment. These elements, however, are not exclusive to one specific property or company, but all part of a growing trend in the industry, as more and more travelers tend to choose travel suppliers that can offer them the best of two worlds.
We see it now more than ever, as clients frequently seek our help to find ways of reducing or offsetting the carbon emission of their trips. There has been a change in people’s mindsets, driven by the presence, awareness and concern of a vast collective of devoted companies and individuals across the globe. This has also inspired a common sense of purpose that pushes many of us in the industry to continuously expect more from ourselves and each other, and to keep improving, no matter how far we might feel like we have come.
Not a question of if, but when So, can travel ever become 100% emission free? While aircraft manufacturers and airlines are finally taking real steps toward more sustainable air travel, they are still only knocking on the door of a completely carbon neutral future. But they are knocking. And be it 20 or 30 years ago, who would have thought it could be deemed somewhat normal to build environmentally friendly, 5-star luxury lodges in the middle of the South African bush, without cutting down trees or harming the natural environment? Probably very few, but today, companies like Singita and andBeyond make sure that these lodges are just as real as the massive oil factories spewing fossil fuels into the atmosphere.
Ground transportation is getting greener by the day, and travelers are gradually becoming more responsible, seeking to minimize their impact on the environment. And even if one chooses to disregard all of these examples of progress, how can one’s answer to the question be anything but yes? Change is driven by belief, and surely travel can become 100% emission free, even if it does not happen this year or the one after that. It is just a matter of time. But even today, there are ways for us to monitor and reduce our footprints, and we can actively take steps to do so. Of course, we cannot do it perfectly yet, but we can still do our part – which is probably what the world needs the most right now. The majority doing something, rather than a handful doing everything.