People said the pandemic made them want to travel more responsibly in the future.
New data now suggests that they do.
According to a report published in January by the World Travel and Tourism Council and Trip.com Group:
- Almost 60% of travelers have chosen more sustainable travel options in the past two years.
- Almost 70% are actively looking for sustainable travel options.
Finding companies that are serious about sustainability isn’t easy, said James Thornton, CEO of tour operator Intrepid Travel.
“You see hotels saying they’re sustainable, and then you use these little travel bottles for shampoo and shower gel,” he said.
It’s all just “greenwashing,” he said, referring to the term that describes companies’ efforts to appear more environmentally sound than they are now.
The term has risen in popularity along with the increased demand for sustainable products and services.
The result is a mix of those who are truly dedicated to the cause—and those who sprinkle environmental buzzwords, photos of seedlings, forests, and other “green” images in their marketing materials, with no real action to back up their claims.
Finding sustainable companies
Be wary of these tactics, Thornton said.
“For a company to say it is ‘100% sustainable’ or that it is ‘environmentally conscious’… doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I would urge travelers to be very careful when they see these words, to really look up and to look in more detail.”
Thornton said that consumer interest in sustainable travel has changed dramatically in the past two decades. “People were looking at us like we were a little crazy,” he said when he joined Intrepid Travel 18 years ago when the company talked about sustainability.
Now, many companies are doing this, whether they are serious or not.
Thornton said he believes the travel industry is currently divided into three categories. A third have “incredibly good intentions,” and [are] They are very actively working on addressing the climate crisis…and they are making good progress.”
Another third have “good intentions” however [aren’t] Actually taking action yet. And often… they’re not quite sure how to take action.”
The final third “completely buries its head in the sand and hopes this thing will go away, and the fact of the matter is, it isn’t.”
To identify companies in the first category, Thornton recommends that travelers look for three important things.
1. A history of sustainability
To ascertain whether a company might jump on the environmental bandwagon, Thornton said, examine its history.
He advises searching for “a long history of being associated with sustainability issues, or is this something that just came out?”
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton.
Source: Intrepid Travel
If the message is new to the company, he said, it’s not a deal breaker.
“But that would probably encourage the customer to dig into a little bit more detail to see if what the company is actually doing has a rigor behind it,” he said, “or if this is just something that is done for the sake of marketing – thus greenwashing.” .
2. Check the measurements
Next, travelers should see if the company measures greenhouse gas emissions, Thornton said.
“The honest truth is that every travel company ultimately contributes to the climate crisis,” he said. “So the best thing any travel company can start doing is measure their greenhouse gas emissions.”
To do so, Thornton advised travelers to check out the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.
“The Glasgow Declaration website lists organizations that have agreed to effectively reduce their emissions … and already have a climate plan outlining how they do this,” he said.
He said signatories should publish their climate plan, which is monitored by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“Consumers can use this as a way to check if the company they’re booking with is serious about decarbonization,” he said, adding that more than 700 organizations are on the list.
Travelers can also check out the Science-Based Targets initiative, Thornton said, a partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Its website contains a dashboard detailing emissions reduction commitments made by more than 4,500 companies worldwide, including American Express Global Business Travel, UK-based Reed & Mackay Travel and Flight Center Travel Group.
3. Look for credits
Finally, travelers can check out independent credits, Thornton said.
One of the most rigorous and impressive, he said, is the B Corp certification.
“It took Intrepid three years to become a B Corp,” he said.
Other companies with B Corp status include Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, and Aesop – and Patagonia, which Thornton called “the most famous B Company in the world.”
To obtain it, companies are audited by the nonprofit B Lab and certification lasts for three years, Thornton said.
Christine Graf, director of sales and marketing for Boah Reserve in Indonesia, agreed that B Corp is the “most widely respected” certification.
“The other is the World Council for Sustainable Tourism,” she said. “These actually do a review and are legit.”
Bawah Reserve, a resort on the Anambas Islands in Indonesia, has applied for B Corp certification. The resort uses solar energy and desalination of drinking water on the island.
Source: Boa Reserve
Other environmental certifications for travel, Graf said, are less accurate.
“A lot of them are just rackets to make money,” she said.
Bawah Reserve began the process to become a certified B Corp in November 2021, Graf said. “We expect it to take about a year,” she said.
B Corp uses a sliding scale for certification fees, which start at $1,000 for companies with less than $1 million in annual income.
“The cost is fairly minimal, especially if you’re serious about sustainability,” said Thornton.
He said Intrepid pays about $25,000 a year to get certified.
Thornton also advised travelers to ask questions such as:
- Do you use renewable energy sources?
- Is the food locally sourced?
- Are the employees from the local communities?
- Who owns the hotel?
He said There are places that are perceived as sustainable but are “virtually casino owned”.
Finally, Thornton recommends that travelers check reviews online.
“Often a little bit of Googling… will give you a really good indication of whether a hotel or travel experience is doing what it says it is doing – or whether it’s actually being environmentally friendly.”