Carbon-Neutral Travel: How Tourists Can Lower Their Carbon Footprint

By Vicente Ferreyra Acosta General Director, Sustentur | May 17, 2020

One of humanity's great challenges is its own survival; although the issue of personal health impact has become more urgent and present recently, even before COVID-19 a wave of unfortunate situations and events have increasingly made us aware of the impact of our activities on the planet, and specifically of our contribution to climate change.

Travel, and Change the World?

To this point, there is undoubtedly a before and after Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist who has newly proposed (arguably to greater effect than Al Gore in his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth) the necessity for each country to take concrete action at the national and private levels to meet international commitments to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. What's special about Greta, apart from her age and her resistance to older decision makers, is that she represents a new generation of young individuals that are increasingly concerned about environmental and social issues, and who will be the leaders but also the consumers of tomorrow.

What is Tourism's Impact on Climate Change?

The tourism industry, which for many years was known as "the industry without chimneys," is not exempt to impact on the environment; a 2018 study by the publication Nature Climate Change estimates that our sector is responsible for eight percent of total greenhouse gas emissions globally, which is more than emitted by India, the third most polluting country on the planet.

While the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the tourism sector derive from transport (especially air), hotels contribute 20 percent of the total emissions created from tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization. Combustion caused by heating or cooling, food production, electricity consumption, travel by company executives or transport of hotel staff and tourists (when included as part of hotel service) are contributing factors to these emissions, which are also known as a carbon footprint.

At the global level, official regulations around the production of greenhouse gas emissions are becoming more stringent, forcing companies to work on reducing greenhouse gases and to develop other strategies to comply with national and/or local regulations. Even in countries where regulation is less stringent, hotel companies have partnered with community organizations or consulting firms to understand their own environmental impact and work to reduce it, which in addition to incorporating compliance and efficiency, therefore results in an improvement in the total performance of the business.

Companies without Impact?

Many companies in the travel & tourism sector have branded themselves as "carbon neutral" or "zero emissions," some leaders in the space have even gone so far to tout themselves as "carbon positive."

How is that possible if, even through maximum efficiency and investment in state-of-the-art technologies to lower greenhouse gas production, there are some emissions that cannot be avoided? The answer lies in a concept developed in the last few years called climate neutrality. In this process, companies are able to measure carbon emissions from their operations (usually through internationally tested methodologies aligned to a United Nations protocol known as the GHG Protocol), know their climate impact, and from there develop a plan consisting of a two-stage process:

  1. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, through improvement in their processes; preventative maintenance; efficiency in operations; changing equipment; commitment to renewable energy; and involving employees and guests on environmental education, among other topics that the "green team" or "sustainability committee" of a hotel decides.
  2. Once actions to reduce and analyze the potential for emission reduction are implemented and the effects are measured, the second phase begins. This process involves compensating for those emissions through the purchase of carbon credits.

Carbon Offsetting?

Remember that one of the main benefits of trees is capturing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen; if a hotel is then generating carbon emissions, is it not feasible to plant trees to make up for this impact? At first this seems a very logical and easy action, especially for those companies with ample land space, but it's not that simple.

A 500-room hotel in the Caribbean can generate between 4,000 and 7,000 tons of Co2e (Internationally accepted measure to refer to the whole of Greenhouse Gases-carbon dioxide equivalent) annually, while 100 square meters of forest on average can capture 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

If one would like to then offset the total emissions of this hotel, one would have to plant, maintain and conserve 114,000 square meters of forest per year; also worth noting is that trees (depending on each species) reach their carbon capture potential at 20 years. While there are companies that may be able to make an effort or investment in having their own forest or "carbon sink" for 20 years, for the majority it's likely to be a titanic task.

Then how and with whom do I make up for it?

This situation has created an interesting market for "certified" forests and jungles to sell carbon credits and help companies offset their emissions. International protocols exist to support the care of these lands dedicated to conservation, and that generate a process to measure the carbon capture potential of these sites.

This exercise can be applied to private or public sectors, or those held by rural or indigenous communities, who benefit from taking care of their natural resources and receive payment from private companies to "capture" the emissions generated in their daily operations. Since planetary logic indicates that a ton of carbon that is not captured has a global impact, offsetting can be done anywhere in the world; however, specialists suggest that it be done in the same geographic region where the emissions are generated, or at least somewhere nearby (as not all regions have certified projects) so that the benefit is reflected as locally as possible.

Each existing protocol and standard such as Plan Vivo, the Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard and others, has information related to projects they have endorsed or certified, and how to contact them to purchase carbon credits. There are also platforms that provide carbon footprint measurement and specialized offsetting services specifically for the tourism sector, such as the service developed by Sustentur which allows travelers to learn the carbon footprint of their last trip, and for companies to measure the impact of their meetings and conventions. 

Thus tourism companies and hotels of all sizes have initiated carbon footprint measurement and emission offsetting processes; there are even those who are betting on certifying their own properties as a way to end the cycle of battling climate change during travel.

What Has Been Done in the Mexican Caribbean?

The interest in the impact of the tourism sector on climate change in this region began in 2010, when Cancun hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 16), the most important event on the subject. The conference launched an initiative between companies, advocacy trusts, hotels and parks called the Low Carbon Tourism Initiative, which sought to generate the tools to measure, reduce and offset the carbon footprint of the tourism sector. 

From this first effort, some companies have created sustainability certification programs that clarify their carbon footprint; despite being an ever-urgent issue, the Mexican Caribbean can be considered a pioneer in having private and community-based companies that work on measuring and offsetting emissions. 

Sustentur has partnered with carbon capture project Scolel'te to offset greenhouse gas emissions of companies in the sector. The project helps to conserve 9,000 hectares of forest in the neighboring state of Chiapas, benefiting 2,500 local families.

In the Mexican Caribbean, more and more companies are committed to taking the first step to carbon neutrality via carbon measurement; although much work remains to achieve climate neutrality, we are confident that this will be our future. Apart from hotels, the issue has taken hold in sectors like Meetings & Conventions, which has seen the potential to link groups with actions toward environmental and social benefits.

In summary, what is the benefit of this? First, it allows us to have an understanding of how much we are emitting in tons of Co2 by sector, company, or individually; consequently, it gives us the possibility to work on strategies to reduce the impact on the environment. On the other hand, once having established the measures to reduce it, we could set out to contribute resources to local communities that are constantly working on the conservation of their forests and jungles for the benefit of all of us.

Without a doubt this issue will continue to be pressing to the industry, and opportunities for hotels and companies to continue positioning themselves on the topic are growing, as few companies can claim to be carbon-neutral or carbon-positive.

Let's make tourism, and especially hospitality, a business model with environmental and social benefits: business, new markets, benefiting communities, and the planet will thank us. Let's find through these actions a way to travel while changing the world

Mr. Ferreyra Acosta Believing that "there is no future for tourism if it is not sustainable," Vicente Ferreyra Acosta has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to understand and change tourism in Mexico and Latin America. He is General Director of Sustentur, a social enterprise that works to increase the competitiveness of companies and destinations while preserving natural resources, increasing the quality of life in local communities and promoting wellness. Mr. Acosta boasts vast experience in launching sustainable tourism projects for governments, companies and rural communities; he has coordinated international projects for institutions including the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and international development agencies, in addition to government and private companies. Still, his work on the ground with rural communities is what makes him happiest. Mr. Acosta earned his Doctorate in International Tourism from Universidad Anáhuac and the World Tourism Organization. Mr. Ferreyra Acosta can be contacted at 998-267-8897 or vicente@sustentur.com.mx Please visit http://www.sustentur.com.mx for more information. Extended Biography

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Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Hotel Newswire Headlines Feed  

Zoe Connolly

"Hospitality is a social business. It's a person to person business-that's how we provide our service. The act of social distancing is foreign to what we know in hospitality. Until this virus has cleared itself from the US, it's going to be hard to resume our level of personalized service to our guests," writes Jim Beley, General Manager of The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary NC. In this article, Beley, a 48-year hotel veteran, weighs in on how COVID-19 has affected the hospitality industry and the steps his team is taking to ensure a successful reopening, whenever that may be. READ MORE

Steve Bowie
Susanne Carter
Jan Sammeck
William J. Sander
Ted Horner
Suzanne McIntosh
Amanda Hurley
Federico Pilurzu
Coming up in July 2020...

Hotel Spa: Back to Nature

As the Wellness Industry continues to expand, hotel spas are also diversifying, placing a greater emphasis on overall well-being. For some spas, this means providing clients with all-inclusive packages that include fitness classes, healthy dining, and offsite leisure activities, in addition to their core services. For example, spas near ski resorts are offering packages that include lift passes, pre-ski yoga sessions, after-ski dinners and spa treatments. Other spas are offering packages that include massages, saunas, mineral baths, hot springs, and recreational hiking and snowmobile activities. These kinds of spa offerings are also part of a "Back to Nature" movement that encourages guests to get out and experience the healing qualities of nature. One such therapy is the Japanese practice known as "forest bathing" which has become popular with spas that are near wooded areas. This practice relies on the ancient power of a forest for promoting a sense of health and well-being. Other spas are incorporating precious metals and stones into their health and beauty treatments - such as silver, gold, pearls and amber. Silver ion baths relax the body and mind, reduce fatigue, and restore energy balance. Gold keeps skin radiant and can even treat various skin diseases and infections, due to its antibacterial qualities. Amber is used to calm the nervous system and to relieve stress. Other natural products and therapies that are increasingly in demand include sound therapy, cryotherapy, infra-red saunas, and even CBD oil, which is being used in massages, facials and foot scrubs, providing a new form of stress relief. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will document these trends and other new developments, and report on how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.