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Some thoughts about travel for Earth Day 2012

Today is Earth Day.

My personal wish for Earth Day is for transparent, understandable sustainability metrics introduced for the travel industry. It would allow me, or any other like minded consumer to assess the full ecological, cultural and socio-economic impact of our travel plans before we commit to buying. I am glad there are companies out there selling responsible travel. However, when some of these companies are pushed to supply carbon and water footprints, or the percentage of the travel spend that stays in the local community the information supplied is often lacking.
River and snow covered mountain

Some commentators, including some working in the responsible travel sector say that travel is a diverse complicated product and imply that it would be nearly impossible to produce metrics.

It would be wrong to say that it that the metrics are impossible to produce. I quote Clarke’s First and Second Laws:

Clarke’s First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke’s Second Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Arthur C Clarke

Like any scientific challenge the it is possible to calculate the figures. True, carbon and ecological footprints have not been calculated for every service and product. However, homes now have energy ratings. The apartment I am living in while on vacation in Chamonix has energy ratings displayed in traffic light format from A – G. The offset companies seem to have no problems working out carbon footprints, when they feel they can benefit financially. If one travel company set the standard, others would follow.  Why not start with some of the easily measured metrics like energy, water consumption and then move on to food? Assessing the carbon footprint of a flight is not difficult, just look at any carbon offsetting company’s websites for information. Ferry and cruise companies don’t publish their figures.  If their carbon footprint figures were good, wouldn’t they be using them to promote sales in the same was as railways and buses?

The task will be most difficult when carried out for the first time, but afterwards producing the metrics will be no more onerous than producing the annual report and accounts.

A good example of a carbon footprint study is SNCF’s study for the construction and operation of the TGV Rhin-Rhône line. It is an excellent case study that  clearly demonstrates how the carbon footprint is calculated for an extremely complex operation.  IC Hotels publish the average carbon footprint of their rooms in their CSR report. I expect to see more reporting like this in the future. Not only will it help consumers decide which travel products they will spend their money on, but it will be a massive driver for improvement across the industry.

Beware of the supermarket plastic bag distraction ploy, they make a massive show of phasing out single use plastic carrier bags.  The ecological footprint of a single use plastic bag is one thousandth of that of the goods that they carry. So millions of consumers feel they are making a big impact by using reusable carrier bags. I’m in agreement that they should be phased out, as they cause a catalogue of misery in the environment, but if we forget the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths, the impact is almost negligible. But the way we look at the “throwaway culture” may be changed far more significantly.  Phasing them out has benefited supermarkets financially, this was also a driver.

Likewise, some travel companies point to one aspect of their services giving it a huge significantce.  Of course it probably does make a difference, but is it just a thousandth of the total impact of that travel package?

Isn’t it about time we were all a bit more ambitious when setting our goals for the future, to make sure that we have one at least as good as the present? We need to look at the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths.  But to do that we need more facts we can relate to, as opposed to publicity stunts.

Food for thought.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

World Water Day 2012

Just before Christmas 2011, there was a series of posts by Travel Bloggers on the theme “Travel Bloggers Give Back”. I’m not sure what they take in the first place. That aside, anyone who has scanned through these posts will find the water plays a big role. My favourite type of water is in the form of snow crystals, but water is way, way more important than that. We are comprised around 60% water. So this is my post in the same vein as “Travel Bloggers Give Back”, but if you know anything about me then you’ll realise that I don’t like riding on bandwagons, but prefer take the hard route and walk.Glass of water
Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Four was a programme I used to listen to before going to work. I remember one speaker relating the story of him giving a glass of water to a thirsty woman in Kenya. The woman took the glass and instead of drinking it immediately, she seemed to pause for reflection. Then it dawned upon the speaker that the woman was giving thanks to God for the glass of water. In the Developed World we don’t consider a glass of water to be precious. But it is. It seems likely that “Peak Water” has already gone. We sustain our present consumption by extracting water from aquifers that took thousands, sometimes millions to be filled. Glaciers are also retreating, they are another source of fresh water in summer. Even diminishing snowfall affects the water supply from the spring melts.
The real shocking thing is this; that something looked on as worthless and wasted by most of the developed world isn’t available to one in eight on our planet. This page of statistics gives an idea of the scale of the problem. I’ll add include one statistic from the page, namely that one child dies every twenty seconds due to diarrhoea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. That’s more than deaths due to AIDS, Malaria and Measles combined.
My favourite charity is WaterAid as it is dedicated to raising the issue of clean water and providing support and resources to give clean water and toilet facilities to those lacking these basic necessities.  They also run some pretty excellent campaigns such as providing water and toilets at music festivals like Glastonbury. They also organise the WaterAid200 event where they a team of 4 – 7 people on 200 mountains in the UK and Ireland between 11am and 3pm. This year’s event takes place on Saturday June 16. There are mountains left if you want to join a team. Each team must raise a minimum of £400.

You can obviously support WaterAid financially by direct donations or fund-raising. But now you can also support the WaterWorks campaign. Take a photo to demonstrate how important water and toilets are to you and upload it on the  WaterWorks site. The best photos will be used in presentations to World Leaders ahead of talks in Washington in April to discuss concerted action on water and sanitation.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

A bicycle and a fish fight in Brussels

On Saturday afternoon, I went for a ride around Brussels using Villo! bicycles. I was looking for some street art by Muga. After I had found the piece I was looking for, I continued exploring the back streets by bike. After ending up at Place Jourdain, I decided the best way to get back up to the top of Ixelles was via the European Parliament. Here I found the prow of a beached trawler and was intrigued to see that it was for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign,commonly known as Hugh’s Fish fight. It is the follow up to the Channel 4 TV series, in which he publicised the crazy practices carried out on the seas and oceans around Europe.
Trawler exhibit at the EU, Brussels
As an individual, we often feel powerless to get big political institutions to change their course, but what we buy or refuse to buy has a bigger influence than our vote in many instances. The plight of the oceans is dire, with little projected to thrive in them other than jelly fish by 2030. Hugh’s Fish Fight is a campaign aimed at highlighting the shocking waste caused by the Common Fisheries Policies.

Hugh’s Fish Fight

Signing up for the petition is an easy move, but looking carefully at the fish and seafood we buy at home or on our travels can also make a huge difference. Much of the seafood on sale today is not from sustainable sources. One thing we can do is look for the MSC’s (Marine Stewardship Council) logo, to certify that the fish was from a sustainable fishing process. Even farmed fish are fed on unsustainably fished anchovies and the like.
Trawler exhibit at the EU, Brussels
On a positive note, on the Sunday I was in Diksmuide, Flanders, Belgium. Looking for somewhere to eat our evening meal and we decided to dine on a canal barge . We were pleasantly surprised to find that they took great care to only provide sustainably fished seafood. They did not use tuna and had an excellent vegetarian / vegan choice on their menu.   I’ll probably mention them in future post on Diksmuide, but in the meantime they can be found by the IJzer Tower. They are called Water en vuur (Water and Fire). The point is that some restaurants now do consider how sustainable the food they offer is. Supporting them is doing our bit, for the change we would like to see in the world.

More information on Hugh’s Fish Fight: http://www.fishfight.net/

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Earth Day 2011

I’m very conscious of the fact that Earth Day is misused for all sorts of purposes, from selling cheap flights to “eco-resorts”, to celebrities greening their image for a day. I gave some thought to how I would celebrate Earth Day. In the end I decided to share “La Belle Verte” (The Green Beautiful), a film I enjoyed very much for its funny look at how an advanced civilisation might view us, but with some deep messages within. It even includes Marion Cotillard before she starred in “Taxi” and went on to get an Oscar for her role in “La vie en rose”. It was filmed in some beautiful locations in Languedoc-Roussillon, Australia as well as Paris .
Fern
The film has not received much exposure since it was first aired in 1995. The Green Beautiful’s Channel on You Tube enables this film to be viewed in nine parts. A poorer quality version is available on Google Videos until May

Have you seen the Green Beautiful? If so, what did you think of it?
Enjoy Earth Day!

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

OXFAM Fair Trade Breakfast

Breakfast in BrusselsEach November, in Wallonia and Brussels OXFAM Magasins du Monde host breakfasts at school canteens and cafeterias. Last Saturday and Sunday the 20th and 21st November, we were among the 39,200 diners. The event has been run for the last nineteen years now, but this was only my second OXFAM breakfast. It raises money for the charity as well as showcases the high quality range of foods the shops sell here in Belgium.

We regularly purchase their fruit juices, coffee, chocolates and the like. It was good to discover some of their breakfast cereals as well. I was very impressed by the baguettes with quinoa, unfortunately bread is not normally sold in the shops.

OXFAM Breakfast

Revised 18 February 2011, for #FriFotos on Twitter.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Earth Hour in Brussels

Restaurants during Earth Hour
Restaurants during Earth Hour

On Saturday evening I made my way to Poelaert, by the Palais du Justice in Brussels. I waited until 8:30 pm and watched as the lights of Grand Place in the near distance and the Atomium on the horizon, were extinguished for Earth Hour. I was in a position to see many houses and blocks of flats switch off their lights and use candle power for an hour.

I then walked over to Grand Place. The area of Brussels I passed through has numerous Art Shops, bars and restaurants. All lt up to display their wares and appeared to have made no effort to turn the lights off for Earth Hour. Upon arrival at Grand Place, the lack of lighting was instantly apparent. Once my eyes had become accustomed to the low light, the Hotel de Ville with its tall fine spire stood out against a dark navy blue sky across which dramatic clouds passed slowly. It looked more imposing than if it had been floodlit. Of course there were two or three bars and restaurants open in Grand Place, all using electric lights. It seems that when it comes to preventing catastrophic Climate Change businesses just don’t get it.

I had looked for bars and restaurants that were celebrating Earth Hour with an Earth Hour function, but to no avail. While Earth Hour was taking place, I walked in vain trying to find a candle lit bar or restaurant to have a drink, but instead passed establishments lit up like Christmas. What a shame, that a restaurant or bar couldn’t join in the vote for a sustainable future while simultaneously providing a wonderful ambience for an hour.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.