Category Archives: Sustainable Travel:

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.

Comparing Travel Carbon Footprints

How do you find out what your travel carbon footprint is? There are a lot of widely held views  built on hearsay and misinformation. The deeper I look, the more  complicated the story seems to get. One of my aims is to educate myself on travel environmental issues. Then to share my findings on this site and hopefully start a discussion for all involved to gain further enlightenment. This should end up as a regular feature on transport sustainability and eco-myths. The idea is to research and discuss information that will enable anyone with an interest, to discover how much of a carbon footprint a particular travel option would generate.
Statistics published by transport operators and environmental pressure groups tell totally different stories. But as the “X Files” slogan reminds us; “The Truth Is Out There”. These posts will attempt reveal that truth, or at the very least get a lot closer to the real story.

plane
The airline industry comes in for a lot of flak from environmentalists, but in their favour their carbon footprints are widely available, even if they do just report emissions of carbon dioxide and fail to include oxides of nitrogen that also contribute to climate change. In addition the altitude at which the emissions occur, leads to a bigger impact on the climate than discharges at ground level. Flights even create artificial clouds that are visible to the naked eye. There are some transport operators that publish no figures whatsoever and then paint themselves as green due to the lack of evidence to the contrary. They may be innocent until proved guilty, but they certainly aren’t providing evidence of their real carbon footprint either.

When it comes to finding low carbon travel options, we don’t even have a complete map, let alone SatNav.

Fortunately information is available. “How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything” by Mike Berners-Lee, makes recommended reading for anyone wanting to know more about the subject. Unfortunately it is not comprehensive, so don’t expect to find ferries and cruise ships in the current edition.

High speed train
The lack of transparency of transport’s place in the carbon footprint league table is exploited heavily by travel PR / Advertising Departments. To take an example High Speed Rail is sold with a big “Environmentally Friendly” label attached. Few ask why, and take it for granted. They suspect that airlines have large carbon footprints, so automatically assume that rail must be a lot better. But using this criteria how long will it be for the airlines to apply the same label? When space tourist rocket flights to space start, I can imagine the slogan:

“Don’t take the rocket, go by jet it’s better for the environment”

perfectly true as a statement; but you get my point?

Perhaps it comes across as a little negative? Certainly anyone choosing a fast train instead of a flight is reducing their carbon footprint. I opt for rail before flying but am aware that the issue is way more complicated and there is always more that I can do in my travel and lifestyle choices. I know very well that taking a high speed train doesn’t make me greener than green.  Complacency can prevent us all from making our travel more sustainable.  But if High Speed Rail isn’t as green as some of the alternatives, what are they and do they make viable alternatives? I for one would like to see an energy label for transport options like those that come with electrical appliances or cars. All things to discuss in future articles.

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.

Trail gazing

Have you ever stood on a railway station concourse and stared longingly at destinations on the Departures Board that were not printed on your tickets? Have you ever found yourself on the road somewhere and found that the you were travelling along one of the world’s more famous long distance routes and felt the urge to keep on going? Have you ever stood at the bottom of a valley and felt an irresistible pull towards the summit high up above? I suffer from all of these afflictions and then some.

Camino de Santiago waymarker
Camino de Santiago waymarker

Long distance footpaths can also be found there in the mix saying “Come on! I dare you to walk me and find out where I go through and end up”. My gaze is always arrested by the waymark stickers for the Camino de Santiago and get I exited just by seeing the white and red horizontal  bars signifying a GR (Grand Randonée – a European long distance trail). These markers are as valuable as SatNav for anyone hiking on these trails. Perhaps I’ll post again to explain how they’re used for navigation and how they vary across Europe. I’ll certainly post extracts from some of my hikes on these walking routes.

Waymarker on GR5
Waymarker on GR5

So when I’m out shopping in Brussels and come across a litter bin with a white and red bar painted on it, I stop and sometimes even take a photograph, but each time I’m wondering where the trail leads. In fact the one in this photograph is for GR126, which starts in Brussels, crosses GR12 in Grand Place then heads off south through Namur, Dinant and finishes at Membre-sur-Semois by the border of the French and Belgian Ardennes, where it joins GR16, which in turn has followed the River Semois from by Arlon in South East Belgium. This then rejoins GR12 on its way from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels.

Grand randonée waymarker GR126
Grand randonée waymarker: GR126

It is amazing where two painted bars on a litter bin can lead.

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.

Seeing the world through new eyes


Last week, we visited a friend in Liege, Belgium and went to see her allotment garden. Now allotments aren’t places of obvious beauty and this one was no exception. The fences were all homemade and so were the huts and of course they were mainly producing vegetables. But look a little closer. I put my camera on macro and took the photos in the gallery above.

The point is you don’t have to go to tourist hotspots or visit the “Seven Wonders of the World” to find remarkable beauty. Often it’s not where you expect. The challenge for the present age is to get enjoyment from travel without creating an ecological footprint that will prevent our grandchildren enjoying travel as well. One way of doing this is to open our eyes to see the beauty in the seemingly mundane.

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.

How will an oil crunch affect travel?

Dr Birol of the International Energy Agency (IEA) now admits that we have passed peak conventional crude oil. After saying for years, that we are nowhere near peak oil, he now says that the IEA thinks that conventional crude peaked five years ago. Dr Birol says that governments should have been planning for this ten years ago. What have they been doing?
In the UK, predicting a doubling of air passengers by 2030 and planning for a third runway for Heathrow and a second runway for Stansted. The cancelling of plans for the Heathrow third runway by the new government seems obvious in light of the predicted oil supply in 2030. Yet, I still see plans being wheeled out for concepts such as the Aerotropolis.

The travel industry will increase its fuel surcharges, but the problem extends to all of the products that rely on cheap oil but the real hard hitter will be fertilisers and food. All of these will rise in price. With the scarcity of supply driving prices up, the price of oil is hardly likely to drop unless the recession bites again. Take a look at this video where a Dr Birol is interviewed and even Richard Branson is shown discussing an impending oil crunch.

Do you think we will still be able to fly around the world for less than £1000 / $1500, in five years time?

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.

Daily Photo: Chamonix Railway station

One of the plus points for Chamonix is that it has links to the French Autoroute system, is served by the Inter City European bus network, as well as the national rail network. Unfortunately TGV’s and sleeper trains terminate at St Gevais / La Fayet. You must then take the Mont Blanc Express to get to Chamonix. You can go all the way to Martigny in Switzerland if you like (another change of trains at Vallorcine may be required).
Chamonix Station

The station is one of my favourites both in terms of its architecture and that backdrop!

This is an HDR rendition, putting it in the ‘Around Europe with ghosts‘ series of posts.

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.

Delightful decimal serendipity

Florentine piazza
My most memorable travel moments were unplanned and beautifully unexpected.

1. Arriving in an Irish village, wet, hungry and thirsty after a day’s walking. Entering the first pub, to find it was Paddy Burke’s.

2. Relaxing on a balmy June day, in a Florentine Piazza, watching a man wash his clothes under the drinking fountain, then draping them on the railings to dry.

3. Giving a student a lift to his home in Chamonix, then sharing tea, meringues and Gruyère cream with his family.

4. Discovering Annecy, when my sleeper train to Chamonix was cancelled due to a strike. The rescheduled itinerary involved a wait there.

5. Staying in a Swiss family’s Martigny apartment, later enjoying a locally sourced banquet at a 50th birthday celebration.

6. Ignoring rain and fog at Chamonix to experience one of the best days of my life riding fresh powder snow high up in the mountains.

7. Climbing Scafell through snow laden clouds, following a Saturday morning working away from home. Summiting in zero visibility, the clouds parted for the sun to illuminate the magnificent Lake District vista.

8. Seeking somewhere to eat in Rauentahl, Germany when all the restaurants were closed. Invited by locals into a garage behind a house, to join the community feasting.

9. Singing along to an Oompah Band playing “Smoke on the Water”, while standing on trestle tables and benches at Oktoberfest.

10. Finding Telč a UNESCO listed town, tourist free, on a sunny July afternoon.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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.

Car free Sunday in Brussels

Between the hours of 9am and 7pm, for one Sunday, each September, cars are banished from within the Brussels Outer Ring Road. All of the buses, trams and metro are free. The only cars allowed are those belonging to the Emergency Services and taxis. A number of events are staged around the city. Including the laying of turf and trees in large pots, on Place Royale in front of the Palace for a large picnic and farmers market and eco exhibition.
This weekend is one of the best to visit Brussels, especially if you wish to hire one of the city’s bicycles from the Villo! Bike share scheme as you will be a lot safer on the road.

I posted this video on YouTube. It gives a some idea of what the day is like.

But then found this video from the 2009 event, of longboarders enjoying a car free Avenue Tervuren, I really enjoyed watching it.

Usually, there are also some Braderies on the streets, where locals (and some traders) spread out anything they want to sell on the street.

St Boniface Braderie

Other Car Free Days are staged in cities as diverse as Amsterdam and Bogota. There is campaign to try to get a Car Free Day for London. What is the situation in your city or country?

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.