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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

Sustainable holidays - do they exist?

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Probably not at the moment - no! But you can definitely make some decisions to make them more sustainable and have less impact on climate. Sorry, that probably wasn't the answer you were looking for...

Why can't they be sustainable?

I'm not saying they can't be - but I'm just saying it's very hard for them to be due to the very nature of them. Firstly, you have to travel there - and at the moment most modes of transport produce some level of emissions which are hard to reduce or offset. Second, holidays generally generate a lot of waste - e.g. you will buy stuff specifically for the holiday or to be used on holiday. If you self cater, you'll end up buying a lot of additional food, much of which will likely go to waste. If all inclusive or similar, then a huge amount of food is wasted just be the fact that the venue is able to offer that. And then of course there is the impact of the food itself (e.g. its production). There is also the energy used to heat or cool where you stay, the shared facilities, swimming pools, saunas - which often use a huge amount of energy - which may or may not be renewable energy.

So cancel all holidays in the future then?! That's not going to work is it - holidays (in whatever form) are important for a number of reasons so I don't think telling people not to go on them at all is helpful - nor realistic. So instead, let's take a look at some small changes you can make to reduce the carbon footprint of your holidays.

We need to demand our holidays be more climate conscious

Whether you are holidaying in a local campsite or flying across the world for a luxury all inclusive holiday (lucky you!), we need to be demanding more focus on climate. I'm not just talking about token gestures to wash your hotel towels fewer times (although this helps - it's more likely driven by cost saving than climate). I'm more talking about holiday venues actively making significant changes to move them towards being net zero wherever possible (even if that means changing some things people expect from holidays currently). There are some locations doing this pretty well - however as with anything, they are charging a premium for this because not many others are doing it - but the more we demand it and move towards those that do it, the more that the others will follow suit.

What kind of things are you talking about?

So thinking about some of the issues highlighted above - it's basically anywhere making inroads into these topics. It could be that they are generating their own energy through wind or solar - or buying only renewable energy via their provider. They could have robust waste management processes where they significantly reduce the level of waste generated by them, whilst also managing waste generated by you effectively. They could also serve a primarily plant based menu, and procure low impact animal products where needed - significantly reducing the impact on climate from the food they serve. This will also help reduce food waste, alongside serving in season food - that hasn't been airfreighted in. Venues doing one of all of the above, will invariably have a lower impact on climate than those who do none of the above.

I would actively encourage you to ask questions of your chosen venue - ideally before you book. If you book via an agent, ask your agent because they likely won't know and will have to ask the venue on your behalf. The more people who ask, the more likely it is that venues will take action - especially if they start thinking that these issues are going to impact on their profitability. If some venues start leading the way on this then this will inevitably start impacting profits of those who don't which is exactly what needs to happen.

Ok - good to know. But what about getting there?

Yep that's a fair challenge. Getting to (and from) your holiday destination in the first place can often be the source of the largest part of your holiday emissions - especially if you are flying there. And if you are flying - clearly it's hard to reduce the emissions of those flights. There are however some things that can be considered here:

  • For shorter distance holidays, consider going by train. E.g. travelling to France/Europe from the UK is increasingly accessible by train.

  • Go on fewer holidays for longer - e.g. fly to one destination for 2 weeks rather than flying to two places for 1 week each.

  • Consider a holiday in your own country so you can travel by car or train - if you currently have a couple of holidays abroad each year (again, lucky you!), consider replacing one with a domestic holiday instead.

  • I'm not a massive fan of it, and there is definitely a large amount of green washing going on, but consider carbon offsetting your flights if you do fly. It is probably better than nothing and does signal your intention to at least offset your emissions.

So, can I go now?

Well that's not for me to say really is it? If you are reading this then the chances are that you are trying to reduce your emissions across many different parts of your life. Air travel for the average person in the UK, makes up about 7% of your total emissions - so cutting out flights can have a big impact. But food makes up about 25% of your total emissions - so going reducing your meat intake can actually reduce your emissions more than cutting out flights entirely. So I think as long as you are reducing your emissions across multiple spectrums, and the holiday is going to be worthwhile then go for it - but just try and consider the climate as much as possible whilst doing so!

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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