When you think to build "nature" project which would include travelling abroad, you have to ask yourself the question of what could be the cost for the environment.
Any travel, whatever his length, means spending energy and impact on our planet. There is there is some contradictons between creating an so-called ecological association and proposing as trips, close from home or far away.
If you consider the immediate ecological footprint of classical travel tour, the balance is not very good. The transportations (sometime even by plane), our energy consumption behaviors when on-site (no waste management, overuse...), few consideration for local population, site degradation... are factors increasing the ecological footprint of our travel.
But what are the alternatives we can consider then ?
Most obvious and radical would be to stop travelling ! But if some people are ready to take such a decision, most would like to continue to change environment from time to time. Some will chose the Sun-Hotel-Swimming-Coconut tree combination, other are eager to focus on discovery, may it be historical, human, natural. Travels are now integrated part of our society and way of live with as first arguments, our personal well-being.
An other reason to support tavel is that in numerous regions of the world such as Africa, Amazonia but also, closer, in some regions of France, the benefits generated by tourism have major impact on local economy. And the discovery trips also allows to promote protection of natural or historical sites...
"In no less than 18 of emerging countries, tourism is first or second source of revenues in foreign currency [...]. For one job created directly by tourism sector, approximatively 1,5 job are created in other sectors link to tourism (source : 'Etre écovoyageur", Robert Pince pour Nature et Découvertes).
Based on those arguments, we were willing to go further : if most of us will in any case choose to travel, let's try to improve ecological footprint of trips ! We have then consider how to improve positive impact and reduce negative impact.
Reduce negative impact
We are conscious that negative impact is difficult to decrease, due especially to the transportation ecological costs. When it is often possible to organise car sharing when we travel by car is possible, how would you decreasethe negative impact of airplane travel ?
We have then look to other aspects of our trips.
The meat production is an industry which has a huge impact on environment. As example, producting 1 kg of beef will need as much water as what's needed for shower one of us for 1 year and will need as much energy as what is required to travel 60 km in a car (source : Ma ville, notre planète, Bruxelles environment - IBGE). From this, we had the idea to propose mainly vegetarian food during our trip. Participants who chose this option can then discover that this cooking way is far from being boring or incomplete.
But we know also that vegetarian food is not free from energy consumption point of view. For example, in an island leaving essentially of fishing, restaurants will serve local fishes but will import most of vegetarian products, even sometime by plane ! Same is true for green labelled food. When you travel in mountains and consume local products, it would be foolish to ask them to have green label...
Another way to decrease ecological footprint is to choose partners who act for the environment in their daily live. For example, without necessarily selecting the top of green labelled hotel (often very expensives), we choose housing option based on used products, waste recycling, energy and water consumption...
What else ? During trip itself, small gestures are taken each day by participants thanks to carpooling, reduce use of non-recyclable packaging and polluting products...
To help us in our choice (housing, food, transportation, partners, sites,...), we have developed specification book which we use to elaborate our trips. We are aware that those specifications can't always be met at 100 %. But when we design a new trip, we'll review each item and ask ourselves if it would make sense or not (ie : ask for green label food) et if the answer is yes, we evaluate with our partners how to achieve this.
We hope in this way to initiate for our partners and participants a reflexion which would be then applied in a way of live more environmental friendly.
Increase positive impact
We consider that a positive impact of travel is the way it sustains local economy. To improve on this, we want to go further than only the financial aspect but also look to human one.
It's how the Touraco trips were born, where we initiate a tourism more environmental friendly in emerging countries by involving strongly local population. How ? First by proposing education program for birdwatching guide so they can welcome tourists, help then discover the nature around nd become then actors in protection of their environment. Secondly, by introducing then to ecological footprint so they practices tourism with respect of environment and local human beings.
Et à nouveau, l’idée est d’apporter une nouvelle façon de voir les choses, qui influencera positivement leur vie de tous les jours.
References, usefull links ... (in french)
- Etre écovoyageur, Robert Pince pour Nature et Découvertes : ce petit livret, qui coûte seulement 1€, permet de se familiariser avec les notion d’écotourisme, d’écovolontariat etc. Plusieurs autres livrets ont été édités : Etre consom’acteur, Vivre avec la nature, …
- Le site du WWF qui permet de calculer votre empreinte écologique globale, dans la vie de tous les jours : www.wwf.be ou http://www.wwf.be/fr/
- Entamer une réflexion ? Améliorer son empreinte écologique ? Le site des Amis de la Terre donne des infos utiles et pratiques, notamment lancer des groupes de "simplicité volontaire et décroissance" locaux : www.amisdelaterre.be ou http://www.amisdelaterre.be
- Ma ville notre planète, publication mensuelle sauf juillet-août, Bruxelles Environnement IBGE, firstname.lastname@example.org