The Regenerative Travel Impact Awards 2021 — Climate

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The Regenerative Travel Impact Awards
 celebrate people and projects that embody the spirit of regeneration—improving people’s lives, our communities, and the world around us. We are searching the globe for inspiring changemakers working to solve our biggest challenges and inspiring positive action, both inside and outside of travel.

View the finalists for the Climate category, featuring innovative ideas that bring greenhouse gas emissions to zero (and beyond) or uplift nature’s carbon cycle.

1. Mountain Homestays: Clean Energy Retrofit Program

Mountain Homestays (MH) is a community-led social tourism enterprise that creates dignified livelihood opportunities for indigenous people in remote regions of India.

The on-ground MH team surveys agrarian mountain communities in Ladakh to assess community needs and identify unique elements of their culture and lifestyle. Next, solar electricity and solar water heaters are provided to local householders. It then works with partner families to transform traditional homes into boutique homestays. MH invests capital to procure biodegradable, sustainably sourced materials to set them up, and runs upskilling programmes for the hosts. CO2 emissions are reduced from 5,188 kgs to 140kgs per family per year.

With the goal of achieving carbon neutrality and enhancing the living conditions of hosts, all the homestays set up by MH additionally have greenhouses, reuse human waste as manure for the fields, and discourage single-use plastics. During each visit, the carbon footprint of the travelers is calculated on a real-time basis to keep track of the consumption and waste generation.

Traditionally, a family in a village burns at least 40kg of wood to get hot water every morning, emitting at least 60kg of CO2 per month. The solar water heater installed instead provides hot water on tap 24/7, without any carbon emissions.

The indigenous communities grow a limited amount of food, sufficient only for locals. To cater to the food demands of travelers, they make multiple trips to the market in hired vehicles that run on fossil fuels, leading to more carbon emissions. The packaging of the food eventually ends up in the ever-expanding landfills. With MH, locals are empowered with greenhouses to grow surplus fresh vegetables and fruits. Other hospitality essentials such as toiletries are sourced from local markets and packed in non-plastic material. Water filters are provided in every homestay to avoid single-use plastic bottles.

The Carbon Neutral Homestay intervention cuts down annual CO2 emission from 5,188 kgs to 140kgs CO2 per family per year. The homestays ensure the villages remain carbon-free and plastic-free, while earning directly from tourism and arresting migration. This also ensures the sustainability of tourism, without reaching a point of stagnation due to the negative impacts on the environment.

2. Trees4Travel

The Trees4Travel project was devised by founders sceptical of what lay behind the ‘Off Set Carbon’ tick box, and in response to the general malaise regarding carbon reduction. Launched in January 2021 following 9 months of research and development, Trees4Travel consulted experts in carbon accounting and extraction, plus climate scientists including the Crowther Lab (tasked with oversight of the UN Trillion Trees Campaign). They contacted reforestation projects and pooled skills to offer travel a solution for ‘ethical carbon reduction and rebalancing’ delivered in the most straightforward, timely, and affordable way.

Trees4Travel’s Carbon Calculator API is a free collaborative device enabling all sectors of travel to integrate trip data and work together to reduce the carbon footprint of travellers. The platform allows seamless data input at every journey stage, ensuring passengers’ total emissions and carbon ‘balance’ is accounted for. This allows passengers and travel advisors to make informed, mindful, greener decisions regarding the ‘true’ cost of a journey’s every element. The complex equation “kilograms of carbon per element” is reduced to the simplest sum: trips into trees. The sum is based on the first ten years of an indigenous hardwood sapling, planted in a protected project for rewilding.

Trees4Travel offers Certified Carbon Units helping with its community projects, including the conservation of forests centered around a Brazilian rainforest community, an Amazonian conservation project of 40,000 hectares in Acre. Validated to gold level for climate adaptation, the project delivers exceptional community and biodiversity benefits. The land was to be cleared for livestock; however, the project is now establishing alternative economic activities for communities, including commercializing the collection of medicinal plants and acai berries.

Although this scheme provides Certified Carbon Units to companies, it doesn’t offer planting. Trees4Travel (at no additional charge) plants trees anyway for clients using this scheme, enhancing clients’ rebalancing credentials and maintaining rewilding goals. Projects are chosen not only to reforest land damaged by human intervention or natural disaster, but to enhance biodiversity. Trees4Travel only plants with schemes intended for the life of the tree, ensuring it goes on sucking carbon out of the air long after its initial ‘calculated’ use.

3. YHA New Zealand

YHA (Youth Hostel Association) of New Zealand leads the world as the first accommodation network to be carboNZeroCertTM certified, using local providers of carbon credits who invest in restoring native New Zealand bush. This demonstrates its commitment to measuring, reducing, and offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions. Data on its sustainability practices is readily available to be utilised by others, and ethical experiences with local community initiatives enhance the reach of YHA’s impact.

The association invested significantly in quality improvements like comprehensive energy-efficient systems, including renewable energy installations in Wellington, Rotorua, Franz Josef, Lake Tekapo, and Aoraki Mt Cook. Additionally, refurbishments allow YHA to make small continuous improvements, adding up to a big difference. It has a comprehensive recycling program throughout its managed hostels to reduce landfill waste. This includes extras such as clothing donation areas, places to leave left-over food, book exchanges, reusable bag exchanges, and more to ensure guests are encouraged to re-use.

Partnering with organisations committed to sustainability, YHA’s partnership with Meridian recently resulted in installations of 3 EV charging stations at its most remote hostels to provide free community access to EV charging stations – and support EV usage on longer distance drives.

The association works with suppliers to minimise excessive packaging and single-use plastic, encouraging suppliers to help make the move from the traditional Linear Economy to a more Circular Economy, looking at the full supply chain and influencing change where it can.

Care for the environment is built into the organisation, and all team members have a stake in these initiatives. It goes beyond environmental sustainability and commits to its social environment too. All hostels’ café menus focus on local producers, both promoting the local economy and minimising food miles. Each hostel takes part in various community programmes determined by the staff at each location.

As a not-for-profit, YHA’s income is reinvested into providing quality accommodation with a view to supporting young people learning about New Zealand’s country and culture, ensuring it uses travel for positive outcomes for guests and local communities. Sustainability is core to its mission, driven via YHA National Board’s investment decisions, management and operational policies, and individual staff practices. This means sustainability is the norm, not an additional activity.

4. Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency

Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency is the largest ever collaboration by the tourism industry looking to address one of the biggest challenges the planet faces – the climate emergency. Entirely volunteer-run, it now has over 270 members from every sector of tourism. All have made the same commitments – to follow climate science, create a climate plan, collaborate and work together.

Members range from national and regional tourism organisations, to tour operators, hotels, NGOs, certification bodies and consultants. As it says on the Tourism Declares homepage: “We’re a global community of 271 travel organisations, companies and professionals who have declared a climate emergency and come together to plan a better future for tourism. We commit to acting now to align our plans with the need to cut global emissions in half over the next decade, exploring what this means for each one of us, sharing ideas, challenges and solutions, so that together we can create a new, regenerative tourism industry built on the principles of climate justice.”

This November, at COP26, the organisation will publish three Climate Action Blueprints to support anyone working for a Tour Operator, Accommodation Provider or Destination to deliver their own Climate Action Plan. The Blueprints are divided into five sections: Measurement; Reduction of Emissions; Adaptation, Resilience and Regeneration, Financing Climate Solutions; Collaboration and Engagement.

Tourism Declares is also collaborating with the Future of Tourism Coalition on the Destination Climate Action Blueprint. One of its members, Greenview, is providing a Net Zero Methodology for Accommodation. Intrepid and Legacy Vacation Resorts are working on an Open Source Science Based Target methodology.

Tourism Declares is also working with UNWTO, UNFCCC, the Adventure Travel Trade Association and San Francisco State University, and together have launched the Global Survey of Climate Action in Tourism, the first such initiative of its kind, aiming to create the most extensive snapshot of action across the tourism industry and promote frontrunner initiatives from around the world. Many of the case studies and tools sourced through this initiative will provide content to enrich the organisation’s Blueprints.

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