TOWARDS GUILT-FREE TRAVEL
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2007). Towards Guilt-free Travel. LMD. August 2007. Page 152. Volume 14, Issue 01. ISSN 1391-135X.
Elaborating on the new environmental consciousness – ‘carbon neutrality’.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne elaborates on the new environmental consciousness- ‘carbon neutrality’.
In August 2006 I was in the UK to attend the British Bird Watching Fair, one of the largest consumer fairs of its kind. Although many newspapers have an environmental section, the environment is not day-to-day news. I would expect people at the ‘Bird Fair’ to be attuned to the fragile nature of the world but not be exposed too much to discussion outside specialist audiences. During this visit, one of the things I noticed was that the environment had become day-to-day mainstream news. It was impossible to switch on the TV and not be confronted with a discussion or an interview or documentary on global warming and climate change. People, wherever we met them, were talking about global warming.
Six months later, I attended another consumer fair at Earls Court in London. This is the largest consumer travel fair in the UK. It was a non-specialist travel fair which attracted an audience from the ABC1 socio economic category- a category which interested us because this contained the mid to high-end spenders and the type of travellers Sri Lanka needs to attract. The consumer travel fair had a category of exhibitor labeled as ‘responsible travel’. Many consumer fairs are increasingly placing emphasis on this aspect of travel. I was quite happy for my colleague, Sanjiva Gautamadasa, and I to remain in the Indian Ocean section- despite our strong environmental credentials. My view is that all travel will eventually need to be responsible. Encouraging responsible travel cannot remain in the domain of a clutch of small specialist companies run by tree-hugging environmentalists. Every industry-especially the travel industry-will need to look at ways of minimizing its respective impact on the environment.
At ‘Destinations 2007’, I also came across a new breed of vendor: the ‘carbon-credit merchant’. This drove home the point about a sense of urgency felt by the Western consumer on how to deal with the planet’s present crisis. No small credit for this is due to the film An Inconvenient Truth, featuring former US Vice-President Al Gore. Every citizen on this planet should watch it. I hope every schoolchild in the world with watch it and influence their parents to do their bit for humanity- before it is too late. Every corporate in Sri Lanka who exports goods and services- especially to the developed countries- should also watch it. Understanding the psychology of your consumer is also important. Sri Lankan corporates need to understand how deep a commitment exists at both the level of the corporate buyer as well as that of the individual consumer. A key trend in the next few years is that buyers will increasingly select producers and suppliers who actively manage their environmental impact, or carbon footprint.
Enter the carbon trader. Carbon is not the total solution to arrest the dramatic crisis in global warming, but carbon credits will stand as a proxy or benchmark. The polluting activities of a consumer or manufacturer can be measured in terms of a ‘carbon footprint’. Say for example you take a flight on holiday or business. How much have you contributed to polluting greenhouse gases which raise global temperatures? Nothing in life is exact, but a calculation can be made. You can offset this by buying a carbon offset through an accredited seller. The seller has carbon credits to sell, because it has invested money in offsetting activities such as managing rainforests or managing plantations which grow organic cash crops mixed with natural forests, which absorb atmospheric carbon. There may come a time when countries and companies have to be carbon neutral because legislation demands it. Meanwhile, companies in Sri Lanka are already finding that big buyers in the garment industry, for example, are already asking questions- which suggest that they are on the road to ‘carbon neutrality’.
The consumer is also paying. Carbon neutrality is no longer a fancy concept. Travel companies are offering cross links via websites to carbon-credit sellers so that a traveler can take a guilt-free holiday. Newspapers and glossy magazines in the affluent world run travel sections advising people on how to take guilt-free holidays. Of course, as Gore points out, it would help if the US- responsible for 65% of global-warming emissions- took heed of its responsibility. The signs are that the US eventually will. Meanwhile, we will all have to play our part. Taking care of the planet has reached a new level of business imperative. Businesses selling goods and services to sophisticated markets, especially, will have to take note.
Accountant & Banker turned wildlife populariser, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne lobbies for progress. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.