Certified Sustainable Travel: One Step Closer
Sustainable tourism, the vaguely defined industry of travel that minimizes social and environmental harm and maximizes benefits to local communities, may soon have a unified set of international standards. Currently, WorldChanging reports, travel companies trying to go green have a daunting array of at least 300 different standards to choose from. But last week at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, a new coalition unveiled comprehensive criteria culled from existing programs and developed with input from more than 89,000 people. Made up of 32 environmental and business groups, as well as United Nations programs, the coalition aims to eventually create a verification system similar to the LEED program for green buildings, giving travelers and the tourism industry a common reference for measuring (and shrinking) their environmental footprints.
Tourism accounts for about 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and employs about 8 percent of the global population, according to the UN Environment Programme, one of the coalition's leaders. The UN World Tourism Organization, also involved in shaping the new standards, forecast in a 2007 study that tourism would increase by an average of 4 percent a year over the long term, with annual arrivals reaching increasing to 1 billion by 2010 (you can download the study here [PDF]). The
study found that the industry brings in billions of dollars a day, but
local communities rarely share in the profit. With the growing
popularity of tourism to ecologically sensitive areas, the
establishment of sustainable criteria could become increasingly
important for conservation efforts.