Summer of sustainability

by May 30, 2018

We observed Memorial Day this week in the U.S., and here in the Southeast (Shelton Group’s HQ), schools have wrapped up. That means one thing’s for sure: It’s vacation time! My personal social media feeds are already showing my friends and their families on vacations – everywhere from amusement parks, beaches, mountains closer to home, and other adventures across the country and beyond.

We’ve blogged previously about sustainability challenges when it comes to travel (inconsistencies with airline waste is a collective pet peeve), and a recent article published by Earther highlights compiled data from 160 different countries to create a global estimate of the tourism industry’s carbon footprint. It’s one that keeps growing, and now accounts for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And U.S. travelers are the biggest contributors to the problem by far, producing nearly a billion tons of CO2 in 2013.

Looks like the planet needs a vacation from our vacations.

Of course, there’s more than one side to the story

But there’s a flip slide to consider. Many economies, both domestically and internationally, rely on tourism to keep them afloat. According to the World Tourism Organization, travel is the first or second source of export earnings in 20 of the world’s 48 least developed countries. How can we balance our wanderlust (in a world where it’s easier than ever to travel nearly everywhere), with our flat-out desire (some would argue need) to “get away from it all,” and these enormous, and sometimes conflicting, global impacts?

Companies are working on solutions

Thankfully, big corporations and smaller businesses in the tourism realm are stepping up to the plate to help us travel more sustainably and maybe feel a little better about our tourism decisions now – and moving ahead.

  • Fulcrum BioEnergy recently announced that it will convert 175,000 tons of municipal solid waste into more than 10.5 million gallons of fuel annually at its Nevada refinery. This is predicted to reduce GHG by 80% compared to the use of traditional petroleum transportation fuel. BP, United Airlines and Cathway Pacific Airways are early investors. Fulcrum also plans to break ground on a second commercial-scale biorefinery in Chicago, home to United’s largest hub.
  • Hilton has committed to doubling its social impact while halving its environmental footprint via its “Travel With Purpose” corporate responsibility strategy, becoming the first major hotel company to use science-based targets to hit its goals. These goals encompass a wide range of activities from reductions in carbon emissions and water consumption, to sustainably sourced food and textiles, to soap recycling and value chain improvements.
  • Alaska Airlines is phasing out plastic stirring sticks and citrus picks in its cocktails and coffees offered on flights and in lounges. They’re replacing them with compostable versions made from birch and bamboo. We’ll be watching for future reports about whether or not these items actually make it to a compost bin … but this isn’t a small action. Alaska Airlines states it will be the first U.S. airline to fully eliminate these items, after handing out 22 million of them in 2017.
  • Companies like Responsible Travel, Good Travels Advisors and Collette’s Impact Travel Tours exist to help travelers create a vacation experience that keeps sustainability and social responsibility front-of-mind. You can build these kinds of activities into any vacation – whether that’s volunteering locally as part of your itinerary, or creating an entire service-based vacation to help a community hit by disaster.

According to our insights, these companies will be rewarded.

  • 59% of Millennials look to companies to solve social and environmental problems they feel they can’t address (or would rather not have to) – and personal travel squarely lands in this bucket.
  • 64% of Americans say a company’s environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions.
  • 60% of Americans say CSR activities positively impact their purchase intent.

As we know, many little actions add up to larger change. Let us know what your companies are doing, and what actions you’re taking personally, to contribute to a healthier planet this summer. If you need a jump-start with some new ideas or fresh thinking that can help engage your customers, we’re here to help.

Safe (and sustainable) travels!

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About the Author

Judith Rosenberg

As Senior Account Director, Judith works closely with our research and creative teams to lead strategic marketing communication initiatives and campaigns for clients. She loves identifying key opportunities for clients to leverage their sustainability efforts in support of their overall business goals (even more than she loves a good Asian noodle bowl).

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