February 19, 2013

What is the Environmental Impact of the Travel Industry? - By Laura Chapman

The connection between the travel industry and environmental impact is well documented, but what are the real facts of the issue and what can be done to reduce this impact and create a greener travel industry?

Cost and convenience have traditionally been the main two factors for people choosing travel options, but this is set to shift slightly in the future as the environmental impact of travel decisions takes more importance. This is not only due to the change in consciousness of the public, who are becoming increasingly concerned with the choices they make, but also due to the fact that governments are now beginning to reward industries that are making positive changes. This means that moving forward; it will also become more financially viable for people to make environmentally aware travel choices as government subsidies and tax levies make green travel a cheaper option.

The first and most important step towards creating a more environmentally sustainable future is gathering facts and figures on fuel consumption, emissions, noise pollution, environmental side effects, impact on wildlife and habitats, and any other environmental impacts that are occurring. Without the evidence to support speculation on the issue, it is not possible to make quantifiable changes for a better future.

The transport industry as a whole accounts for 23% of greenhouse emissions, with road transport and marine vehicles contributing the largest portion of the damage. There is now a worldwide push towards measuring and recording environmental impacts, and implementing future targets for industries to work towards.

Air Travel

Air travel is said to account for 1.6% of the total amount of greenhouse emissions and around 2% of all the carbon emissions in the world, although on average developed countries are contributing closer to 5 or 6% and not 2%.

The aviation industry has been working for a number of years to reduce its environmental impact and this is seen mainly through improvements in engine technology and emission reductions. Each time a new passenger aircraft is put into circulation it is designed with energy consumption in mind, meaning that as old airplanes are put out of service and replaced with new ones the skies become greener.

One thing that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future however is the growth in the sheer volume of air traffic. Flights are affordable to the masses and it is the most convenient and quick way of getting between most destinations. This means that more flights are being chartered each year, resulting in higher amounts of total emissions being emitted.

Cruise Ships

Traditionally cruise ships have been seen as one of the worst offenders of environmental pollution. Apart from the huge volume of emissions coming out of the gigantic engines, there is an unimaginable amount of waste produced due to the sheer volume of people onboard. Estimated figures of waste produced on a large cruise ship each day is 21,000 gallons of sewage, 1 ton of rubbish, 170,000 gallons of waste water from guest usage, 6,400 gallons of oily bilge from engine, and around 8,000 plastic bottles. This is an incredible amount each and every day that the ship is operational, but there are now big plans in action to reduce this waste and over pollution. All major cruise liners are now being equipped with measures to cut down on waste and energy consumption and these are positive changes for the environment. In order to reduce the amount of energy required to fuel the ships movement, hulls are now being painted with silicon based paint to reduce friction and consequently less power will be required to propel these huge vessels. One of the largest energy burners on a ship is actually the air conditioning and pumping systems, which are now being given a lot of attention. There have also been major developments in on board waste water treatment and fuel economy in recent years, making the future of cruise ships a much more environmentally friendly one.

What Can We Do as Individuals?

If you are looking to make a positive impact on the environment the easiest way to do so is in the choices that you make. Every time you purchase something you are supporting that industry. This means that every time you book a flight or cruise, or train, taxi, bus, or whatever it may be, you are opting to fund that company and that industry. By doing a little research before choosing how to travel you can spend your money on a company that you support. Choosing environmentally friendly cruise operators, low emission bus companies or electric taxi vehicles is a great way to make a difference.