Travel: The sustainability frontier 

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Adventurous by nature, Whistlerites are generally also travellers. And I like to think most of us do our best to travel as sustainably as possible—thinking harder about how to reduce the inevitable impacts our peregrinations bring. After all, no one wants to stop travelling, but we all know we can travel smarter.

At the Adventure Trade and Travel Association's (ATTA) 2019 World Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week, I realized clearly what's needed to make "smart travel" work for traveller, transportation, destination and tourism provider alike—and there are lessons in it for all. Though Whistler likes to pat itself on the back and talk the talk, when it comes to real sustainability initiatives we only pay lip service—in some cases less than that. Let's face it, real change will cost us—if not in money, then time and energy—and everyone in the provision chain needs to embrace this reality, starting at the top. Only long-term vision by governments can inculcate the necessary frameworks to budge current habits.

In his welcome speech, Ibrahim Baylan, Sweden's Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation, unflinchingly reiterated the goal of Sweden—already rated number one in the world in national sustainability while also maintaining high quality of life, satisfaction and happiness indices—to eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050 to become the world's first economically sustainable, non-fossil-fuel welfare (i.e., democratic socialism) state. "There is no trade-off between sustainability and the economy and jobs," he said. "The future of economic growth is sustainability. It will be difficult but we will achieve it."

Such an overarching, top-down approach is the missing ingredient in Canada's own halting efforts, which are typically eviscerated by unnecessary compromises that encourage mediocre outcomes and make it difficult and inconvenient to do the right thing. It doesn't mean going toe-to-toe with industry and business interests, but having them actively onboard, looking to the future. It's amazing to see how much pushback there is in Canada, the time, energy and money wasted by overentitled industry while the same businesses are making money in a new, more sustainable economy across the planet.

The ATTA, for instance, makes no bones about being Exhibit A in the need to encourage change in its own industry. Sustainable travel has always been a focus, but so have sustainable gatherings. Values enshrined in ATTA membership embrace not only a responsibility to minimize negative impacts and maximize positive benefits to the environment in events, training and education, and destination promotion—all of which involve significant worldwide travel by staff and members—but to lead by example with ways to do so. Two major sustainability streams have thus emerged—addressing climate change and elimination of single-use plastics.

ATTA is a travel community leader in the drive to eliminate single-use plastic (like water bottles) within the industry, focusing on trade and consumer audiences to collect data, educate, generate awareness, and collaborate on programs that offer solutions for interested businesses. It's nuts and bolts stuff but requires a ton of consistent and constant outreach—and it's having an effect globally.

ATTA also offsets its own staff travel and event emissions in partnership with South Pole (a Swiss carbon finance consultancy: southpole.com). And while the travel and tourism industry provides many positive benefits in terms of economic impact—particularly for developing countries—it's also responsible for eight per cent of total global carbon emissions (both direct and as embodied in food, accommodation, transport, fuel and shopping). Addressing this is a challenge, not least for undercapitalized small- and medium-sized businesses that see barriers to joining the sustainability club as too high, or too much to take on themselves—another reason partnerships and top-down visioning are key. Thus, ATTA's Climate Action Strategic Initiative includes two new programs: Neutral Together and Tomorrow's Air.

Neutral Together is a bulk carbon offset purchasing program for members that combats these challenges and facilitates action. Using a specialized carbon calculator developed with South Pole, members can measure their emissions for free; ATTA will then aggregate industry-reported volumes and realize a reduced per-ton price for carbon offsets. (If you're interested in joining when the program drops in January 2020, go to adventuretravel.biz/our-initiatives/).

Tomorrow's Air is a collective of travellers and travel businesses doing something many haven't heard of: cleaning carbon from the atmosphere through direct air capture (read more here: adventuretravelnews.com/can-tourism-support-carbon-removal-through-direct-air-capture).

So, while organizations and government hum and haw about outright plastic bans and how fast to transform transportations sectors and national economies, examples of groups and countries already on that train are manifold. We just have to decide to get on board.

Leslie Anthony is a science/environment writer and author who holds a doctorate in connecting the dots.

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