Can We Fly Sustainably?

Why are occasional vacation travellers attacked for travelling once or twice a year, when business, private individuals and “influencers” are flying twice a week or more?

It’s a hard question, but one that everyone should ask themselves, if they are to be truly serious about helping our planet.

Should you be flying as much?

The recent article entitled Zoom Doesn’t Cut It as Corporate Travelers Seek More Conference Networking highlights the upsurge in corporate leaders, business people, industry, influencers and even our own tourism sector in utilising in-person events and conferences that will drive corporate travel’s recovery throughout 2023.

The pandemic separated us all from family and loved ones, colleagues and face-to-face meetings that we had all probably taken for granted. The pandemic also highlighted to us how we can work and meet in alternative forms, particularly with the uptake in use of Skype, Microsoft Meetings and Zoom. We’ve seen how the British band Coldplay have adapted their touring to be more environmentally sensitive, and Irish band U2 helping to create change in touring – albeit the entertainment industry is one that is heavily reliant on travel and flying country to country – but it’s heartwarming to see such travel dependant industries attempting sustainable change.

So why can’t our own travel industry?

From a business perspective, of course it’s fantastic to have those face-to-face meetings – nothing beats talking to colleagues and discussing information in both an informal and formal manner. But when does the word sustainable enter the conversations we have and how do we get around the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to travel? It’s easy to say that it’s 2023 and that there’s no excuse of ignorance, nor the ability to do things differently, but the simple truth is, is that it is 2023 and alternatives do exist to help us achieve sustainability in most, if not all scenarios.

Beware of greenwashing!

Take as an example this article from CN Traveller which rightly highlights ways we can fly more sustainably – the only thing is – is that this article is sponsored by oil company Shell – who, if you didn’t know, were recently denied further permits for the unsustainable oil exploration off South Africa’s wild coast that would threaten South Africa’s ocean and marine life.

So how do we allow for articles promoting sustainability to be sponsored by oil companies? Shell themselves openly call for sustainability on their website, stating Sustainability at Shell means providing more and cleaner energy solutions in a responsible way. As with most entities which rely heavily on oil or other unsustainable practices, one must take their claims with a pinch of salt, whist at the same time engaging with them and encouraging them to fulfill their claims (and actions) of sustainability. The huge profits (full-year 2021 net profit $17.8 billion) that companies such as Shell earn, make for grim reading to those who expect more from influential and powerful companies – even though sustainability is promoted as being a part of the company’s future. So why explore for more oil off South Africa’s coast if you claim to be firmly behind the sustainability model?

And what about Carbon Offsetting? Is that also a form of greenwashing?

Are Carbon Offsets the way?

In recent days it’s been revealed that more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by the industry’s biggest provider are worthless (analysis shows,) as British multinational company Shell Plc are set to spend huge sums on schemes that do not bring genuine carbon reductions. We even have Canadian gas & oil company ReconAfrica attempting to explore for oil in Botswana’s protected Okavango Delta – is no natural habitat safe from oil-soaked hands?

Our world has the poor and our world has the starving, so should the world be waiting so long for huge companies, with huge profits and vast resources, to finally get around to actually being sustainable?

We believe that large corporations can change, and we encourage companies to do so immediately.

Offsetting doesn’t actually help prevent carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere in the first place.” – Greenpeace

Demand. Demand.

We all play a part in this unsustainability we see today and included in that is travel. As we’ve developed as a race, we’ve witnessed demand grow, from the food we buy, to the technology we use and the ignorance that comes with it – but why have we distanced ourselves from our responsibilities? Travel is a force for good, it helps create employment for locals and people worldwide, it creates infrastructure and impacts a country’s economy, provides revenue for hospitals and clinics, initiates funding for wildlife conservation, schools, empowers communities and much more. There is so much good to be had from travel, when it’s done right.

What we don’t wish to see, is the degradation of habitat, the forced evictions of indigenous peoples, or the loss of local people from cities and towns due to AirBnB’s increase in overseas homeowners, or the cruise industry’s impact on destinations as Venice or when Thailand’s popular Phi Phi island closed its beach due to the negative impact tourists had on its environment. We need to be sensible in the forms of tourism we partake in.

We CAN play our part in this over-consumption by assessing and limiting our use of travel. It is possible and here’s how;

  • Restrict vacation travel to 1-2 vacations per year
  • Ensure your vacation isn’t flying heavy (restrict to one return long haul flight for example)
  • Restrict your vacation to fewer destinations, spend longer in one place and enjoy the destination more
  • Choose hotels, bed & breakfasts and safari camps that operate with a sustainable focus, include locally grown produce, removed plastics, offer vegan meals and eco-friendly items such as shampoos and soaps etc. (many safari camps we use for our clients are solar powered and we are seeing more electric vehicles available for safaris)
  • Replace some meetings in business and other industry with Skype or Zoom
  • Look at which segments of your travel itinerary can be replaced with trains or shared transport
  • Ditch your frequent flyer miles – such programmes should be a thing of the past and are there for one thing only and that’s to get you flying more – not cool in 2023

With all that being said, and with so much more not included here, does it make sense for Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to be flying into Space in 2023?

Protected areas such as Botswana’s Okavango Delta under threat from oil, gas exploration (article), Image courtesy Mombo Camp
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Can We Fly Sustainably? … via @bettersafaris #sustainability #aviation #oil #business #conservation #environment #jeffbezos #richardbranson #elonmusk

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