Sustainability in the Travel Industry - 5 Questions to Jörg Hauschild

Magnus Kunhardt
Dec 7, 2022 3:01:59 PM

What do you know regarding sustainability in the context of the tourism industry?

Like every industry, tourism contributes to climate change. It is calculated that 5.3% of global CO2 emissions are caused by tourism, three-quarters of which come from the transport sector.1 In addition, an immense amount of waste is produced by tourism alongside the fact that operating tourist facilities, like hotels, requires a lot of energy.

So it is not only the pollution caused by tourism but also the energy consumption associated to it that becomes in issue, especially in times such as these where resource is becoming every more scarce, and the markets are affected by global events such as war. Not only is travel itself an area in which to take action, but there is also potential for improvement in the companies that facilitate travel, such as travel agencies and their supply chain.

At MIDOCO, we care passionately about this and have created a task force specifically to address these concerns for us as a business. We have identified and defined in our operation the areas of waste, energy, mobility, health and social responsibility for focus. These five areas are also reflected in the  17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals  and can be applied to the travel industry as a whole. For example, we need to pay attention to

  • how much waste is generated within our organisation, for example, food waste, paper, and plastic
  • how and when do we dispose of electronic work equipment, food packaging, marketing material, etc.?

It is the same with energy. How can electricity consumption be reduced through intelligent lighting or indeed, perhaps through the operation of our computer servers.

When it comes to mobility, it's about how we get our customers from A to B but also about how we approach it as service providers in the tourism industry as well. We are also users of the services we sell. How do we travel? By train, by plane? Do we look to compensate or offset for travel that cannot be done though any other mode, for example?

The topic of health is also an important part of this because, as humans, the best way to enable people to make good decisions is if we ourselves are well. In addition to physical wellbeing, having good leadership and balance within one's organisation can play a large part in employees' mental health. The principles that companies with which we interact also play a role. Because our industry is a network of closely connected partners, initiatives like this won't be truly be successful if not everyone pulls in the same direction. For example, there are inherent risks in working with companies that that do not uphold the same values as you yourself.

The challenge here is, of course, that in the end sustainable action must also remain profitable. To put it in other words; we need to be able to walk before we run. To truly answer the question of what sustainability means in the context of the travel industry, I would say that we must reflect on all our actions with regards to waste, energy, mobility, health and social responsibility and subsequently test and improve, not only as individual participants but as a community within the industry, so that real, systematic change has a chance.

Who is responsible for making travel more climate-friendly and sustainable?

All of us! Politics, trade, airlines, hotels, tour operators, travel agents, IT and ultimately, customers. If the issue of climate change is not a priority for the customer, then an absolute key influencing factor is also missing. The consumer can decide what they buy and how travel is executed, and demand fuels market development. Unfortunately, sustainable travel requires more investment, be it in time or money. As a travel consumer, I have to put my interests alongside that of the planet and make my decisions accordingly.

Politics plays an equally important role in this context. It's like pensions - you have to force people to a certain extent. Otherwise they simply will not make provision for the future, which becomes a problem for society in the long term. This can be applied analogously to climate change, but there the scope is even greater. It is about nothing less than everything, globally across all sectors. As a society, we need a framework that promotes more climate-friendly action in a way that is meaningful.

From the perspective driving systemic change, all involved companies from trade and travel can also pressure each other to act in a climate-friendly way. This could be at any scale, for example, that a hotel only uses energy-saving light bulbs or plastic-free cleaning agents and soap. As the visibility of our impact on the environment rises, it may well be that if a partner cannot meet these requirements, it may lose out.

In the same way, a tour operator can drive the requirement that an airline has a more resource-efficient fleet and, for example, no longer uses disposable plastic cutlery on board. This list can be continued indefinitely. It is as much a responsibility to demand sustainable behaviour as it is to offer it. There are many excellent approaches to improving sustainability in tourism, and these can be seen in working groups in associations globally. In Germany there are initiatives like Futouris or the recently founded KlimaLink, which aims to develop a data standard for calculating carbon emissions for tourism. There are companies like Atmosfair, myClimate, planetly and many others that support travel companies in making their business activities more climate-friendly. Or, rather, they make the climate impact of a organisation's behaviour tangible in the first place by putting a restorative price tag on them. This cost can then at least be monitored and modified through improved behaviour, something that has until only recently been possible.

In conclusion, we all bear the responsibility as an industry and as customers. However, there is also a need for people and companies to take on leadership roles and make it their task to drive climate protection forward, and in so doing bring others along on the journey.

What do you think are the issues that are at the forefront?

On the one hand, the organisation of working groups that develop concepts and strategies and take this up to government to produce legislation to drive behaviour. On the other hand, sustainability has a tendency to be somewhat flavour-of-the-week. One day it is about becoming plastic-free all of a sudden, the next being climate-neutral, but without an overarching, cohesive narrative. It is about recognising the potential for improvement and using this in line with one's own business to make real change. So in that respect it's also more and more about communication. The topic has to get more into people's heads and become a constant companion in the decision making process.

What approaches do you see?

It's a mix of:

  • Taking the initiative to exploit quick wins
  • Good communication and examples of successful initiatives
  • Political framework conditions promoted by association engagement
  • The customer's demand for more climate-friendly travel
  • Systematic change
  • Research and development

Everything is already in motion, but we're still really only at the beginning. People need to understand that climate friendliness is not a business killer, but an opportunity to stay in business sustainably, and potentially win sustainably too. 

A final point, of course, is research. We humans will always want to travel, and we will continue to do so. To boldly go, so to speak.  So we need to develop alternative drive systems and materials that are neutral in energy and resources, or at least have a chance of becoming so. This is where politicians and companies are called upon equally. But progress thus far has been glacially slow - it took more than 100 years to get to a viable electric car. If demand can drive it, and if we all work together perhaps we can ensure that developments progress as quickly in climate technology as it has in, say, computing.

Tell me what MIDOCO is doing to be more sustainable and to support the industry's ambitions to become more climate-friendly?

At MIDOCO, we have formed a task force that meets regularly and has defined the areas of our business in which we can take action. In fact, we have already set out on this path! This includes, for example:

  • sourcing all our electricity only as green electricity,
  • offsetting all our business travel 
  • flying only when necessary
  • only using physical tech that has a high environmental efficiency rating

We are also very environmentally conscious when disposing of old materials, for example, by not disposing of obsolete hardware through destruction but by extending its life cycle by passing it on. One of our next steps is to determine our Sustainability Status Quo and establish KPIs so that we can measure our progress.

When it comes to supporting the industry, we are well represented in working groups and initiatives to engage with issues alongside our partners in the travel industry to find common solutions.

1 https://www.unwto.org/sustainable-development/tourism-emissions-climate-change

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