how to find sustainable travel companies

People said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future.

Now, new data shows that they actually do.

According to a January report by the World Travel and Tourism Council and the Group:

  • About 60% of travelers have chosen more sustainable travel options in the past few years.
  • About 70% are actively looking for sustainable travel options.

James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, says it’s not easy to find companies that are serious about sustainability.

“You see hotels that say they’re sustainable, and then you use these little travel bottles for shampoos and shower gels,” she said.

It’s all just “greenwashing,” he said, referring to a term that describes companies’ efforts to appear more environmentally friendly than they are.

Just because a company says they’re “100% sustainable” or “eco-conscious” … means nothing.

James Thornton

CEO, Intrepid Travel

The term has gained popularity along with the increasing demand for sustainable products and services.

The result is a mix of those who are truly committed to the cause – and those who sprinkle environmental buzzwords and photos of saplings, forests and other “green” imagery into their marketing materials, with no real action to back up their claims.

Finding sustainable companies

Beware of these tactics, Thornton said.

“Just because a company says they’re ‘100% sustainable’ or ‘eco-conscious’ … means nothing,” he said. “I would urge travelers to be very careful when they see these words and really look at a little more detail.”

Thornton said consumer interest in sustainable travel has changed significantly over the past two decades. When he joined Intrepid travel 18 years ago, “people would look at us as a bit crazy” when the company talked about sustainability, he said.

Many companies are now doing this, whether they are serious or not.

Thornton said he believes the travel industry currently falls into three categories. A third have “incredibly good intentions and [are] They are working very hard to solve the climate crisis … and they are making good progress.”

Another third is “well-intentioned, but [aren’t] actually still taking action. And often … they don’t know how to act.”

The final third is “totally burying its head in the sand and hoping that this thing will go away, and the truth of the matter is – it won’t.”

To identify companies in the first category, Thornton advises travelers to look for three critical things.

1. History of sustainability

To determine whether a company can jump on the eco-bandwagon, examine its history, Thornton said.

He advises looking for “a long history of association with sustainability issues, or is this something that’s just emerging?”

Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton.

Source: Intrepid Travel

If messaging is new to the company, it’s not a deal breaker, he said.

“But it does encourage the customer to want to look a little more closely to see if there’s any seriousness behind what a company is really doing,” he said, “Or if it’s just something done for the sake of marketing — and therefore greenwashing.”

2. Check the measurements

Next, travelers should see if the company measures greenhouse gas emissions, Thornton said.

“The honest truth is that every travel company ultimately contributes to the climate crisis,” he said. “So the best thing any travel company can do is measure its greenhouse gas emissions.”

For this, Thornton advised travelers to check the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.

“The Glasgow Declaration website lists organizations that have agreed to actively reduce their emissions … and actually has a climate plan that shows how they’re doing it,” he said.

According to him, the signatories should publish their climate plans under the control of the UN World Tourism Organization.

“Consumers can use this to check whether the company they are ordering from is serious about decarbonisation,” he said, adding that there are more than 700 organizations on the list.

Travelers can also check out the Science-Based Targets Initiative, a partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Thornton said.

Its website has a dashboard detailing waste reduction commitments by more than 4,500 companies worldwide, including American Express Global Business Travel, the UK’s Reed & Mackay Travel and Australia’s Flight Center Travel Group.

3. Look for accreditations

Finally, travelers can check for independent accreditations, Thornton said.

One of the most serious and impressive is the B Corp Certification, he said.

“It took three years for Intrepid to become a B Corp,” he said.

Other companies with B Corp status include Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, Aesop. and Patagonia, called “the world’s most famous B Corp” by Thornton.

To get it, companies are reviewed by the nonprofit B Lab, and the certification lasts three years, Thornton said.

Kristen Graff, director of sales and marketing at Indonesia’s Bawah Reserve resort, agreed that B Corp is the “most respected” certification.

“The other is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council,” he said. “These are actually auditable and legitimate.”

Bawah Reserve resort in Indonesia’s Anambas Islands is applying for B Corp certification. The resort uses solar energy and desalinates drinking water on the island.

Source: Bawah reserve

Other travel eco-certifications are less demanding, Graff said.

“A lot of them are just rackets to make money,” he said.

Bawah Reserve has begun the process to obtain B Corp certification in November 2021, Graff said. “We expect it will take about a year to complete,” he said.

B Corp uses a sliding scale for certification fees starting at $1,000 for companies with less than $1 million in annual revenue.

“The cost is fairly minimal,” Thornton said, especially “if you’re serious about sustainability.”

Intrepid pays about $25,000 a year for the certificate, he said.

Another tip

Thornton also advised travelers to ask questions such as:

  • Do you use renewable energy sources?
  • Is the food locally sourced?
  • Are workers from local communities?
  • Who owns the hotel?

He said there are places that are considered sustainable but are “actually owned by the casino”.

Finally, Thornton advises travelers to check online reviews.

“Often a bit of research on Google… can give a really good indication of whether a hotel or travel experience is doing what it says it is – or whether it really is greenwashing.”

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