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Tourism Greenwashing

Posted by Richard Hammond at 02:15 on Monday 07 July 2008

The Observer's Travel section headline article this weekend was: 
Are you being greenwashed?

"From B&Bs to Boeing, everyone is jumping on the environmental bandwagon, but how can we be sure that what they promise is what they deliver?" by Tom Robbins.

"Of course many firms are genuinely improving their environmental and ethical performance and are doing so with only the best motives. But others have more cynical intentions - recognising a potent new marketing tool, they are exaggerating how green, sustainable, ethical and responsible they are. The problem is working out who's doing their bit, and who's just cashing in on eco-guilt."

Read the full article on Greenwashing in Tourism.

Also featured in The Observer: Seven Steps to More Responsible Travel, by Liane Katz and GreenTraveller's Richard Hammond.

The Expert Panel: 'Which is your favourite eco escape?" (with contributions from GreenTraveller's Richard Hammond; Lucy Siegle, Observer Ethical Correspondent; Ed Gillespie, Slow Travel exponent and co-founder of Futerra; Pat Thomas, editor, The Ecologist; Harriet Lamb, executive director, The Fairtrade Foundation).

Related stories:

28 March 2007: Tourism Greenwashing.


Be more inclusive

Here’s the message I am sending the newspaper:

It’s good to see ‘Are you being green washed?’ with its promise of a review of the travel industry, but the focus ought to be more inclusive. Travelers should be aware not just of greenwash within the bookings but within other components of the tourism industry as well, including NGOs, government agencies, donor institutions, media and academia. Greenwashing occurs at all levels.

What is needed most now (2008-2009) is more transparent communication and more engaging conversation in the natural world AND online the Web. If Trip Advisor can counsel travelers on good deals, then why haven’t we seen any Web 2.0 travel site explore sustainability issues in depth? The answer seems to be two-fold: 1) it’s complicated, and 2) there’s more money in booking operations and traditional tourism. Exploration and dialogue denied.

Some background. For my part, I created a website called Planeta.com in 1995 to foster a global dialogue on ecotourism and responsible travel. Planeta.com features a World Travel Directory — guides and operators — but instead of handling the sales, we allow individuals to make contact directly with the providers. In my view the best tools that promote direct contact between traveler and tour provider. What Planeta.com provides is as much a service for the traveler (yes, these operators are doing something ‘eco’) but just as much we provide some guidance and technical assistance for the operator. Many operators have good intentions but are just learning how to green their operations. Planeta.com helps to share this information.

Beyond promotion of individual operations we have hosted 20 online conferences since 2000, topics ranging from the sustainable development of ecotourism to ethical marketing and the environmental impact of transportation.

My view is that if we can focus our attention and share information publicly, we can nudge ourselves toward sustainability. This is part of the experiential learning cycle — www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/2553787616 — provided we reflect and share what we experience. The challenge, again, occurs mostly in terms of governance as local, state and international leaders don’t wish to be questioned, rarely document anything that’s not a 100% success and frequently slide into greenwash themselves.

I would take issue with the claim that ‘eco’ has lost all power and meaning. It makes more sense to view the ‘shades of green’ aptly described in a book of the same name. — http://planeta.wikispaces.com/shadesofgreen — that show readers how to be green. This book sets out a practical sliding environmental scale from deep green to not even a little bit green. We should apply the same to tours, to individual places, to government offices, to NGOs and to tourism events. Our objective should simply be how we can work together to make any of these elements a shade greener.

NGOs would make a greater impact not by stating what is and is not ‘certified’ or ‘eco’ but creating being more transparent themselves. We need to work together to create spaces for informed discussion manifested locally and connected on the Web. Otherwise, the talk of labels and ‘fair trade’ is simply an invitation for more disagreement and more confusion by locals and travelers alike.

Ron Mader
Oaxaca, Mexico

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