Reducing your carbon footprint

Tour operators are in the position to contribute to slowing down global warming by simply lowering their emissions. This article shows you the focus points and first steps to start reducing your own business carbon footprint.
Reduce carbon footprint

Managing and measuring emission

Worldwide, we are seeing more and more severe disruptions for local communities and the environment due to global warming. It has a major influence on the tourism industry as it advances heavier storms, flooding, extreme heats, serious droughts and higher risk of fire. These effects destroy destinations, thereby preventing people to travel and locals to make an income.

The less emissions produced, the slower the planet is warming up. The carbon footprint of tourism is relatively large (5 to 8%) and if we want to continue travelling in the future, we need to act now. To take action as a tour operator, you first need to understand how manage your carbon footprint, measure your own emissions to gain insight in your own footprint, and then to reduce it.

Start reducing your own business carbon footprint

As key player in the tourism industry, tour operators are emitting (direct and indirect) a significant share of CO2. Now that the consequences of global warming are more visible than ever, it’s time to start thinking about the future and to make the transition to low carbon operations. The more tour operators involved in seriously reducing their CO2 emissions, the higher change we can actually reduce global warming.

To start reducing our carbon footprint we need to embed this strategy into daily our operations. Benefits for reducing your footprint are:

  • Challenge climate change by slowing down its effects
  • Futureproof your company and invest in a low carbon future
  • Reduce operation costs on the long-term by reducing transport, energy and waste
  • Attract and retain the future generation that wants to make a difference

Developing a carbon reduction plan

When you have an idea of your own carbon footprint, you are also be able to identify your focus points on where to make the biggest impact. To structure this process and make it a success, it’s important to develop a carbon reduction plan. It doesn’t matter if you write it for short, medium or long term as long as you have a clear focus. The basic step-to-step approach goes as follows:

1. Review your carbon footprint and reflect on the climate action targets

When you have gained insight in your own carbon footprint, you are able to compare this to industry averages. How are you doing in comparison? What are other tour operators doing to reach their targets? Have a look at the UNDP Sustainable Development goals for action targets and initiatives for inspiration.

2. Select your focus areas

To identify your focus area, look for the highest return on investment (ROI). Where can you reduce most emissions and where can you save most costs? Also think about relevancy; do you need to upgrade equipment this year? Can you solve previous pain points at the same time? Can your initiative(s) enhance guest experience or employee satisfaction?

3. Develop targets

Combine general climate action targets and industry averages with your focus areas. Define where and how you will reduce emissions in your own organisation. Divide your targets in direct (office, business travel) and indirect (tours). Also decide if you will measure absolute or intensity performance.

Absolute measurement aims to reduce CO2 emissions by a set amount. Example: Reducing total emissions by 25% by 2025.

Intensity measurement sets targets relative to economic growth. Example: Reducing footprint per booked trip with 10% by 2025.

4. Consider publishing your targets publicly

By publishing your targets on how you will reduce your emissions shows the industry what you are up to. It confirms you are serious about contributing to slowing down global warming and doing your part. Start conversations and share the goals you are working towards.

5. Create an implementation plan and a green team

Reducing your CO2 emissions is an extensive operation and developing only a plan to reduce your footprint is often not sufficient. Create a plan for implementation and set up a green team that will be responsible for correct realisation. A green team with committed employees will make all the difference in your end results.

Focus areas to reduce CO2 emissions

Even though there are countless different types of tour operators, there will be overlap of focus areas when reducing CO2 emissions. In general, it’s important to make low emissions a priority. Transparency is essential to support your business in reaching your objectives. Work together with your employees and customers to implement further change. Quick wins to reduce your CO2 emissions:

Reducing direct emissions in the office

  • Facilitate carpooling for employees
  • Encourage employees to travel by bike or train
  • Facilitate working from home and online meetings
  • Reduce the use of single-use items and thereby waste
  • Conduct an assessment to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy
  • Buy local and vegetarian options for lunch

Reducing indirect emissions during tours

  • Book direct flights for your customers
  • Avoid domestic flights where possible
  • Include public transport options such as buses or trains
  • Promote low carbon activities such as walking, cycling, canoeing, horseback riding
  • Book eco-friendly accommodations
  • Encourage clients to avoid plastic, food and water waste

Reducing your business carbon footprint

Taking further action

By measuring and reducing your carbon footprint, you will contribute to lowering the emissions from the tourism industry, and thereby slowing global warming. The last step wherewith you can make a difference is to compensate your footprint and to become carbon neutral.

Steps to take action

Step 1: Measure and identify your carbon footprint

Step 2: Reduce to minimise your carbon footprint

Step 3: Compensate your remaining carbon footprint


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Good Tourism Institute: sustainable today, travel tomorrow

Roadmap to sustainable travel success (free Ebook)

Discover 6 proven paths to best-selling sustainable travel experiences.