Travelling with an Environmental Mindset with Intrepid S4 E4

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Angela: Welcome to Season Four, Episode Four. Travelling, holidays, conferences. For the first time in two years, it feels like some of us may be able to embark on seeing our loved ones abroad or even a travel adventure. But what does travel look like post pandemic?

So during the early lockdowns in 2020, where we retreated to our homes and industries, including aviation were forced to close, earth was given a rare break. And although it was temporary, the opportunity to recover from some of the damage caused by human activity. So employers quickly replaced in-person business trips with video conferencing and work from home measures. And we began to see seas and rivers run clear, a reduction in air pollution, noise pollution, it was kind of lovely. So now as borders open, it seems many of us are rethinking how we can keep some of this momentum and be more considerate in our daily behaviours, particularly when it comes to travel.

So today, I wanted to see if there is truly a way to reduce our carbon footprint and travel lighter and travel better. And I’m delighted to introduce you to today’s guest who has generously explored this with me today. Dr. Susanne Etti is the Environmental Impact Specialist at Intrepid Travel. Susanne leads Intrepid’s climate action work including carbon performance, reporting and transitioning the business to the low carbon economy.

Intrepid has been a carbon neutral travel company since 2010, and in 2018, became the largest certified Travel B Corporation globally. Susanne has extensive experience with over 15 years in social sustainability management, including building corporate sustainability programs. She’s also assisted companies in developing GRI sustainability reports, become listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, develop sustainability strategy and assess climate change risks and opportunities.

In her role at Intrepid Travel, she is responsible for climate change performance, reporting and transitioning the business to the low carbon economy. She is also the mentor in the Climate Reality Project and spends much of her free time in nature bushwalking. Having lived and work in six countries, Susanne believes by empowering local people through sustainable travel experiences, we can travel better for everyone and simultaneously take care of the planet. So if you’re feeling a little eco guilt about your next flight, or you want to find out how you can offset your trip or take the steps to travel more responsibly, and give back, today’s episode is for you. I hope you enjoy it. Susanne, thank you so much for joining me on PROTECT today.

Susanne: It’s lovely to be here. Thank you very much for the invitation.

Angela: I’m excited to speak to you and I feel like it could be biased, but perhaps Australians are maybe the most desperate to travel once all these lockdowns are over. So I think it’s well timed. So the tourism industry. Often viewed as environmentally irresponsible and I read a lot of stats last year that during 2020, there was an overall drop in greenhouse gas emissions and the tourism industry was linked to a lot of that. So I’m just curious, what are the future greenhouse gas reduction targets looking like for Intrepid and for the industry as a whole?

Susanne: That’s a really good question. So I think it’s important to say that Intrepid Travel really recognises the benefits of climate action. And especially in light of the fact that we’re the world’s largest adventure travel company, and really taking customers to all seven continents. And being in the tourism industry, we have the front row seat to this climate disaster and the extreme weather events that really threaten the world’s tourist destination communities and that really led us to adopt a science led approach to decarbonisation. And last year, a year that has very few highlights, we actually became the first global tour operator with a verified carbon emission reduction target, which has been verified by the science based target initiative to really lead us on a pathway of decarbonisation for a 1.5 degree world and that’s really our big target that we’re working towards now.

Angela: Fantastic. So have you found a rise in inquiries from travellers, and even the tourism companies that you work with who want to be more sustainable? I personally know the biggest thing that stresses me out is a long flight.

Susanne: That’s a very good one and that’s definitely something to consider. The whole kind of flying less, or when you do fly, make it count. But it’s also really important actually to discover your own country. So what we have seen is that with the onset of the pandemic, we as a company also have accelerated our focus on more travel options closer to home in our major source markets. So that office includes also where we have here with the headquarters in Australia, New Zealand. And we have added walking tours and cycling tours across a range of destinations actually. And that means also we have that sort of more focus on slow travel, using the train, instead of flying. minimising air travel is definitely a growing mindset that we’re seeing, especially in Europe, and many of our clients think like this, and I recognise Australia is very big, and it’s not a viable option here. But we’re certainly seeing that with clients. They want to travel more sustainable and want to, as you said, reduce their own carbon footprint when they’re choosing to travel.

Angela: Yeah, so they’re actually coming to you with those requests now. Okay, interesting. So as travel bubbles and borders begin to open, I was hoping you might be able to give us a little bit of a mini checklist for things that we can consider in a bid to keep our carbon footprint low, or even at zero.

Susanne: Yeah, really important. Because I think we all need to do our part to help protect the planet. And that’s really, especially when we’re suffering from wanderlust, and we want to really kind of get out again, and to travel, but it can be really daunting on how to do that.

So the aim for us here in Australia, I know, we probably need to fly if we don’t travel domestically, to get to a destination to explore. But even when we need to hop on a flight, and there are still ways to minimise our carbon footprint, because one thing is really to stay longer. I think that’s really important to stay in destinations longer when you can, obviously, and experience the joy of slow travel. And when you can avoid taking an internal flight, for example, then really choose a train or bus as an option. And that will not only help the planet, because often actually taking a train or even bus will have a lot of smaller carbon footprint for the similar distance, obviously. But you also get to know your destination a lot better. So if you fly, stay longer, make it count. Be smart when you’re booking, fly as direct as you can and take ground transport where available.

Angela: Okay, that’s a great checklist. Thank you. So slow travel is the message So business travel must be on the way out those two day Sydney trips and whatnot.

Susanne: Yeah, I think there’s definitely a reconsideration of business travel. So again, can we take learnings from the pandemic, where we have been able now for the last 18 months to do more calls, with video conferencing, even joining conferences as speakers, but sometimes, obviously, there will be the opportunity where you do do meetings in person, but even with business travel, like can you make it count, can you stay longer, combined meetings, etc. So being smart about it.

Angela: Yeah. And thoughtful. Great. Thank you, Susanne. So I’ve seen that Intrepid has been carbon neutral since 2010, which is an impressive feat. And I want to talk about being carbon neutral. And what actually physically happens in order for someone to offset their trip.

Susanne: Yeah, so it is very exciting that Intrepid as being carbon neutral since 2010. And maybe I just give a tiny bit of an explanation on just what it actually means to be carbon neutral. Because we actually have a carbon management plan in place and there are three pillars to it, which is measure, reduce and offset. What it means is that we actually measure all our emissions across our operations – so that what I mean with that is our offices – and that’s electricity, water, and also the business flights for instance. But most importantly, we measure also the emissions on our trips, so including transport, electricity and accommodation, waste created on the trips. And we do this actually on an annual basis. But we don’t stop there. We are also looking continuously on how can we reduce emissions for example on our trip.

So we’re currently reviewing our top 50 trips and replacing flights where possible and viable with high speed trains or land based transport and you will have some amount of emissions left over which are called the unavoidable emissions. And those unavoidable we are actually offseting and we’re doing it by purchasing carbon credit units that are associated with a range of renewable energy projects. And what is important with these offset projects is that they are delivering social, cultural, but also economic and environmental benefits, in addition to reducing emissions. And as we’re both based here in Australia, one of the projects I wanted really to highlight here, to bring it to life on what an offset project looks like, is a project that is in Arnhem Land.

This project is about actually about reinstating traditional burning practices. So the area up in the Northern Territory is prone to really extreme and devastating wildfires that affects the landscape, people, plants and animals. And this project specifically is exclusively run by Aboriginal people that have custodial responsibility for those parts of Arnhem Land, and then a very active bushfire management plan. And so the Rangers actually burn early in the dry season, the ground in a kind of mosaic patchwork pattern to reduce fuel on the ground, and thereby really reducing the risk of bigger natural fires or wildfires that could be uncontrolled then. But what’s really important in closing here is to say that these projects provide employment. They provide training opportunities for the local Rangers, but it also supports First Nation people in returning to and remaining and managing their country and being part of the community.

Angela: That’s fantastic. That is a really interesting project. And I think post bushfires, it’s great to see you invest in something like that.

Susanne: Yeah, I think this definitely a highlight project here in Australia and we have actually offset projects in every continent except Antarctica, where we are investing it. So it can also be a reforestation project in South America, or wind projects, for example, in Tamil Nadu in India?

Angela: Okay. So you’ve got a team that sources out these projects?

Susanne: Yeah, so we are actually working in partnership with another B Corp organisation called Endeavour Environmental, which is a consultancy, who are working with us closely on our annual greenhouse gas inventory, and also helping us to ensure that we are carbon neutral, certified against the Australian Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard. But also they’re working in partnership with Tasman Environmental Market, who is our offset project provider.

Angela: Wonderful. That’s excellent. Thank you. So I need to ask about plastic pollution, because I’d love to know how you’re tackling that.

Susanne: Yeah, definitely a big issue in the world. And what we have seen, I think it’s just maybe as a context also that we have seen through the pandemic, a real increase again in single use plastic products. And we here at Intrepid recognise the environmental risks these single use plastic products poses to world’s marine and animal wildlife and also to the destinations we visit. So it is really an area that we are looking into and want to take meaningful actions. And for this reason, also, we have been part of a research piece, which was authored jointly by WTTC which is the World Tourism and Travel Council that joined up with the UN Environmental Program. They produced a report that maps single use plastic products, and identifies strategic hotspots that generate major leakages into the environment. And we have been invited by WTTC to take part in a member consultation back in 2020, to provide feedback and also to share our experience and that report has been released this year. And it provides extremely good guidance for accommodations and destinations with decision trees to look at how to minimise and to reduce and remove single use plastic products from their value chain.

Angela: Okay, great. So let’s talk about eco guilt and eco anxiety which are on the rise. I recently spoke to a therapist who did confirm that unfortunately. Now I don’t like to shame anyone but a lot of celebrities, a lot of people that I guess are travelling in a luxurious way, have been flight shamed with an actual hashtag for their travels, which is not nice. But I’d like to know what are your thoughts on this and how can travellers continue to invest time and money in longer travel, minus the guilt?

Susanne: So I think it is really around when you do travel, it is about doing it right. And it’s being mindful of your choices and the impact that you have on communities and the environment. And I think there’s a lot of choices that we can take when we travel.

So for example, it’s starting with the lodging options, so our accommodations to support the local economy and the community. Maybe also accommodation that conserves water, uses renewable energy, and really protects and respect wildlife nature and culture. I think that’s a really important part when we are selecting accommodation is looking into staying in hotels or sustainability focused lodging options. So from our part, when we speak around the luxury aspect is from 2022, you can travel on a new range of trips in Intrepid that includes all the best ingredients of an Intrepid adventure, but it’s elevated to a level never be available before. These are our premium trips. They do include four star accommodation and a very exceptional experience. But importantly, is also that we are looking at accommodation that are using, for example, renewable energy. So it is something that is definitely also considered at that high end product.

Angela: You’ve really highlighted so many ways to do it thoughtfully. Like there’s so many things you can think about and travel responsibly.

Susanne: Yep, there’s a lot of things one can as you said, Angela can consider from how you get to your destinations, what you do on the ground, to get to know the destination, travel there, get to know the local people, but also travel light from the luggage perspective. So maybe you can actually use public transport to get to your hotel, maybe if it’s safe, obviously, get on foot there. But also around bringing your own water bottle so that you can refill it rather than purchasing plastic bottles, for example. So there’s a lot of things we as travellers can do to support those destinations that we visit.

Angela: Beautiful. Now, I guess, following on from your premium set of packages that you mentioned, do you think luxury travel as we know it has been redefined?

Susanne: Hmm, I guess there will always be a demand for or a place for luxury travel by thing we will be thinking very differently about what luxury means. Because right now, just being able to reconnect with people, or travel, and all is actually a major luxury for those of us that are in lockdown for a very long time. So redefining what luxury means to you and choosing to travel in a way that’s really about what it reflects to you. So I think that’s probably the main point here.

Angela: Yeah, so you can still have a premium travel experience without the footprint.

Susanne: Yeah, for example, with the premium trips that I just described, all our trips are 100% carbon offset, they are supporting local communities, economies and the environment. And as I mentioned, these premium trips do feature number of accommodations that are using renewable energy and the experiences are supporting the communities, but also environmental and wildlife conservation projects.

Angela: Yeah, fantastic. Now, Susanne, when I initially reached out to you, the reason I did was because there was so much information on the Intrepid website around climate change. It was so detailed, so transparent –  I thought I have to find who is in charge of this and have them on the podcast. So I want to know, do you legally have to put all that information up or is that something that is kind of ingrained in Intrepid’s ethics and you want to do this to help educate people.

Susanne: Yeah, definitely the latter. Transparency is really important to us as a business and in the good times, but also in the challenging moments, thinking of the onset of the pandemic. And there a couple of things where you also will have seen a lot around transparency on our website. And the three that I really wanted to point out is B Corp. So we actually became in 2018, the world’s largest travel business to be a certified B Corp and so that means we meet actually the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance and public transparency as well as legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Susanne: The other aspect is what I mentioned already is our carbon neutrality and certification, and being the largest carbon neutral travel company since 2010. We measure our greenhouse gas inventory annually. But then back in 2018, we actually revised our reporting methodology in line with Climate Active. And Climate Active is the Australian Government’s carbon neutral initiative and that also requires an annual disclosure of your carbon footprint. And then what you might have seen on our website is also an integrated report, which we publish on an annual basis, which communicates how we as an organisation, communicate our strategy, governance, and again, around performance and prospects and how this leads to creation of value in the short, medium and long term.

Susanne: And finally, last point is that we provide an annual communication progress for the United Global Compact, and we have been a member since 2008, with them, and that’s also a requirement of the membership that you disclose the communication of progress on an annual basis. So it’s part of our transparency but it’s also part of those organisations that I just called out, B Corp, Climate Active, and the UN Global Compact that we are required to disclose.

Angela: Yeah, but you’ve still met some incredible benchmarks. So that’s a wonderful commitment.

Susanne: Thank you.

Angela: I did want to ask about climate sensitive areas that are subject to natural disasters. Is this on the rise and how do you prepare travellers for this now?

Susanne: I guess, first of all, speaking to the kind of research preparation. So as part of our commitment to being a good business, we actually engage regularly with key stakeholders. And in that process, we want to understand what are the sustainability impacts that stakeholders are interested in, but also which they see as important. And this involves also reaching out to our customers that are obviously also key stakeholders, to us. And we have done this in the form of surveys. And what we have seen with customers particular that they are rating, prediction of natural habitats, and that’s really speaking to biodiversity. But also recycling waste, and single use plastic and water security actually, as topics from an environmental perspective that they are concerned about, and are interested in, to take action on.

How to assist customers? There’s a lot of focus also around communication and education. So we have, for example, a journal blog where we regularly also communicate. So for example, around Earth Day, we had a post there just really talking to restore the earth and what customers can do to minimise their carbon footprint from starting measuring their carbon footprint, with around five tips, how they can reduce their carbon footprint. But you will notice when you follow up on our social channels that we are also regularly sharing posts there with customers around tips and information.

Angela: Yep, beautiful. Susanne, you’ve made me very confident to travel with Intrepid.

Susanne: We would love to see you. Definitely explore the website for some dreaming. And…

Angela: Yeah, it is dreaming at the moment. But there is just a little bit more of a comfort and a confidence to invest in a trip where you know that you’re not damaging the planet to the thoughts that you might be. Like I was saying, particularly with that eco guilt.

Susanne: And it’s really important to us and I think the fact that the company has been carbon neutral since 2010, is a certified B Corp. It’s really ingrained into the business. We’re looking especially now recognising the need for climate action for the organisation last year to commit to the science based target, which really will transform our business to a low carbon economy, and really looking at ways of how we can decarbonise our business. And as I highlighted this, reviewing of flights under 1.5 hours, etc so we’re really looking at ways to make the trips having a lower carbon footprint and that’s also a reason behind that we’ve seen a lot more walking and hiking and cycling trips. Now there has been a whole new range in Europe recently launched and those trips for example, have an inherit, very low carbon footprint

Angela: And allow you to see a lot more imagine. Okay, this leads me to my final question, Susanne, of what your forecasts are for travel and climate change combined. Perhaps a little summary of what the industry might look like with people who are beginning to understand their impact, and want to be more thoughtful in how they can travel lighter when it comes to the environment, what are your thoughts?

Susanne: So there’s definitely a rebound of travel. There’s optimism, and really looking ahead with Australia borders reopening, other borders, such as Canada, are reopening to tourism, so we are feeling optimistic and looking into the future.

We are expecting that local and domestic travel will continue to be a major feature for travellers. Because especially if you think of us here in Australia, this doesn’t involve a long haul flight. And also, I think it’s really important that it is an opportunity in places like Australia, and North and Central America to engage more with First Nation tourism experiences. And we are actively working towards including more of those in our trips.

But on a practical level, there’s also that requirement to be fully vaccinated, that will certainly increasingly be part of travel and then I guess the other aspect, what we’re seeing is that many more people will be more flexible around working remotely. And we expect that many people would choose actually to travel for longer, maybe also combine leisure travel with the opportunity to work remotely in a different country for instance or even region. And this will also allow people to engage more deeply with those different cultures, which in return also has environmental benefits. Because you take fewer long haul flights or make the long haul flight really count over a longer period that you’re abroad.

Angela: Beautifully said. Thank you. I guess the pandemic has bought around a lot of possibility. Looks Susanne, that was such an insightful episode. Thank you so much for your time, and you’ve offered us all so much value. I’m definitely now looking forward to a longer trip. You’ve approved that for me. So thank you.

Susanne: You’re welcome. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, Angela.

Angela: Thank you. And I hope we will all be able to travel somewhere exciting soon and if not in our own backyard.

Susanne: Absolutely. So start exploring and planning. It won’t be long.

Angela: Thank you so much, Susanne.

Susanne: Thank you.

Angela: Thank you for listening, and I hope you found great value in today’s episode. As I mentioned earlier, I did reach out to Intrepid in the first instance as they are so committed to their environmental cause and they are very transparent with their climate activity and partners, which is very refreshing. Thank you to Susanne who has offered her time and expertise today. You can connect with her on Twitter, or visit Intrepid Travel to learn more or book a trip or an adventure. All links are in the show notes. I’m looking forward to travel resuming. You know many of my guests, particularly smaller communities across Africa and Southeast Asia have really missed the tourism. Many of their livelihoods depend on it. And now we know it’s not about never flying again. It’s just about rethinking how we move around this planet and even in our own neighbourhoods. So perhaps we can be a little bit more thoughtful as the planet depends on it. Thanks again for listening. As always, you can reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and let me know what you think of today’s episode. And I look forward to

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