Recently, I’ve decided to join the Canary Green team and they asked me if I would be up for writing a blog post for the new website. On a subject that would be of interest, or even better put, a passion of mine. There’s a lot of things that I’m passionate about, and I mainly write from the heart. But given the fact that it was to go onto a more public platform (and not just on one of my very own social media accounts), I decided to give the ‘sustainable travel’ issue a go.
About three years ago I watched several documentaries on the environment and climate change. I learnt quite a lot about which human actions have an effect on the beautiful planet we inhabit. Consequently, I decided it was time to change. It’s been a process, you just don’t change certain habits from one day to another.
But by now, I am vegan, I’ve adopted a more minimalist way of consuming (as in: I just buy less, and if I buy something, I always try and look for the most sustainable option, whether it’s food, clothing, household items, even decoration and furniture) and started investigating a bit on how to travel more sustainably.
Living on the Canary Islands and being Belgian, kind of implies travelling, because once in a while you want to go and see your family, or just get off the island. At the same time, the Canary Islands are a popular European destination because of its year round warmer climate. They call Tenerife the island of Eternal Spring for some reason! So I thought I’d write about travelling to and within the Canary Islands in a (more) sustainable way.
Sustainability consists of three important pillars, environmental, economic and social:
- The environmental pillar – would be minimising your carbon footprint, from air travel but also water usage, packaging and (plastic) waste.
- The economic pillar – can be applied when spending your money in such a way it contributes to the local economy.
- The social pillar – is all about your impact on local people and communities, whether it’s helping out charities, NGO’s or just spending your money at businesses owned and run by people living on the Canary Islands.
All three of these can be applied to travel!
Because there are so many details that matter when it comes to sustainable travel, and I prefer to write about everything that comes to mind and feels important (at least to me it does!), what was supposed to be one blog post, became so lengthy and somehow turned into a small series.
And before I start with part one, I do want to add some sort of disclaimer in here. This is not a sponsored post. This is just me, doing some online research, combining that with my own experience and then writing about it. All of the companies mentioned below, I am pretty sure will need to take more steps to become a true ‘green’ company. But my personal philosophy is to encourage people, institutions and companies taking steps in the right directions.
If I notice or feel a company is ‘greenwashing’, they lose my trust. I also mention that loud and clear, because I have seen too many of those by now as well. But for those at least taking some sort of initiative, I can only say, many small steps will lead to a huge change!
So here goes part one: It all starts with choosing the best way to reach your destination!
Aviation produces around 2% of the world’s human-induced CO2 emissions. Imagine I would fly from Tenerife to Belgium with my son, that would produce around 1.85 tonnes of CO2. To give you an idea, according to FlyGRN, that equals 2641 laundry washes or watching the TV for 963 days!
Shortly put, if you can travel by bus or train, do so! As to the Canary Islands, by plane is usually the way people travel. In such case, take direct flights because take offs and landings are what cause most of an airplane’s carbon emissions, and most importantly, offset your carbon footprint!
In August 2018 Jelle Bekirovic founded FlyGRN, a flight search engine that offsets your flight’s CO2 emissions for free. And even if you don’t book through their website, they give you the option to ‘only’ offset your flight. It doesn’t directly reduce flight emissions but by offsetting your flight and helping a reforestation project for instance, another sector would have CO2 reductions.
Depending on where you’re travelling from, or once you’re here and you’d like to see different islands, consider choosing the local airline company, Binter Canarias. Binter is a Canarian Company, meaning the money you spend, will flow back into the Canary Islands, and as such helping the economic and social pillar of sustainable travel. (And don’t forget to offset your Binter flights!)
Apart from being a local company, I was happy to discover Binter is actually taking several steps towards sustainability. Through several investments, they succeeded to position their ground handling company ‘Atlántica de Handling’ as the most environmentally friendly one in Spain, ahead of the deadline set in 2020 by Aena (Spanish airport operator) for companies in the sector to achieve a minimum emission reduction of 20%.
Apart from renewing their fleet and infrastructures, promoting sustainable mobility, reducing polluting emissions and the consumption of fossil energy, they also take action to raise awareness among employees about caring for the environment and corporate social responsibility.
Another way of traveling between islands, is by boat. I am well aware of the fact that fast ferries are not the most ideal way to travel between the island, mainly because more and more collisions between fast ferries and cetaceans are happening. Simply due to the fact that more and more routes and vessels are being created.
Looking into Fred Olsen, it is true that sustainability always has been a key element in their business strategy. One example would be the reduction in the sulphur content of fuel oil used by ships. The entire Fred Olsen fleet has been ready since 2005 for a regulation that the International Maritime Organization has set to be implemented as from January 1st 2020. The regulation is expected to have a major beneficial impact on the environment and on human health, Apart from being a Canarian company, I am impressed by the fact they were that ahead of time!
Now that you’ve booked your means of transportation, bear in mind that also when traveling, there are several ways to be more eco friendly.
Since you can’t go through customs with lots of liquids when flying, many people buy plastic bottles of water or drink out of a single use plastic cup on board. Nowadays at most airports, they have refill stations. So I always take my empty reusable bottle with me, and fill it at the airport before boarding. If you’re reading this and did not bring a bottle, buy one here from a local brand called Agüita.
Yes, they’re manufactured in China (as most of them are) but designed and sold by a small local company (remember the economic and social pillars!). It’s a stainless steel one, much better than the cheaper plastic version, and 1% annual sales goes to The Ocean Cleanup. It’s simply a win win for the environment!
Same goes for food. Try and bring your own food, avoiding the mostly plastic packaging of airplane food. I recently bought a bamboo set of straws, and also a fork, knife and spoon. Since then, I’m taking that set with me wherever I go; it’s my way of avoiding the plastic straws and cutlery you still get offered so often. If you don’t have reusable straws yet, local ecological distributor Ekolar will be able to let you know at which selling points you’re able to buy some.
As for the bamboo cutlery, I bought my set in one the many vegan restaurants in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Umami Good Food.
All of the above, are several small steps any individual could try and take, and that’s exactly why it seems so doable to me. If I could only inspire just a few people with this first part of the ‘sustainable travel’ series, then that would brighten my week, no, my month! So if you do, please make sure to let me know. Furthermore, living more sustainably is a journey, and I also still have a lot to learn, so feel free to ask me questions or send me your comments!