As travelers continue to enjoy jetting around the globe and contribute to the world economy, so does the contribution to carbon emissions. Today, according to Sustainable Travel International, the tourism industry is producing approximately 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, and the number continues to grow. Of the 8%, 49% is for transportation, 12% for goods, 10% for food.
We can all recognize that the primary travel industry, including airlines and hotels, can be a great contributor to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, we, as travelers, can take many small but essential steps to help reduce the carbon footprint and empower the social and local economy by embracing sustainable travel in our journeys abroad.
So what does sustainable tourism mean?
Sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.” (Wikipedia) There are three key groups in sustainable tourism:
Combat climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of travel.
Empower the local community and minimize over-tourism.
Money spent locally to help the regional economy.
In other words, sustainable travelers are those practices that help reduce our carbon footprint, tackle waste and pollution, and help sustain the hosting community’s local economy.
How to be a sustainable traveler when visiting Japan
Although sustainable travel practices look different, especially from country to country, here are some examples of how you can be a sustainable traveler when visiting Japan.
Sustainable Travel Tips and Ideas
- Choose an airline that participates in reducing carbon emissions and waste. If you fly with a particular airline, check to see their practices on reducing emissions and waste.
- Fly with fewer connecting flights. Direct flights are often more expensive; however, you reduce the carbon footprint, but it also saves you time and hassle associated with connecting flights.
- Take public transportation. JR Pass is an economical way to travel in Japan
- Pack light. You want to pack light, it saves costs and time!
- Stay longer in each place visiting. Explore the neighborhood by walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation.
- Carry a reusable water bottle.
- Carry a tote bag and say “no” to plastic bags.
- Carry a handkerchief or a small towel to minimize the use of paper towels.
- Spend money on quality products.
- Visit the flea market and antique market. Flea markets and antique markets are great places to find unique second-hand items that will help reduce waste.
- Throw away less food. According to Sustainable Travel International, food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas.
- Eat less meat. Tofu and Shojin Ryori (traditional vegetarian cuisine) are a great alternative to meat and fish.
What you can do to help empower the communities, especially in small rural areas.
- Reduce over-tourism. Over-tourism contributes to disturbances to the environment and economy in the area, over-development of infrastructure and buildings, and other unnecessary consequences to the neighborhood and is often unwelcomed by the local residents. So avoid visiting over visited destinations and explore other options, if possible.
- Eat locally and seasonally. Purchase and eat locally sourced food and beverages. Often these are the best food, and you are also helping the local economy.
Contributing to local and regional economies.
- Stay at independently owned small hotels and inns. In Japan, staying at independently owned hotels and ryokan are safe and great options. Inn owners are often friendly and have connections with the local community. Try staying at a farm and learn about farming and enjoy a farm to table experience. Stay at a temple and understand the culture and history of Zen.
- Purchase locally made goods and local services. You will often find the price of goods cheaper and services to be friendlier in rural areas. Find a local art studio and schedule a visit to learn more about art and culture.