Posted by Shea Wittig on 18 February 2020 | Comments

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead 

The Australian environment remains in the international spotlight and the devastation caused by the recent bushfires is still very real for those who proudly call this nation home. One of the many ongoing impacts which can’t be ignored is the amount of carbon dioxide which has been released into the atmosphere. In fact, alarming reports show Australia has already surpassed two-thirds of last year’s total man-made emissions.

Measuring emissions is now included in Ecotourism Australia’s (EA’s) ECO Certification program and the outcomes achieved by certified operators show that by following current guidelines and utilising proven tools, business owners can easily create opportunities to reduce their annual carbon footprint. The tourism industry is recognised as one of Australia’s biggest economic contributors and employers and the ecotourism community is well positioned to play their part in rebuilding a sustainable nation.

The tourism industry isn’t without its own emission challenges — think for example of the rise of the flight shaming movement gathering momentum in 2019 — however, while the world continues to wait for sustainable aviation fuel commercialisation, it is time to concentrate on reducing emissions in other areas of business which can be independently controlled.

Travel company Responsible Travel has recently begun this important conversation. They have commissioned a study which aims at beginning to understand the carbon footprint associated with other areas of the holiday experience; such as food and accommodation. “This is a small pilot study based only on a small number of holidays,” says Ecotourism Australia Certification and Policy Manager Eloise Touchot, “still, I find that we often forget to consider emissions from food choices, so I liked that it brings attention to the topic.”

How does the current food production system effect GHG emissions?

Our World in Data reports that the global food system accounts for approximately 26% of GHG emissions with the largest portion of 31% attributed to livestock and fisheries. A further 27% lies with crop production, 24% with land use and 18% with supply chains.

Whilst measuring the carbon cost of a holiday is an emerging conversation, the environmental impact of meat production is one topic which has gained momentum over recent years, prompting mainstream media to declare 2019 The Year of the Vegan. This declaration has been supported with high profile events, such as the Oscars, announcing the menu for the Nominee Luncheon to be served vegan.

As the focus of wellness and living a clean lifestyle become mainstream, so is the rise of those committing to plant-based diet. Australia has been ranked as the third-fastest growing worldwide vegan market which means it is well and truly time for tourism operators to accommodate a variety of dietary needs into their menu. This is not only a positive step towards reducing emissions but also to ensure a variety of food options is available for guests.

Ecotourism Australia’s certified operators joining the plant-based revolution

Food Emissions Article Billabong Retreat

Plant Based Selection / credit: Billabong Retreat

It is becoming increasingly familiar to read menu boards across the country which offer local and seasonal foods highlighting the support of regional farmers and minimising food miles. It is also commonplace to see commercial kitchens accommodating a range of dietary needs including gluten free, dairy free, nut free and plant-based options. Many of Ecotourism Australia’s certified operators have gone a step further with their environmental commitment by providing broader and more specialised sustainable food choices to their guests. 

Vegetarian options have dominated menus at mindfulness retreats long before wellness became a mainstream lifestyle choice. Billabong Retreat in NSW, who are ECO certified Nature Tourism, are one such example. A strong food commitment has been embedded as part of their founding principles as Billabong Retreat believe “the food is everything”. They serve delicious vegetable based homestyle meals “not because we promote vegetarianism, but because we believe on average people don’t eat enough vegetables and we want to inspire our guests to eat more by showing them how amazing and yummy they can be!”

As research develops and awareness grows, we are entering a new norm and, as a result, are seeing operators outside the traditional health and wellness category integrate sustainable food choices as best practice. One example of this is Wavelength Reef Cruises in QLD, an Advanced Ecotourism and Climate Action certified business, who operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) newsletter, “High Standard Tourism Operator Wavelength Reef Cruises went fully vegetarian for their tourism product as part of [their] approach to addressing climate change. Wavelength is following the advice of researchers that eating a plant-rich diet is a globally scalable way of people reducing their personal carbon emissions.”

Food Emissions Article Wavelength

Vegetarian Selection / credit: Wavelength Reef Cruises

But is going completely plant-based the only way to reduce emissions and have a positive impact on the environment? Dropbear Adventures in QLD, ECO certified at the Nature Tourism level, have explored other alternatives as they love to look after their vegans and vegetarians just as much as their meat eaters. “Our fruit and vegetables are all sourced locally as we believe it’s very important to support our local farmers. And as part of our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint, we’ve recently made some changes to the types of meat we serve on our tours. Beef is now off the menu and has been replaced with kangaroo [which is] much more sustainable and healthier!”

As with all new conversations there are many aspects to consider so, as many EA operators value the importance of continuous improvement, we have put together a collection of helpful suggestions. These are designed to ‘plant the seed’ (pun intended) and provide some ideas around how you can reduce your emissions, provide support for your fellow countryman and use your story to educate your guests with value-adding interpretations. 

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Supporting Australian Agriculture / credit: Pixabay

1.    Reduce

If offering a complete plant-based menu isn’t your thing, consider a commitment to the ‘Reducetarian’ lifestyle by providing less meat, dairy and egg options in your menu. You could do this by:

  • Participating in annual events such as Vegetarian Week
  • Include #MeatFreeMonday in your weekly schedule
  • Serve one plant-based meal per day
  • Reduce the quantity of meat in recipes by substituting with plant-based options
  • Try positioning meat dishes at the end of the buffet aisle. This has been shown to cut people’s meat intake by 20%

 2. Support - ‘we rise by lifting others’

Never has there been a better time to buy fresh produce from local farmers, which reduces food miles, as well as encouraging your visitors to show support to social initiatives whose primary focus is to generate income into the Australian economy. Tourism Australia has launched a nationwide campaign designed to encourage Australians to #HolidayHereThisYear, and there are also calls to #BuyFromTheBush and grab an #EmptyEsky, before heading to impacted communities and filling it with local food, wine and wares. #SpendWithThem helps regions along on their road to recovery and, although you as an operator may not be able to head out on a #RoadtripForGood, you can exercise your buying power and encourage your visitors to do the same. This is one simple way to add value to the lives of those affected as they begin their #BushfireBounceback.

 3. Educate

Ecotourism operators welcome visitors who value ecologically sustainable tourism and have a primary focus of experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation. The Ecotourism Australia community of 500 certified businesses holds the unique position of educating guests through quality interpretation programs, promoting new business developments and annual campaigns via social media platforms and offering quality training on best practice sustainable development to their teams. Harnessing these communication opportunities is a simple yet effective way to encourage new habits through leading by example.

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Celebrating Australian Producers / credit: Pixabay

As the conversation around emission reductions in food and accommodation gains momentum, EA and the extended community values the thoughts and opinions from operators in the field. Does your business offer either vegetarian or vegan options? What benefits have you found by increasing plant-based options within your meal planning? If no, what challenges have you come across which have prevented you from changing your menu? Other than food, how else have you been reducing emissions within your business?


[Header image credit: Pixabay] 

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