How to Create an Environmentally Sustainable Tourism Resort?

Tourism has been evaluated to cause up to 8 % of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The concept of environmental sustainability in tourism raises somewhat contradictory thoughts. Do tourism and ecology even fit into the same sentence? Is it possible to achieve environmental sustainability in tourism? Is the whole idea hypocritical when you think about the carbon footprint of traditional tourism?

In the first place, long journeys are not a necessity. Reducing flying also lowers the CO2 emissions. In addition, our homeland is a very attractive destination to tourists from other continents. So why not for us as well? Lapland is the home for unique nature, peace, northern lights and the midnight sun. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in domestic travel when foreign countries are out of reach. Prior to the coronavirus, Northern tourism services have been aimed specifically for foreign tourists, which has been reflected in both the content and pricing of the services. Domestic tourist attractions may seem too common for the locals, when in reality, they might not be familiar with the potential experiences they offer. Domestic tourism is also associated with the idea of independent activities, which hampers the utilization of services and guided tours.

Challenges for sustainability exist also in travel destinations. For example, tourist resorts in sparsely populated Lapland, have difficulties in organizing the collection and handling of source separated food waste and plastics. Relatively small amounts of waste are generated, and the organization of logistics and treatment for the various waste fractions is progressing slowly. Recycling also requires help from stakeholders in the form of organizing waste management that enables it. For instance, processing of biodegradable waste would be wise to carry out as co-operation of different fields such as households, tourism, and businesses. The cooperation would strengthen operation stability, as well as, likely increase profitability of the processing (e.g. in biogas plants).

The Nordic specialty and privilege, everyman’s rights, enable people to enjoy nature freely. This privilege has unfortunately also been abused: littering serves as an example. First aid for the problem might actually be very simple: making information better available for tourists. But how can, for example, a sled dog business and environmental sustainability be combined? The dogs that enable the husky safaris eat meat and produce nutrient-rich feces throughout the year, not just during the winter season. Entrepreneurs themselves have already been quite active in this matter, although the topic has not yet become a top concern for even the most conscious customers. Composting of dog wastes as a side job is only possible for relatively small amounts of material, so more organized recycling of biodegradable waste is needed, as well as, for example, recycling opportunities for plastics.

There are many factors in environmental sustainability of tourism. Travelling to a destination is one, but not the only step in the journey that causes environmental burden.

The challenges of environmental sustainability were addressed in a group discussion at the GRUDE project’s fourth Greennovation Camp in May.

Blogtext by:
Satu Ervasti, Natural Resources Institute Finland
Sari Nisula, Lapland University of Applied Sciences