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Anne Holma and Jaakko Karvonen: Sustainability in travelling and tourism is a sum of actors and factors

2021-07-09 Anne Holma and Jaakko Karvonen

Writing a blog about travelling ought to begin with a small reminder: In 2019 the travel business (travelling & tourism) generated approximately 8,9 trillion euros representing 10,3% of global GDP[1], while being responsible for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions[2]. In Finland the respective share of GDP in 2018 was 2,7%[3].

The sector is, thus, significant in economic terms for income and business but also socially so as it means mental and physical wellbeing, experiences, inspiration and an entire lifestyle to many people.

But travelling does not come without a cost for our environment. Travelling-induced climate change impacts [4], [5] are perhaps the hottest topic now, but we would prefer us to focus on more tangible impacts, such as eutrophication and use of clean drinking water. Climate focus in travel business might also result in immediate economic and social problems, which go against the principles of holistic sustainability.

Instead, littered beaches, plastics in seas[6] and wastewaters directly pouring in water bodies[7], [8] are all tangible examples of negative impacts of tourism. These problems relate especially to mass tourism, irresponsible human behavior and lack of infrastructure and regulations. Solving these calls for responsible collaboration between travelers, businesses and authorities.

In travel business, ecotourism is the fastest-growing tourism sector[9], which creates environmental pressure in ecotourism locations. The sector is forced to pay more attention to environmental issues before problems arise – and yes, this applies to Finland, too. However, the sites are often remote and have no access to municipal infrastructure.

Hence, remote places must, thus, find their own solutions. For example, a dry toilet enables managing waste matter of large number of visitors while avoiding nutrient point loads and runoffs. Water saving installations lower the amount of running water and can save clean water by 40-80% without having to compromise on comfort. Diesel generators can be replaced by a small water or wind turbine(s) or solar energy. These all have been piloted in CBC NatureBeST-project funded by the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Finland.

These three examples above alone are small things, but they may be applicable globally in numerous ecotravel destinations, as well as in traditional tourist destinations – and in households. Upscaling is the key word here. Little things together make a huge difference and clean environment. Further, responsible operators undoubtedly attract conscious visitors better than their less responsible competitors. Considering this, it is the right time to think of responsible solutions in ecotourism sector before problems arise. And me and you, what could we do better when we travel next time? Could I spend a bit less time in shower? Do I pay attention to my garbage and even pick up garbage dropped by someone else? These are what we think at home, I hope, so why not also when we travel?

Jaakko Karvonen is SYKE’s researcher in Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production. He tries to see things from different perspectives, sometimes more and sometimes less successfully. His free time is spent with sports and for the sake of skiing he wishes for snowy winters.

Anne Holma is SYKE’s researcher in Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production. Ecological sustainability has been the key concept during her 14-year career at SYKE. She is a big fan of slow living and travelling - old wooden houses, wild gardens, free-running chickens and everything recycled, also compost toilets.

Opinions of blog contributors do not necessarily reflect the official views and opinions of the Finnish Environment Institute.


[1] https://wttc.org/Research/Economic-Impact

[2] Lenzen, M., Sun, YY., Faturay, F. et al. The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Clim Change 8, 522–528 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x

[3] https://tem.fi/matkailu-lukuina

[4] Lenzen, M., Sun, YY., Faturay, F. et al. The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Clim Change 8, 522–528 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x

[5] https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/campaign/should-you-fly/

[6] https://wwf.fi/tiedotteet/2018/06/wwfn-raportti-valimeri-muuttumassa-vaaralliseksi-muovimereksi-suurena-syyna-turismi-ja-heikko-jatteidenkasittely/

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305272447_Effect_of_tourism-generated_wastewater_on_biogenic_ions_concentrations_in_stream_water_in_Tatra_National_Park_Poland

[8] https://www.is.fi/taloussanomat/art-2000001794482.html

[9] Salman, A., Jaafar, M. & Mohamad, D. (2020). Strengthening Sustainability: A Thematic Synthesis of Globally Published Ecotourism Frameworks. African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, 9(3):246-258. DOI: https://doi.org/10.46222/ajhtl.19770720-16

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