Almost 200 chief executives from companies including Heathrow Airport have called upon the government to ensure our recovery from COVID-19 is a green one. We’ve all enjoyed clear skies and watching wildlife reclaiming habitats, and there is a real concern that sustainability targets will no longer be met once we return to ‘business as usual’.
Most would agree that health and safety is the top priority during the pandemic. However, we should not forget that once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, there is another that isn’t going away any time soon – the climate crisis.
But how far up the agenda is sustainability for travellers? Earlier this month, I took part in a webinar on this subject with Chris Haslam, chief travel writer at the Times & Sunday Times, Isabel Choat, online travel editor for the Guardian and Anna Hughes, founder of Flight Free UK. It was a topic that had the panel divided. Some argued that sustainability has been brought to the forefront due to lockdown – and we’ve realised our habits need to change. Others postulated that now is not the right time to make sustainability a priority, and that it may take up to five years until we give sustainability its place at the table again.
The damage caused by aviation fuel and single-use plastics tends to dominate when it comes to debate on sustainability in travel. But flying isn’t always the bad guy, and travel can be a force for good. For example, a number of conservation projects are funded by ecotourism, and with flight routes being limited, many of these positive initiatives are really struggling to stay afloat. Flights are vital in order to connect tourists to these important projects.
Attitudes to travel are undoubtedly going to change. People may want to look for rural, green spaces in which to spend their holiday, while breaks to crowded cities might be off the agenda for the time being.
But in the longer term, people will want to travel again. As an industry we need to work to ensure that sustainability targets remain a priority and are met. The desire, and necessity, of travel doesn’t have to mean not being ‘green’.