The carbon offset world, according to Sustainable Travel International

How the tourism industry can work with forest carbon offsets to reduce emissions.

Indigenous and forest people in East Africa helping with carbon offsetting.
Indigenous and forest people in East Africa helping with carbon offsetting. Photo Credit: Carbon Tanzania

Forest carbon offsets - which aim to improve how a forest is managed and increase its carbon storage - can be an excellent way to drive finance to protect forests. They can also help to convert energy systems in those countries that do not have the finances to do so, thus contributing to different forms of carbon emissions reduction. These ideas were shared by Sustainable Travel International during a recent webinar examining the impact of travel on global carbon emissions. It looked at how forest carbon offsets can contribute to net zero policies, how this works in practice and whether they could be causing more harm than good.

It was suggested that by visiting forested areas that are not typical tourism hotspots, the travel industry can help to meet the economic needs of communities in those areas, to help fund their ongoing protection.

Sustainable Travel International is an organisation that aims to protect and conserve the most vulnerable destinations by transforming tourism’s impact on nature and people. It featured contributions from social enterprise Carbon Tanzania. The latter currently protects over 5,000 sq km of natural forest in East Africa, which it claimed has helped to prevent the emissions of over 850,000 metric tonnes of CO2 each year.

Tanzania as a destination

“People who visit Tanzania are fortunate to see beautiful game parks and some forests, but they're not seeing huge areas,” said Jo Anderson, director of finance and sales at Carbon Tanzania. “There are much bigger areas covered in forests across Tanzania that are never even seen or visited by tourists. It’s these areas that are in the stewardship of local people, communities and indigenous people where deforestation is the biggest threat. There aren't any tourists going there to provide revenue.”

Anderson added that the tourism industry offers a fulcrum. “It gives us a leverage point. We were able to say to tour companies that if you want to do something good for forest conservation, if you want to do something that supports real nature conservation, and contributes to climate mitigation, this would be a great mechanism for your travellers.”

Watching out for the good and the bad

As the webinar outlined, it is important to have an external critique of the forest carbon offset process, to identify whether ‘there are potentially bad actors in the space’.

Marc Baker, CEO of Carbon Tanzania said: “We do not have a solution to flying around the world and not producing carbon emissions. We don't have that solution on the table - it’s quite a long way away. Offsetting is valid, but it needs to be done well and we need to get better at it.”

Sustainable Travel International has partnered with various meeting planners, such as Internova Travel Group and Reuters Events.

During the pandemic, Internova saw the exponential growth in demand for practical resources to support carbon offsetting goals, and chose Sustainable Travel International in 2022 to share expertise in sustainability education, carbon calculation and reporting. Clients have access to target-setting consultation, tools and certified carbon offset options for climate-protection projects.

New developments

Sustainable Travel International CEO, Paloma Zapata, said that the organisation is developing several initiatives for the meetings industry, including the development of technology solutions to support stakeholders in calculating their travel emissions, such as transactional tools to enable buying offsets from carbon projects. The platform delivers real-time pricing, the current allocation of the portfolio (an index fund of carbon projects that gives buyers exposure to a range of carbon offset types), the issuance of certificates, and the retirement of carbon certificates where buyers “retire” the certificates after purchase.

An event carbon footprinting tool is also available for MICE buyers, which calculates corporate event emissions, including venue energy consumption, meals, and attendee travel and accommodation. Results provide the carbon footprint of the event and the cost to make it carbon neutral through carbon offsets.

Links with the island Pacific nations

Zapata added that the organisation is also working with over 100 destinations across the globe, focusing primarily on small islands and protected areas, that possess rich yet sensitive natural and cultural resources, and where tourism is the leading driver of GDP, to help raise awareness of sustainable travel. In APAC, this has included working with the Pacific nations of Palau, Fiji, and Samoa.

“We partnered with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation to help regional hotels adopt more sustainable habits,” said Zapata. “Many small islands in the region share similar sustainability challenges, including limited resources, increased vulnerability to climate change, and insufficient waste infrastructure. Hotel participants received training and guidance on improved resource efficiency as part of this programme.”

Sustainable Travel International also developed a monitoring system specifically tailored for the South Pacific region that allows hotels to track their resource consumption and identify opportunities for continual improvement.