This article looks into economic growth. It looks into GDP, the main measure of economic progress and the assumptions that underpin this indicator.


Gross domestic product or as it is most commonly referred to GDP, measures the size of a country’s economy over a period of time.

The relevant national statistics authority collects data from thousands of companies. This is used as the basis for the GDP calculations.

The most frequently used method for calculating GDP is to base it on the total amount of spending in the country.

The GDP is then calculated by taking household spending, adding investment, adding government spending and then adding net exports.

As we can see, GDP is an accurate way to measure the health of an economy, but sustainability requires that we think about society and the environment as well. As it is currently calculated, GDP is unable to provide information on these important areas.

The way GDP is calculated includes all expenditures, regardless of whether society or the environment benefit from these transactions.

GDP therefore includes many things which most people would consider to be bad for society or which do not improve the general welfare of a country. It includes money spent to clean up after environmental disasters, money spent on lawyers during divorces, money spent on unnecessary military programs and on prisons. Overall, GDP includes many things, some of which detract from the general welfare of a society.

What is remarkable is how such an indicator, barring a few exceptions such as Bhutan has become the dominant marker of progress and the data point which all countries aspire to increase.

What is clear, is that GDP is simply a gross measure of activity within an economy. It does not make any distinction between spending which is desirable and that which is undesirable. It makes no distinction between spending which places a burden on a country and spending which benefits a country.

Another huge blind spot of GDP is that it is based solely on monetary transactions. Time spent caring for an elderly or disabled relative would not count towards GDP, even though it brings many benefits to that country. Time spent volunteering or helping a neighbour would not count towards GDP even though it helps to improve that society.

GDP then is a highly deceptive measure of national progress. It includes things which are bad and fails to include things which are good. What is more, with the way it is currently calculated and celebrated, it is entirely possible for an increase in things which are bad for a country to be portrayed as a gain.

There are other measures of national progress which diverge widely from GDP’s focus on economics. But perhaps a good start would simply be a more accurate version of GDP.

A more accurate version of GDP would subtract spending on things that harm society and the environment from the GDP figure to arrive at an improved picture. This would leave a more accurate indicator of whether the country is heading in the right direction or not.

What you need to know

This article looked into economic growth. It looked into GDP, which is the main measure of economic progress and the assumptions that underpin this indicator.

We looked into how GDP is calculated by national statistics authorities. We looked into how GDP is a gross figure and so includes undesirable spending which may be harmful to society and the environment.

I know that my prognosis and the prognosis of others is that the undesirable spending should be subtracted to arrive at the net positive figure. That would be a more reliable indicator. It would be interesting to see what the counter arguments to this proposal would be.

Taking into account everything that we have looked at in this short article, what is clear to me, is that there just isn’t the level of debate or criticism necessary in order to move to a more sensible indicator of national progress.

It seems that GDP has assumed an almost mythical status as the indicator of choice for national progress. More needs to be done to call out what is wrong with this indicator and to propose workable indicators that can guide decision makers in business and in government.

Even the staunchest defenders of GDP would have to admit that the indicator does not provide information on social or environmental progress in a country. It stands to reason therefore that people are being deceived by their GDP figures. They are being told that a rising number is always good and that a falling number is always bad. As with all indicators, it is important to look at the assumptions that underpin it and how that figure was calculated.

I believe that this is an issue which is highly relevant to sustainability. When you have most of the countries in the world obsessively focussed on an indicator which deviates so far from reality. That creates a system with a slow drift towards unsustainability when we need the exact opposite to be happening.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of GDP as an indicator and do you have a better way forward?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


This article looks into the benefits of buying recycled products. Recycling is an activity that is synonymous with sustainability. Many people think it is simply about doing the right thing, but there is more to it than that. Buying recycled products allows you to play a part in building a better world socially, economically and environmentally.


Business & Marketing Benefits

There are business and marketing benefits to be gained from buying recycled inputs when compared to their virgin counterparts.

If you are a company and you make products you need to meet the market’s expectations and deliver what consumers want.

There is a fantastic study by WRAP that captured my imagination and I will use it to demonstrate this point.

The title of the study is Recycled plastic packaging – the consumer’s view and I highly recommend that you seek out the original paper as it contains some powerful insights.

In answer to the question Should packaging contain recycled plastic? The results were very impressive with 86% of consumers feeling that it would be good if packaging contained recycled plastic. As you can see from the chart below, there is clearly an appetite for products that that come in packaging that contains recycled plastic.

WRAP Study on recycling

Companies spend a great deal of time trying to create and shape their brand. This is an area where the injection of sustainability can help.

In the WRAP study 74% of respondents felt that the reputation of a retailer or manufacturer would be enhanced if its products’ packaging were made from recycled plastic. As you can see from the chart below, this is an important finding and an opportunity that businesses shouldn’t be missing out on.

WRAP brand study on recycling

Companies reputations in the marketplace matter enormously. Having people think positively about your business and your products is an important step to winning new customers and retaining old ones.

When asked, 78% of respondents said they would feel more positive about a product or manufacturer whose packs were made of recycled plastic. This finding is important and should encourage more suppliers to look at recycled packaging.

As the chart below shows, using recycled packaging is an effective way to create a feel-good factor about your company and products in the marketplace.

WRAP positive affirmations study

Overall, all three charts demonstrate why smart businesses would try to look for ways of integrating recycled materials into their operations. When you find a situation where business and environmental interests come into alignment, that is an opportunity that you need to take advantage of.

Support Innovation

By investing in recycled products or in businesses that make use of recycled products you are helping to support innovation. This also sends a signal to the marketplace that they should invest more in these areas in the future, creating a virtuous cycle of sustainable growth.

Investing in recycled products means that more competition will come into this space. This new interest and competition will hopefully lead to innovations in design to make more packaging recyclable.

Extra demand for products that are made with recycled and recyclable components and packaging has further benefits. It will help to increase interest in this sector and hopefully lead to technical innovations that lower costs for recyclers and make the whole sector an attractive space for investors.

Overall, by focussing your procurement efforts, whether as a business or as a consumer on products that make use of recycled materials and are themselves recyclable, you can help to support this industry and support innovation to help drive progress forward.

Environmental Benefits

There are significant environmental benefits to buying recycled products. Recycled products tend to be less energy intensive and often have a lower environmental impact their virgin counterparts.

Buy buying recycled products, this avoids the need for oil to be drilled, ores to be mined forests to be logged and glass to be smelted.

With regards to paper, buying recycled uses 90% less water and 50% less energy than making it from raw materials.

This is my personal favourite statistic and is why it is important to emphasise that every can counts. Recycling one aluminium drinks can saves up to 95% of the energy needed to make it from scratch.

What is more, recycling 1 tin can saves enough energy to power a television for 3 hours. Whilst recycling 1 glass bottle saves enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes. Whereas recycling 1 plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 3 hours. These statistics make clear that there are many environmental benefits that come about because of the recycling process.

Overall, it is important to be aware of the disparity in environmental performance between products that use virgin materials and products that make use of recycled materials.

What you need to know

This article looked into the benefits of buying recycled products.

For business owners and managers, there are a lot of business benefits to making products with recycled materials.

For people interested in progress and innovation, buying products made of recycled materials allows you to support an industry and to help make it more significant.

Lastly, there are many environmental benefits that come about when you buy products made of recycled materials.

It is important to be aware of and act upon these factors when you are buying things as a consumer or as a business.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think are the benefits of buying recycled products?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


This article looks into China’s recent waste import restrictions. What is the impact of these sweeping changes and what does it tell us about recycling in Europe and North America?


For more than 30 years, China has been the world’s largest importer of waste and recyclable materials. Its enormous size and booming economy which was hungry for cheap inputs made it the ideal magnet for recycled materials from developed countries. Furthermore, reverse logistics whereby ships sailing back to China could benefit from reduced shipping costs and an army of cheap labour willing to do dirty and dangerous work solidified China’s position as the major final destination for recycled commodities.

Both sides of this arrangement benefited from comparative advantage. Advanced economies specialise in the collection of materials and have a lot of mixed packaging left over from consumption. Whilst China could specialise in the sorting and remanufacturing of materials into products which would be later consumed internally or exported overseas. This is big business; in 2016 China imported 45 million tonnes of scrap metal, waste paper and plastic with a value over $18 billion.


Whilst often described as a ban, the process which was initiated in July 2017 and which came into force in January 2018 was really more of a quality control measure. It is true that 24 types of recyclable and solid wastes will be banned. This includes unsorted paper and plastics. But the new rules do not ban the import of plastic and paper outright. The Chinese government is however lowering the minimum contamination level from 1.5% to 0.5%. This is a tough but not impossible target.

Contamination is a term that will probably not be familiar to the general public, but is a common bugbear of those working in waste management and cleaning services. It is a broad term and many items can be considered contaminants. Contamination happens when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclables. When this happens a great deal of good quality materials can be spoiled. Some offenders are worse than others, with food, liquids and nappies being particularly problematic.

Looking at the China import restrictions, they have a point. They are paying for recyclable inputs, but they were only getting 98.5% of what they were paying for. These heavily contaminated materials, if imported to China are worthless and will have to be disposed of by incineration or landfill in their own domestic waste management facilities. These cases of rotting meat and soiled nappies as was recently the case in Brazil have happened on too many occasions, and China has had no other option but to take evasive action.

So whilst there has been a lot of finger pointing at China for the speed at which they have enacted these changes, perhaps the root cause of the problem lays a little closer to home. Local governments and businesses have to find a way to make recycling clearer and to reduce contamination levels. This would mean that intermediate sorting stations and materials recovery facilities (MRF’s) will have a cleaner feedstock with which to process and if necessary export.

The culture of recycling in developed countries has to change. Perhaps this latest restriction could be the wakeup call that was long overdue and sorely needed. For too long an out of sight out of mind mentality has pervaded. People treat resources wastefully and behave as if their actions have no consequences. This, as we can see, is not the case at all. I fully expect to see further measures enacted by local governments and waste carriers who will have to bear the brunt of these changes.

Perhaps it is also a wakeup call to process and remanufacture more of these materials in our own countries. Whilst it was no doubt convenient to export our problems to China, this window is closing and new options will have to be investigated. Labour costs are dramatically higher in developed countries, but this could be overcome with better technology and labour saving devices.

Nothing stays the same forever and things do change. No one country will be able to import waste on the same scale as China. The most likely destinations are other Asian economies like the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. But still the onus is on developed economies to take ownership and control of this situation before serious backlogs begin to build up.

What you need to know

This article looked into China’s recent waste import restrictions. The impact is that as of January 2018 24 types of recyclable and solid wastes are now banned. Furthermore, new quality control restrictions apply to the import of paper and plastics, with the minimum contamination level reduced from from 1.5% to 0.5%. This will impact on businesses, local authorities and waste carriers who will have to meet these new standards should they wish to export materials to China.

What this tells us about recycling in Europe and North America is that China has been bailing out our recycling industries for 30 years and that era has come to an end. For a long time it made sense to export the packaging back to China, whose export industries thrived on low cost inputs. But the contamination issue has clearly become problematic and has been placing a large environmental and social burden on the country.

The future will no doubt involve some exports to a range of developing countries that will use these as inputs for their own development. But clearly more work is needed to process these materials domestically in developed economies.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think of China’s waste import restrictions and what needs to be done to solve this issue before it becomes a problem?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby




This article focusses on how organisations can institutionalise sustainability. Failing to do this is a key reason why organisations fail to fulfil their potential and become less sustainable than they could be.


When individuals fail to fulfil their potential, this is a tragedy. When organisations fail to achieve all that they possibly can, this is also a tragedy.

Sustainability is not so unique, although it does require change on a scale that may appear radical to those not familiar with the subject matter. Like any business idea or philosophy, it has to be embedded within the company to have a real impact and to have any chance of long term success.

It is for this reason that bolt-on sustainability strategies fail to achieve the level of transformation that is needed. Sustainability needs to be institutionalised within any organisation for it to be considered as a sustainability leader.

A Cambridge dictionary definition of institutionalise is:

to make something become part of a particular society, system, or organization”

I think it is a great word and it perfectly captures what needs to happen.

The climb up mount sustainability is long and winding. There are many challenges that need to be overcome, many processes that need to be reorganised or eliminated and a culture of sustainability needs to fostered and then embedded.

As tough as these challenges sound, with the right governance in place and board level buy in, all organisations can become more sustainable and some can become sustainability leaders.

Let’s look at the key ways you can institutionalise sustainability in your organisation.

1. Vision

All companies have vision statements. Many of these sound the same and are ridden with clichés and business buzzwords.

The hallmark of a sustainability leader is the successful integration of sustainability into their vision statement. Once you have done this sustainability becomes a focal point in the organisation and everyone can be clear that it is a top priority.

Obviously talk is cheap and this vision needs to be met with bold actions if the organisation is to become more sustainable socially and environmentally.

A good organisation in this regard is ARM, who I have mentioned before because I really like them.

They integrate aspects of sustainability into their vision statement, without dampening their commitment to business expansion.

“To create a world where all electronic products and services, based upon energy efficient technology from ARM, make life better for everyone”

Overall, having a mission statement that includes sustainability is a great way to institutionalise sustainability in any organisation.

2. Strategy

Aligning your strategy with sustainability is another key way to institutionalise sustainability.

This avoids the problem that many companies experience, whereby they have a primary business strategy and a bolt-on sustainability strategy. This leads to chronic underperformance in sustainability and a failure to capitalise on the opportunities which sustainability presents.

A great company who has aligned their business strategy and their sustainability strategy is Xerox. By redefining their role in the marketplace from seller of printing and copying machines to provider of printing and copying services, they have been able to perform strongly on sustainability and rewrite the rules of their market.

By retaining responsibility for the the equipment’s disposal, they can recycle and remanufacture old machines into new ones and customers don’t have to invest heavily in a machine only for it to be superseded by a superior model. Everyone wins.

Overall, to institutionalise sustainability it is important that it is integrated into the business strategy and not bolted on as an afterthought.

3. Rewards

Aligning an organisations rewards system can go a long way to institutionalising sustainability.

There is a lot of focus on rewards. This is predominantly concentrated on cash bonuses delivered to executives as a reward for performance. I have always been sceptical as to how much of a link there is between these two phenomena.

People do like money and people do perform for money. But to sustain peak performance over a long period of time, you have to inspire people.

I came across this great quotation from Robert B Shapiro, a former CEO of Monsanto.

People in large numbers won’t give their all for protracted periods of time – with a cost in their overall lives – for an abstraction called a corporation or an idea called profit. People can only give to people

People need to be rewarded by being allowed to engage in meaningful and interesting work. You trusted these people enough to hire them; you need to trust them to solve problems related to sustainability.

A great example in this regard is 3M. They introduced their pioneering pollution prevention pays (3P) program in 1975. This has been an incredibly successful corporate transformation programme, which is still in use today.

The initiative is made up of thousands of employee generated and employee owned projects that reduce pollution and save the business money.

The programme continues to be a success for this global company because it was successfully integrated into the businesses processes and corporate culture.

Overall, to institutionalise sustainability it is important to align rewards systems with more than just money. Passion and purpose can serve as valuable incentives.

4. Human Resources

It goes without saying that if you are hiring in house sustainability experts that they need to have a vision aligned with the principles of sustainable development.

But what about for other hires?

How often do you introduce sustainability principles into your interview questions?

How often does having an interest sustainability win out in a tie breaker between two equally talented prospective candidates?

Overall, if you never hire for sustainability, you can never become a sustainability leader. By introducing sustainability principles into your HR processes, you can make a big difference in institutionalising sustainability.

What you need to know

This article looked into how organisations can institutionalise sustainability.

An organisation that has institutionalised sustainability has fully integrated the principles of sustainable development and made it a part of its fabric.

We looked into some ways in which businesses can do this.

It can be achieved by integrating sustainability into the company’s vision. It can be achieved by incorporating sustainability into the company’s primary strategy. It can be achieved by aligning rewards systems and HR systems with sustainability principles.

Individually these are powerful methods for institutionalising sustainability, but if used in combination, they are even more powerful.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you believe is the best way to institutionalise sustainability within an organisation?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

Do you need a speaker for your event?

Click the image below to book me to speak at your next event or meeting.

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This article looks into a decision which affects many people who are passionate about sustainability and who are thinking about a holiday. The decision of whether to go or not to go affects us all.

Victoria falls

In my previous article about sustainable lifestyles I talked in detail about the key ingredients of a sustainable holiday. You can find a link to this article below.


I received a lot of positive feedback to that article, so I am building on that work with my thoughts on how to resolve a to go or not to go decision about holidaying.

Tourism is big business. It is big for jobs but it can also be big for the environmental and social consequences of this choice.

Some of the statistics are eye watering. I picked out the ones listed below from an article in The Conservation.

  • Global international visitor arrivals could reach 1.6 billion by 2020
  • Tourism contributes to 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Between 50-98% of the impact is associated with the travel component (planes and cars)

What I want the overall message of this article to be is the following. It is important for people to go on holiday to visit wild areas. These funds help to pay for environmental conservation, cultural exchange and economic development in some of the world’s poorest areas. It is important when you visit these places that you pay a decent amount for your experience. Put money into the hands of local people and businesses and buy carbon offsets to cover the emissions of your plane journey.

Without tourism and without funds flowing into these places, many plant and animal species could be lost.

There is no doubt that the worst vulgarities of mass tourism contribute little to either the tourist or to the host country. There is much work to be done to turn this around.

But through sustainability tourism can become a life giving and life sustaining industry. It can protect and enhance biodiversity which is under threat, it can create jobs in remote areas where few jobs exist and it can lead to the raising of funds to help pay for essential local services such as schools and hospitals. Sustainable tourism is a force for good.

Let’s now look at a few examples of this in action.

In terms of gorilla conservation, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme in Rwanda has been enormously successful. This programme works on the basis that it needed to make the gorillas worth more alive than dead. This programme has helped to protect this endangered wildlife species as well as providing enormous value to the tourists who pay handsomely for the opportunity to see the gorillas. The funds have also helped to pay for local social and economic development as well as paying for a wildlife conservation centre.

In terms of national conservation, Namibia has been a leader in this regard. Namibia’s park security guards have done excellently at protecting the wildlife from poachers. Without tourism, there would not be funds to pay for this. Namibia is now a global success story for its anti-poaching activities. Though the protection efforts in these parks are intensely local, the ramifications for securing biodiversity are profoundly global.

Costa Rica is another example of sustainable tourism. Tourism supports over 140,000 jobs and produces 8.4% of the gross domestic product in this country. In order to protect their natural inheritance, the country has 25% of its territory classified under some category of conservation management. These protected areas welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists, who generate millions of dollars in gate admission fees and payment of services to local operators. Tourism when well thought out can be sustainable.

What you need to know

This article looked into the decision of whether to go on holiday or not, which affects many people who care about sustainability.

The focus was primarily on wildlife holidays for which a flight from a developed country would be needed and so significant carbon emissions would be incurred. In this instance, buying carbon offsets to cover the emissions of your plane journey can dramatically increase the sustainability of your holiday.

The key takeaway is that it is important for people to go on holiday to visit these areas. We looked at examples from Rwanda, Namibia and Costa Rica of how tourism provides vital funds and incentives for conservation that would not otherwise exist.

Overall, through sustainability, the face of tourism can be changed from a destructive process focussed on short term profits, to a life giving process that is focussed on the long term protection of animals and plant life.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think of tourism and its journey towards sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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Click the image below to book me to speak at your next event or meeting.

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This article looks into whether we are being ambitious enough with regards to sustainability. Are we setting the right targets, are we flying high enough? This will be looked at through the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.

Icarus best

Icarus was the son of Daedalus who dared to fly too near the sun on wings made of feathers and wax. Daedalus cautioned Icarus that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt. Icarus ignored this warning, the feathers came loose and he plunged to his death in the sea. The myth is taught to children to warn them of the dangers of flying too high.

But, in addition to telling Icarus not to fly too high, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too low. Flying too close to the sea would mean that the salty water and updraughts would ruin his wings.

Over time the myth has been altered. All of the focus is placed on the warning of flying too high and little emphasis is placed on the dangers of flying too low.

The question is, for sustainability as a movement, are we settling for too little, are we flying high enough?

It is now that I would like to take the time to pivot to the substantive point that I aim to make with this article. This regards the setting of science based targets.

What is a Science based target?

Targets that companies adopt to to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are considered to be science based if they are set in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increases below 2°C compared to preindustrial temperatures.

By setting science based targets businesses stand to gain from a number of advantages. These include increased innovation, pre-empting future policies and regulations, improving competitiveness and improved investor relations.

It is promising that 336 companies have signed up to this initiative thus far. Many of these are major transnational corporations with footprints larger than some countries.

For more information please visit the Science Based Targets Initiative website.

What is the problem?

In corporate sustainability, you have three different types of businesses. Sustainability leaders, sustainability averages and sustainability laggards.

The issue I see, is that science based targets are currently the preserve of sustainability leaders. The real question is, why is this not more mainstream and why are these decisions only being taken now?

Sustainability isn’t a result, it is a journey. But are the targets we are setting ambitious enough, are they meaningful? Is is not possible that we have been flying too low?

The truth is, is that without a majority of businesses having an average, or above average position on sustainability, there can be no real transition towards sustainable development. But despite efforts by governments greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase.

The real question is, should companies who adopt a science based approach be lauded as sustainability leaders, or should companies who fail to adopt a science based approach be derided as sustainability laggards?

The science based method guides the way forward, but I think it should be seen as the safe middle, for sustainability averages as opposed to a mark of outstanding leadership.

Myths are powerful. They can change the way we think, the way we act and the way we behave. They can change our ambitious and our dreams for the future. I think we can learn a lot from the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.

We can learn a lot from going back to the original intention of the myth. This was a warning against flying too high and flying too low. They both carry danger.

We need to honour the opportunities which sustainability presents and meet the threats which an unstable climate presents with bold targets and bold actions. We need to avoid selling ourselves too short, by rewarding what is best practice as something that is remarkable. Are we flying high enough?

We have the technology to make sustainability happen. But are businesses really committed?

Too many are resting in their comfort zone. They are flying too low.

We can only hope that the science based targets movement makes a swift transition from niche to mainstream. I think this could happen in a relatively short period of time.

What you need to know

This article looks into whether sustainability has the right ambitions through the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.

We looked at how over time the myth had been edited so as to place less emphasis on the dangers of flying too low.

We pivoted towards an analysis of science based targets, what they are and how they can help businesses.

We then moved on to a discussion of whether science based targets should be the preserve of sustainability leaders or whether companies who do not adopt this approach should be seen as sustainability laggards.

It is my belief that science based targets need to become the new mainstream of greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. I believe sustainability leaders should have to do much more remarkable things to stand out from the crowd.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think of science based targets and how high will you fly?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

Do you need a speaker for your event?

Click the image below to book me to speak at your next event or meeting.

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Inspiration for this book was drawn from the simply phenomenal book The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. If you haven’t already, buy this book now.



This article looks into the key ingredients of what makes a holiday a sustainable holiday. What should you definitely attempt to do and what should you avoid?

mass tourism

Sustainability is often accused of being big and complex, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Hopefully this article makes the big and complex small and easy to understand. Everyone enjoys a holiday and through a few simple steps it is easy to design a holiday that takes less from your host country socially, economically and environmentally.

1.     Environment

Sustainability isn’t only about the environment but it is where this article will begin. There are three things to watch out for here.

  • Energy

In terms of energy, you want to be mindful of what is used to transport you from where you are to where your holiday is based. Flying is an activity which is associated with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. There is a trend for more and more passengers to take at least one flight every year. This is not sustainable.

I found this IATA article on air passenger numbers truly astonishing. Please read it via the link below.

2036 Forecast Reveals Air Passengers Will Nearly Double to 7.8 Billion

Even with doubtless improvements in fuel efficiency, aeroplanes create more issues than just carbon emissions. They are responsible for releasing nitrogen oxides, which deplete the ozone layer and water vapour from high flying aircraft contributes to the greenhouse effect. Overall, air travel is a difficult to make compatible with the demands of sustainable development.

So often we travel to far off lands, but fail to appreciate wonders closer to home. If you take a holiday closer to where you live and avoid flying that is definitely a key ingredient of a sustainable holiday. A steel wheel on a steel rail is a highly efficient form of propulsion. Holidays by train can be enormously fun and you get to see a great deal whilst you are moving. Bike holidays are another ultra-sustainable choice and can be combined with railways to let you explore further afield.

Overall, prudent use of energy resources is the hallmark of a sustainable holiday. I am not saying that you should never fly, for some faraway destinations it is the only viable option. But making a conscious decision not to fly and to holiday closer to home is a far more sustainable option.

There will also come a point in the not too distant future when developing countries become increasingly if not fully developed. When this happens and air travel comes within reach of these enormous population centres, the pressures on our skies will become even greater than they already are.

  • Water

Water is another key element of the sustainability equation that tourism affects. Prudent use of this precious resource will determine whether your holiday is sustainable or not.

In developed countries water is not considered to be a precious or scarce resource, but in developing countries this is not the case. As more and more people holiday in developing countries, this can place enormous pressures on these countries water systems.

Water is needed for swimming pools, water parks and for the showering and toilet facilities used by the tourists from developed countries. These tourists will have a daily water use many multiples bigger than that of the local people, which leads to bigger pressures building up quicker.

Another insidious impact on water resources caused by tourism comes by the way of dietary choices. Again, meat is considered a staple item in developed countries but in developing countries more often than not it is considered a luxury, particularly beef.

A great resource in this regard is the Water Footprint Network, which hosts information on different items and their water footprint. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. You can find a link to the Water Footprint Network article below.

Water footprint of crop and animal products: a comparison

What this means is, is that developing countries, keen to please international visitors, alter from their traditional cuisine and aim to impress visitors with meat options that would not otherwise be there. But the raising and eventual slaughter of this meat has significant consequences for water levels in these countries and for greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Be smart and aim to eat local cuisine when you are on holiday. If you can, stick to vegan and vegetarian dishes that is even better.

Overall, be conscious of your water consumption when on holiday and look out for hidden water which lies behind products and services that you consume if you want to make your holiday more sustainable.

  • Waste

When you are on holiday, be conscious that you are a guest in another country. Littering and leaving litter behind is a problem, but it is especially problematic when you do it in a country that is not your own. In developing countries with stretched budgets and unmet needs, they can ill afford to clean up after careless visitors.

People are often surprised at the lack of bins and recycling facilities in developing countries. You may have to keep hold of your rubbish for a little longer to put it in its right place, but the effort will be worth it. If your hotel or accommodation manager doesn’t have any recycling facilities, then point out to them why they should. If no one complains, nothing will change.

Try and place less pressure on local waste management facilities by eating in and taking your time. You don’t always have to get everything to takeaway.

Overall, with just a little bit of thought and effort the sustainability of your holiday can be greatly improved as far as waste management is concerned.

2.   Social

Sustainable tourism is also about the social situation that you leave your host country in. When you visit other countries, make the effort to learn about the cultures there and visit their monuments and sites, many of which could be ancient. Try and learn things and take your findings back to your country with you. Make sure that you only take memories and don’t remove any parts of monuments. If millions of people did this, then pretty soon there will be no monument to visit.

This is the toughest one for me and it regards buying gifts from or handing money to child labourers. My position on this is that you should not engage in these activities. These kids should be in school and not walking up and down beaches during the day and into restaurants and bars at night looking for money. If you give them money or buy things from them, you simply encourage their parents to send them out the next day. It may be tough but you are not helping the situation, you are simply perpetuating an endless cycle of low skill, low wage misery.

Just talking to locals and making conversation can do a great deal to help. Some of these people will be trying to sell you products or services, but some will be genuinely interested in you, and in return you should show genuine interest in their life and their situation. Try and leave them in a better place than when you found them.

Overall, be mindful of social problems and different cultures when you are on holiday to make your trip a sustainable trip.

3.   Economic

Sustainable development is as much about economics as it is about society and the environment.

Tourism and especially mass tourism poses a number of challenges for sustainability. One of the worst features of this type of tourism is leakage. This refers to the process by which out of every dollar earned in tourism, a large percentage leaves the country. This can be as high as 80% in some cases. This occurs as a result of package holidays sold in developed countries and as a result of large resorts being part of a consortium with owners based in developed countries. It also occurs as a result of tourists who visit other countries but demand goods that are made abroad or shop in restaurants with foreign ownership.

When you travel, try to avoid packaged tours and large resorts. If you can, try as as hard as possible to put money into the hands of local people and local communities who need it most.  If you do that, your holiday will be far more sustainable.

What you need to know

This article looked into the key ingredients of what makes a holiday a sustainable holiday.

In terms of environmental consequences, you should try to fly less and travel by train or by bike. We are what we eat and you should attempt to eat local and eat vegan and vegetarian to be more sustainable.

Tourism is socially sustainable when monuments and cultures are left intact and not disturbed or exploited. Taking a stand against child labour is also a hallmark of a sustainable holiday.

A holiday is an economically sustainable holiday when you invest in local communities and aim for as lower level of leakage as possible, preferably zero.

Overall, by being considerate of people in different places and in different generations and by taking a few simple steps, you can make holidaying far more sustainable.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think makes a holiday a sustainable holiday?

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