Definition and Importance of Environmental Responsibility
The growth of tourism throughout the world inevitably impacts upon the fragile environments and cultures that the tourist is actually there to see and experience. It is therefore very important that we understand the impacts that our operations may have, and to pro-actively seek to ensure that our operations are as locally sustainable as possible.
The article "Alternative Paths to Sustainable Tourism" (in a summary format, by Tony Griffin and Nicolette Boele - see 1993 The Annual Review of Travel - The American Express Company) outlines the following five key elements for tourism sustainability:
- Preserving the current resource base for future generations.
- Maintaining the productivity of the resource base.
- Maintaining biodiversity and avoiding irreversible environmental changes.
- Ensuring equity within and between generations.
- Maintaining and protecting the heritage (culture and history) or the area, region, or nation.
We aim to adhere to these principles and have therefore produced the following code of practice and environmental policy. This policy is designed to inform and guide both ourselves and our clients during all of our operations. We recommend that all of our clients read and digest this policy before booking or joining one of our tours.
Here at Uncover the World Ltd.
Here at Uncover the World we benefit from being led by a team that is formally trained, both in various environmental sciences, and in economic and social issues in the developing world. This formal education together with our own personal convictions means that we take environmental and social issues very seriously when we work to create our tours and develop our operations abroad. To this end we have created, and strive to adhere to, the following code of practice.
Uncover the World Code of Practice
- Before commencing operations in a new destination we inform ourselves of the environmental and socio-cultural issues involved in that destination.
- We recognise that our operations will impact upon the destinations we visit and aim to minimise the negative impacts of our tourism upon the environments and cultures of the destinations in which we operate.
- We pro-actively aim to maximise the benefits of our tourism to the people, environments and cultures of the destinations in which we operate.
- We aim to increase our clients' awareness of the environments and cultures through which they travel.
- We use local operatives and organisations in the running of our tours to as great an extent as possible and try to ensure that they meet our own high environmental and social standards. We will provide/enable provision of training to these local operatives/organisations where necessary/possible.
- We use locally produced materials wherever possible. When foreign equipment is used we aim to use that equipment which is owned by local operatives/organisations.
- We aim to adhere to all relevant international agreements (Human Rights, ILO Labour standards, UN CSD agreements on sustainability).
- We ensure that our operations adhere to domestic laws and regulations.
- We constantly strive to reduce our carbon footprint both in respect to our UK and local operations.
- We regularly monitor our operations in respect of all the above aims.
Environmental, Social and Economic Issues
Many of our tours, by definition, travel through a variety of different environments and cultures. We try to cause as little negative impact as possible during our journeys and where possible to act in such a way to benefit the local communities and environment.
We understand that CO2 emissions from air travel are a contributory factor (2-3% globally) in global climate change and their impact should be taken very seriously, especially as air travel is on the increase. Here are a few ways in which you can reduce the effect your air travel has on the world’s climate.
- Reduce the number of domestic/business flights you make each year or replace them entirely with other forms of public transport.
- Where flights are included, take one longer holiday each year rather than several shorter ones.
- Use train or bus journeys instead of internal flights where this is an option during the tour itself.
- Consider carbon offsetting your flight – please read below for our opinion on Carbon Offsets.
- Use public transport for your journey to the airport as this not only reduces carbon emissions but also reduces vehicle congestion in and around airports.
Carbon Offsets: In theory carbon offsetting sounds like a great idea, and can be when done properly. However, we believe it should not be seen as a substitute for personally reducing your carbon emissions, using methods such as those outline in the Energy section below. All too often carbon offsetting is used as an “easy way” to be seen to be fixing the problem by shifting the pressure and responsibility onto developing countries when actually the problem is caused by the rich industrial countries. So if you don’t try to reduce your own carbon footprint first, is it ethical to expect the developing countries to take on your burden, whether by forcing good practices on developing countries or securing large areas of land in developing counties for the planting of trees? On could easily say “why not plant them in your own back garden”. We therefore strongly believe that carbon offsetting should only be used as a part of a wider carbon friendly lifestyle.
Uncover the World: We use only local guides and operators thus removing the need to fly foreign guides into and out of our destinations. Also, on the occasions it is necessary to fly staff to destinations; we calculate and use the carbon debt produced to introduce new carbon reducing measures to our UK and local offices, donate to environmental charities or buy carbon offsets. In our set tour itineraries, we try to use train and coach journeys as the standard option instead of internal flights where this is realistic (upgrades to flights are normally still available on request).
Whether you are at home or on holiday you can take many steps to conserve energy and reduce your personal carbon footprint. A few simple measures can go a long way and will also help to set a good example at home and abroad.
Whilst at home:
- Switch to a green energy supplier who uses renewable sources of energy like wind and hydroelectric power.
- Car share to work, or for the school run.
- Switch off all unnecessary appliances, especially overnight (don’t leave lights on and TVs on standby overnight!).
- Install thermostatic radiator valves and consider turning them down.
- Consider supplementary renewable energy sources like solar, wind or under soil heating.
- Turn off your central heating or air conditioning when you’re not at home.
- Turn down the central heating slightly (try just 1 to 2oC).
- Turn down the water heating setting (just 2oC will make a significant saving).
- Only fill the kettle with as much water as you require.
- Wait till you have a full load before using your dishwasher or washing machine (also saves water and washing powder).
- Hang out your washing to dry rather than use a tumble drier.
- Recycle your grey water (bath, washing, laundry etc) – this is fine for your garden, particularly if you are using environmentally friendly cleaning products.
- Insulate your hot water tank, loft and walls well.
- Fit energy saving light bulbs.
- Unplug your mobile phone as soon as it has finished charging and turn off the charger.
- Defrost your fridge/freezer regularly.
- Do your weekly shopping in a single trip, or even better, use local shops that you can walk to.
- Replace your old fridge/freezer (if it is over 15 years old), with a new one with an energy efficiency rating of "A".
Whilst on holiday:
- Turn off the air conditioning or heating in your hotel room when you go out.
- Try to minimise the amount of air conditioning you use as this will better help you acclimatise to hot countries. Your body will learn very quickly to cope well with heat if you give it a chance.
- Turn the lights out and the TV off when you leave your hotel room.
- Try to walk or hire a bike rather than use taxis, trains and buses, as this will also allow you to better appreciate your surrounding and give you more chance to interact with local people.
- Ask for your room towels to be washed every other day, rather than every day.
Uncover the World: We operate a fully integrated recycling policy in our UK office, including paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, and print cartridges/toners. We also have in place a number of energy saving measures, including low energy light bulbs, double glazed windows, and thermostatically controlled heating.
Even when travelling abroad in what we consider to be a simple fashion, we produce a large amount of daily waste. We make every effort to ensure that all of this waste is disposed of responsibly. Your appropriate tour leader will explain our standard procedures for carrying this out.
- Food waste: All biodegradable rubbish should be buried, paper items should be burnt, containers should be reused, returned or given away.
- Toilet stops: Toilet facilities should be used wherever possible. When they are not available, all toilet waste should be properly buried. Toilet paper should be burnt and then buried. Care should be taken to choose spots away from water supplies, food crops and paths.
- Shopping: Sturdy shopping bags or your daypacks should be used whenever possible to reduce the waste of plastic bags.
- Packaging: As little packaging as possible should be brought on our trips, instead removed and disposed of before departure.
- Smokers: Smokers should take care to dispose of their cigarette buts etc. carefully. We operate a no-smoking policy on all of our tours when on a private means of transport.
- In the UK: At Uncover the World we have adopted a policy of not producing brochures, glossy or otherwise, to sell our tours. This reduces the amount of paper and chemical inks that we would otherwise waste. We also operate a thorough recycling policy in our offices [Further information on our brochure policy].
In many developing countries water is considered a precious resource that should never be wasted. It is also often the case that outside major cities the purity of tap water can be unreliable.
- On other tours we recommend that our clients use water purification methods rather than buying bottled water (Over 200,000 plastic water bottles were dumped by trekkers per year in the Annapurna Region of Nepal in the late 1990's).
- We encourage the economic use of environmentally friendly washing detergents to minimise water pollution.
- You should always check before using local water supplies such as pumps or wells and should avoid washing at these locations unless local people encourage you to do so.
Behaviour and Local Customs
These are often very different to what you are used to living with and adhering to. On some of our tours they change as the tour progresses. You should always respect local religions, beliefs and customs. Your tour leader will brief you on changes to accepted and recommended dress and behaviour as your tour progresses. Some examples include:
- Avoid eating or touching food and water with your left hand in Hindu and Muslim societies.
- Ensure that you cover up appropriately when entering holy places. Some countries such as Iran have strict rules on dress, especially for women, which should be respected. It can be easy to unintentionally cause offence through your dress so it is best to always dress conservatively. Ask your leader for advice if you are unsure.
- Avoid public displays of intimacy.
- Respect the privacy of local people. Ask permission or advice before entering private dwellings or workplaces.
- Try and learn some basic words and phrases in the local language. Your effort will invariably be enthusiastically appreciated.
- Nearly all of us want to come back with some memorable photographs. You should always ask permission before taking photographs of people, holy places or rituals. Try to avoid using a flash when photographing paintings or textiles as this can cause damage to pigments.
As part of our booking conditions you are expected to respect and obey the law of the country or countries in which you are travelling.
- Drugs or firearms are not allowed on any of our tours.
- Alcohol is not permitted on some of our tours, as specified by your pre-departure information or your tour leader.
Our presence as a tour operator bringing tourists into foreign destinations has a significant impact on these locations. We have a great opportunity, and responsibility, to make sure that the money that we, and our clients, spend, goes to those who can benefit most from it. To this end we:
- Use local operatives and organisations as much as possible in the day to day running of our tours.
- Encourage our clients to use the services of local people and organisations during their tour (eg. washing clothes).
- Try to advise on alternatives to donations to beggars. Many people in the developing world have no alternative but to beg (and in these cases of course any donations are down to personal discretion) but many others are cashing in on the tourist. It is often of more benefit to a community for clients on one of our tours to communally give a donation to a local charity or school. Your leader will be able to advise or arrange for this.
- Understand the important place that bargaining holds in local cultures and economies. We do discourage agressive bargaining as what may seem a small amount to us that is fun to obtain through bargaining often makes a big difference to the vendor. However, not bargaining at all can also have detrimental effects on the local economy as the extra money you pay invariably does not go to the local producer.
- Respect the fact that tipping (and commission) is an integral part of a local economy and advise our clients accordingly.
- When shopping for food, we aim to buy as much as possible from local vendors and markets, and to try to ensure that we are buying local produce.
The highlight of many of our tours is the environment through which we travel. We aim to leave this environment and its ecology in the same state that we found it, if not better. We encourage this by:
- Ensuring minimal use of water where it is in short supply (see also water above).
- Making responsible choices of locations for toilet stops and washing (away from water sources).
- Making minimal use of firewood, especially in areas where this resource is in short supply.
- Carrying out responsible disposal of waste (see above).
- Avoiding buying souvenirs made from coral, ivory, rare animal hides, bones or shells. Also ancient pottery or other antique artefacts whose sale can encourage further looting of sites of immense local cultural and historical importance.
- Suggesting the buying of souvenirs from places such as official shops in National Parks that return funding to the running and preservation of such locations.
- Driving on only the recognised trails in National Parks. Also ensuring that our viewing of animals causes as little disruption to the park as possible.
- Using only main trails while trekking to minimise erosion.
- Supporting the National Parks that we visit by making donations to various programs/organisations that help to preserve these unique habitats (see below).
Projects and Charities We Support
As part of our code of practice we support various local and international organisations, NGO's and charities, related to the areas in which we operate. The booking of any of our tours will include a donation of at least UK£2 to one or more of the following (details of specific donations made are included in each tour factsheet):
Border Green Energy Team
The Border Green Energy Team (BGET) provide hands-on appropriate technology training and financial support to village innovators in ethnic minority areas on both sides of the Thai/Burma border. Your donations help this dedicated group build community micro-hydro systems and train Karen Thai villagers to operate, maintain and repair solar electric systems. Read more…
WaterAid is an international charity dedicated to helping people escape the stranglehold of poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation.
The UK's leading resource for ethical and sustainable tourism.