Climate Resilience Through Impact-Travel

Professor Geoffrey Lipman. Originally published in The Tourism Society Journal, July 2018

Looking at recent UNWTO and WTTC declarations on the SDG and Paris Climate Accord, I was struck by how far we’ve advanced in the past 25 years - green travel is definitively on the mainstream Travel & Tourism agenda. But, looking at implementation, we still have a long way to go.

It’s been a privilege to be a part of that journey, in the private (WTTC), public (UNWTO) and NGO camps - most recently as co-founder of SUNx (Strong Universal Network) - a Climate Resilience initiative for my friend, and global sustainability champion, the late Maurice Strong. SUNx is an advocate for “Impact-Travel” measured to manage: green to grow: 2050-proof to transform.

In the past quarter century, since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, our sector evolved from a simple niche concept of eco-tourism, to the 2017 UN Year of Sustainable Tourism, with over a thousand events, across the globe, covering virtually every type of Travel & Tourism product, as well as engaging visitors and visited.

On the way, there has also emerged a myriad of certification schemes, green conferences galore, mushrooming observatories for analytics and a plethora of awards to motivate companies, destinations and travellers. CSR has jumped from periphery to mainstream.

We have hundreds of names and definitions to describe a wide range of green hued products – eco, responsible, geo, adventure, pro-poor, fair trade, and conscious for example. Many operate at destination level, some regional, others global.

And we have a massively expanding series of initiatives to measure tourism’s impacts – dashboards, indices, reports, roadmaps, satellite accounts and simulations, inside the sector. Outside, we have the 2030 focused measurement frameworks of 17 SDG’s, 169 targets and 304 indicators, with their national initiatives and local application. And the overriding 2050 demands of the Paris Climate Agreement, with its below 2 degrees eXistential targets.

Yet it seems to me we are making excellent tactical initiatives – big tactical initiatives, but what we don’t have, is a coherent “systems approach to sustainability” that helps move these disparate approaches down a positive change pathway.

A pathway that is not only relevant within our sector, but links to all of the other closely intertwined socio-economic sectors. That is “glocal”, with global principles applied locally. That works in smart cities, rural communities, national parks and small islands. And that encompasses the big indicators of the SDG, dealing with planetary life, and the Paris Climate Targets dealing with our very survival as a species.

And this is where the concept of Impact-Travel has a role to play. The term was coined by Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, to describe, on one hand, the immense socio-economic benefits of human mobility, and on the other the serious, unintended environmental consequences. It was also cast in the context of the Forum’s vision of a disruptive 4th Industrial Revolution, where the Travel & Tourism sector - transport, hospitality, services and infrastructure – will have big, new challenges and opportunities.

This idea was then framed by SUNx as a template, with 3 basic characteristics, that easily distinguish any Sustainable Tourism approach: -

    • Measure to Manage - good and bad impacts analysed and proactively dealt with together. There can be no universal measuring system - regions, countries and communities have differing needs and approaches, as do sectors and sub-sectors, companies, travellers and residents. Some will be big data and sensor based; some will be global and top down: some will be micro and bottom up. The common denominator is that measurement must have targets that are real, transparent, continuous and improving. With progressively strengthening targets geared to the 2030 SDG aspirations and the 2050 Paris reality check.

    • Green to Grow - low carbon, renewable energy, social inclusion, technologically savvy and nature based. We are not talking just about sector standards, there are global socio-economic and geo-political factors to reflect. There are also planetary boundaries, which ultimately trump everything.

  • 2050-proof to Transform - with the 4th Industrial revolution - robotics, digitalization, bio-engineering and the like, is a new frontier of sustainability opportunities and where the Paris Climate target is a very hard backstop. If we don’t achieve the “2o temperature stabilization - mostly by switching to a new energy economy – all of the very worthy SDG actions will be like re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic”


All these elements must be reflected in any truly sustainable travel product and service.

Going forward, like other sectors, we will particularly have to address our impacts in terms of carbon (transport - particularly, fossil fuel dependent, aviation, and buildings), social inclusion, resource utilisation (water, food, and waste), biodiversity depletion and “people congestion” - so called Overtourism.

There are too many dynamics in a rapidly evolving global marketplace, implemented locally, to rationally contemplate a magic bullet, “one size fits all”, sustainability solution. There are many excellent schemes in play and there will be many more based on technology and innovation. Moreover, we will still need a green road to travel together, where all the many contributing approaches can advance on their own terms, at their own development pace but arriving at a sustainable climate resilient destination together by 2050.

At SUNx, we believe there is a paradigm shift in play that will make green the norm for all Travel & Tourism over the next decade, and that Impact-Travel can be a helpful framework for that journey, to keep the focus on the general sustainability concept, and on the overriding climate resilience imperative.

Imagine Travel Differently 600x211We also believe that as the marketplace evolves increasingly rapidly, travellers and companies will need to adapt their habits and practices equally rapidly with new innovation, and for that reason we are collaborating with a new initiative - TraNexus - aimed at helping that transformation to move further, faster

through a “green travel blockchain” and associated cryptocurrency.

Over the past year, this technology has taken centre stage, with countless decentralized applications created, which are revolutionizing commerce. So far, Travel & Tourism has been relatively unaffected, and this represents a substantial opportunity to enhance efficiencies in the sector value chain.

Travellers and companies who download the TraNexus wallet and use TNX coins will automatically become part of SUNx global sustainability development programs. They will get green online learning and engagement support. We also believe Communities will welcome this approach, because it protects against over-tourism, promotes better travel products, and allows them to align this complex, fragmented, socio-economic activity with their overall sustainability transformation plans.

The initial markets will be the younger, more environmentally-conscious travellers, smaller destinations and supply chains who will more readily see and feel the benefits of this new technology-based exchange. In the medium term, we are convinced that it will spread to all Travel & Tourism sectors and products.

Impact Travel Article Diagram

Professor Geoffrey Lipman is Co-founder of SUNx - Strong Universal Network - a program of the EU based, not for profit Green Growth and Travelism Institute, and a legacy to the late Maurice Strong - Sustainable Development Pioneer. SUNx goal is to promote Climate Resilient, Impact-Travel through a global cloud connected network of Learning, Innovation and Resilience Centres. He is also President ICTP, International Coalition of Tourism Partners, a former President of the World Travel & Tourism Council and Assistant Secretary General UN World Tourism Organisation.


Geoffrey Lipman, SUNx Co-founder


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