In the age of social media, we've been exposed to a world outside our own, prompting an increasing desire to escape and explore. Travel is beneficial in some areas but can also be environmentally harmful due to emissions, waste, local displacement, and other concerns.
According to the International Council of Clean Transportation, the commercial airline industry alone accounts for roughly 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This knowledge, coupled with a desire to travel and pull away from mass tourism, has resulted in a type of travel called ecotourism, traveling with as little an impact as possible.
From the consumer side, ecotourism includes staying at local hotels, taking trains or busses over airplanes, shopping and eating locally, and respecting local cultural practices.
Similar shifts are happening on the larger, corporate side. For example, airlines are experimenting with Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), electrifying busses and trains, and working to lower waste output onboard the plane and from the aircraft itself.
This undoubtedly yields beneficial outcomes for the industry's future, as long as key players continue investing in sustainable development and advance current technology.
Within the realm of ecotourism, airports haven't received as much media attention as mitigative aircraft techniques.
Airports are giant hubs comprised of restaurants, shops, sometimes hotels, resulting in a large footprint from waste and energy usage.
To combat this footprint, some airports have started incorporating sustainable progress into strategic plans, contributing to the benefits of tourism without the negative consequences.
An example is the impressive new installation at the Geneva Airport, a project using alternative energies to help combat the airport's footprint.
The Geneva Airport, located in the second-most populous city in Switzerland, was constructed in 1920. It has since grown to service 149 locations around the globe. In 2019, the Geneva Airport saw roughly 18 million passengers passing through its gates, many utilizing the numerous shops and restaurants.
The airport recently revamped an old airport terminal to a newer, sleeker version that incorporates environmental mindfulness into the build.
The updated wing includes 215,280 square feet of technical glass to deflect solar radiation, 75,500 square feet of solar panels, and geothermal energy.
The architectural firm behind the design explains how the terminal upgrade results in a net positive:
"In order to reach this objective, the building will rely on a holistic sustainable strategy consisting of the following elements: 7,000 m² of photovoltaic panels on the roof, 110 geothermal piles for heating and cooling, high-performance glazed facades with solar protection guaranteeing a low dependency on artificial lighting, detailed analysis of thermal performance to eliminate cold-bridges, energy-efficient chilled ceilings throughout, LED lighting strategy with responsive control systems and low water consumption using methods such as rainwater harvesting."
The project is nearly a decade in the making and is just one part of the airport's pathway toward sustainability, which includes social wellbeing, economic viability, and environmental mindfulness.
Other airports worldwide are also implementing sustainable strategies and alternative energy into their upgrades.
For example, the Logan International Airport, located in Boston, USA, was the "world's first air terminal to win a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation" due to its green design. The Galápagos Ecological Airport, Olso Airport, Stockholm Arlanda Airport, and many others have followed suit, implementing waste management systems, alternative energy, sustainable materials, and other initiatives to lower the sector's environmental footprint.
Sustainability, a topic considered niche a few decades ago, has risen to public awareness, resulting in government intervention, corporate acknowledgment, and widespread consumer drive. Its popularity will only continue to benefit our people and our planet as the discussion increases.
This drive has resulted in more options than ever before for traveling the globe more sustainably. We can expect ecotourism to gain even more traction down the road, perhaps even becoming the norm.