By Kayla Van Egdom
Today’s Brown Bag dialogue featured Dr. Joe Kelly, a professor at Capilano University and one of the founding partners at Gobi Carbon Management Solutions. His presentation featured eye-opening information on the detrimental effects of climate change, the tourism industry’s part in affecting climate change as well as steps that the tourism industry can take to shift to a low carbon economy.
Tourism is one of the major sectors contributing to climate change. If the tourism industry was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting somewhere between 4-5 percent of total emissions. In addition to contributing to climate change, Dr. Kelly highlighted four climate change-related risks the tourism industry faces: physical changes to our landscapes will detract from the scenic beauty of nature (which can be seen in the case of Vancouver’s pine beetle infestation), new regulations such as BC’s Carbon Tax will increase costs for tourist operators, markets are shifting and consumers or looking for greener tourism options and companies that do not address these market shifts will have to address increased competition and potential brand and reputational risks.
Dr. Kelly believes there is not only a chance, but a profitable opportunity for the tourism industry to re-brand itself. He suggests that rather than being a commodity, tourism is about experiences. By maximizing experiences and minimizing GHG emissions, the tourism industry will help slow the effects of climate change.
Dr. Kelly identified six steps to a “low-carbon tourism” industry in B.C.1) conserve; 2) improve efficiency; 3) use renewable energy; 4) purchase offsets for GHG emissions that can’t be reduced through other measures; 5) adapt to the climate changes; 6) share your successes with others.
Many businesses are already reaping the rewards of reducing their carbon footprints. Dr. Kelly profiled Harbour Air, pointing out that after their shift to carbon-neutrality, they experienced a 12% increase in revenues (which was primarily due to increased market share). This is a case in point: the market is ready for greener tourism experiences. Dr. Kelly is optimistic, believing that a combination of an environmentally conscientious market and sustainable tourism businesses will slow the damaging effects of climate change in today’s world.
Dr. Joe Kelly is a founding partner of Gobi Carbon Management Solutions, and teaches at Capilano University.