What if we can make our society and tourism more sustainable without having to change much of our human belief structures? This approach is called: “The sustainable environmental friendly default approach”. A study in Nature looked at non-monetary incentives that encourage pro-environmental behavior and can contribute to combating climate change. They investigated the effect of green energy defaults in the household and business sectors. In two large-scale field studies in Switzerland of over 200,000 households and 8,000 enterprises, they found that presenting renewable energy to existing customers as the standard option led to around 80% of the household and business sector customers staying with the green default even do their energy bills went up with minimum 3 to 8%. The effects were largely stable over a time span of at least four years. It is a widely known phenomenon in different spheres, such as in organ donation, where laws have changed in many countries so that the people have to opt out if they don’t want to donate after death.
Researchers believe that some of the reluctance to change is down to the human condition. “You have to switch to the other cheaper tariff bills actively,” said team leader Prof Andreas Diekmann, from ETH Zurich. “You can do it by email or by a phone call, but many people just don’t do it.” As well as people’s inherent reluctance to tackle the paperwork involved in changing back to fossil fuels, there were other factors at play. “People are a bit overwhelmed because it is a hard topic to actually feel competent to choose your own tariff,” said Dr Gewinner. “So if you help them and tell them we are all moving now to renewable energy, they feel okay. It was kind of what they wanted to do anyway. I think that’s what makes default settings stick so much, because we understand that it’s the recommended product, like the safe choice.”
An option in tourism could be to standard obligate tour operators to use the most environmental friendly way of transport that is (locally) available for the type of tour booked by the client. This can include using trains, local buses, private transport on natural gas, or electric and even bike taxies in a city. When using a less environmental friendly vehicle then available the tour agency could then be fined/ charged an additional green-tax. Of course a system like this will only work if it really applies to all travel businesses, or else clients will continue to search for cheaper, less environmental friendly options. I admit, it will not be easy to implement a default green approach to tourism and our society, but it might be worth looking deeper in to it. A first step in the right direction could be if travel agencies are obligated to inform their clients better about the ways of transport they use, the alternatives and their possible impact on the environment, bot negative and positive.
The risk of a sustainable default approach when used on a bigger/ global scale is that there need to be enough green alternatives available. Currently there isn’t enough sustainable produced energy or even food available. Another important condition is that it should be used in an honest and transparent way. Not like airlines who charge only 6.45 USD CO2 compensation for a flight from Amsterdam to New York. We also need to be sure that when an additional ‘green tax’ is charged, that this money is really used to try to reduce our carbon footprint.