The holistic approach

17. The holistic sustainable approach

All the ideas to make tourism more sustainable are great, but they will only have little effect as long as we don’t accept that tourism is part of our society. Therefore to really make a sustainable impact, we need a change of mentality and lifestyle. Tourism and other businesses need to be better integrated into our society and we all need to work together to make society as a whole more sustainable.

17.1 Change our mentality

Overpopulation in IndiaThe before mentioned measures can all have their own positive effect on our environment and climate. But the one solution with the biggest positive impact would be to drastically reduce our consumption by reducing our population. From 1930 until 2020 earth’s population has grown explosively from around 2 billion to almost 8 billion people! Over the past few years, our population growth rate has declined, but the overall amount still grows with 1.05% which is around 81 million people a year! Some optimistic studies predict the world population to stabilize around the mid of this century. But even these studies still estimate that by then the world population will be 25% bigger at 10 billion people!

A study in IOPscience from 2017 shows that having one child less can save up to 58.6 metric tons of CO2 emission a year! For their research, they relied on a study which quantified future emissions of descendants based on historical rates, based on heredity (Murtaugh and Schlax 2009). In this approach, half of a child’s emissions are assigned to each parent, as well as one-quarter of that child’s offspring (the grandchildren) and so forth. This is consistent with their own use of research employing the fullest possible life cycle approach to capture the magnitude of emissions decisions. It will be better for the environment to have fewer children, but to recommend this to people still isn’t very popular. Traveling can help, as it makes people more aware of the beautiful world around us and the dangers this world faces. Experiencing and seeing this with your own eyes is way different than watching National Geographic channel. On October eight 2020, Prince William and Sir David Attenborough from Great Britain launched the so called Earthshot Prize. It is the biggest environmental price ever and it should encourage people to be creative in finding solutions for our environmental problems. Prince William explained:

Positivity has been missing from the climate debate – something the award could supply. The Earthshot Prize is really about harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find some of the world’s solutions to some of the greatest environmental problems“.

Sustainable tourism can also be a positive tool to help protecting our environment and slow down climate change. On top, those who travel tend to have fewer children.

17.2 Create time to travel

Creating time to travelIt is clear that to make a positive impact and reduce climate change we need a change of mentality and a change of lifestyle. Have fewer children. Consume less. Eat sustainably. Don’t buy what we don’t need and don’t try to buy extra time, but instead try to enjoy the time we have. In the chapters above I wrote a few times that we need more time to enable us to travel slower and more sustainable. But how can we make more time available? For this, we might be willing to change the way we work. The Covid-19 pandemic for instance was a good exercise where people found that there were more ways the work could be done. One of the important things that can help us here is to change our mentality about work. Allow people to work less and allow those who want to take more extensive holidays. Some might want to travel twice a year for a month, while others might want to travel once a year for 6 to 10 weeks. If they can do so when it is too cold, or too warm at home this will save on their domestic use of electricity

Reducing the working week has been shown to enhance the work-life balance (Nassen and Larsson 2015; Kasser and Sheldon 2009; Eurofund 2013). For example, Hayden (1999) records how French employees reported overall improved quality of life when their working week was reduced to 35 hours. In another investigation, 400 Swedish employees who had their work time reduced to 6 h per day for 18 months, reported improved life satisfaction, health, and a more equal gender-balance on time spent on housework (Bildt (2007) cited in Nassen and Larsson (2015). Being able to spend more time with your family is also better for the development of the children and reduces crime committed by youth. If you ask people about the best memories from their youth, many will answer that the time spent with family and family holidays belong to some of their best childhood memories. A recent (November 2019) experiment from Microsoft showed a 40% increase in productivity when they went down from a 5-day workweek to a 4-day workweek. According to an article published in BBC Worklife reducing the amount of time we work could help to save the planet. The article talks about two international movements that call themselves Degrowth and Green Growth. Both movements agree that it’s better for the environment if we work less. They say that studies show that during National Holidays, the consumption of electricity goes down. This is likely because work spaces need less energy for heating and light. Where the Degrowth and Green Growth movements agree on shorter working weeks, both have different ideas about how to implement these shorter working weeks. According to the Degrowth movement, we shouldn’t only work less, but we need to earn less, consume less, and lead more frugal lives. The Green Growth movement believes it’s enough to just work less, but continue to receive the same salary.

Working from homeYou can argue that more people should work from home, but a study from the UK shows that this isn’t always the answer either. Of course, it will reduce the carbon footprint from traveling to and from work. It seems, especially in the winter, that people working from home tend to use more energy. The reason behind this is that they heat their whole house, instead of only the room where they work. This results in less efficient use of energy compared to heating an office full of working people. Another negative result of working at home is that it strongly decreases human interaction, which isn’t good for society. It is also counter productive for our creativity. An alternative can be to work two days a week from home and 3 days a week from your office. From school on we might already prepare children by going 4 days a week to school and study one day a week online from home. Other studies show that reducing the average number of hours worked per week can have both a scale effect and a compositional effect (Gough 2013). Hypothetically, due to the scale effect of fewer hours at work, the incomes should be reduced, and thus expenditures and consumption would also be expected to be reduced. With each person working less, there is the possibility of increasing the number of people employed and thus reducing inequalities. High levels of inequality are associated with low levels of well-being (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009), and, furthermore, meaningful work is generally found to be a positive factor in increasing well-being (Diener and Seligman 2004). Hence sharing the work may yield multiple benefits (Hayden 1999). The compositional effect can be explained as follows. With lower incomes and less time at work, people’s use of time outside work would be expected to change, as would the composition of their expenditure baskets. For example, rather than buying ready-meals, people may be more inclined to cook from raw ingredients. Now such changes in time and expenditure budgets might result in higher or lower carbon emissions. With more time to spend people might walk and cycle for short journeys rather than take the car. On the other hand, some people may drive further and more often to visit friends; the rebound effect. If we look at the statistics, there´s good evidence that lowering high and moderate incomes will, in general, result in lower carbon footprints.

The suggestion of reducing working hours to create more free time must be taken with an important warning concerning low-income groups. Currently, many low paid workers are struggling to meet their weekly household expenses (MacInnes et al. 2014; The Living Wage Commission 2014). Therefore reducing working hours should only be applied if it doesn’t lead to people earning less than the minimum income. If this can be accomplished, work-time reduction offers a promising way to reduce unemployment by sharing the work, leading to reduced inequalities, while at the same time offering high prospects of increasing well-being and reducing environmental burdens (Hayden and Shandra 2009; Victor 2008; Jackson 2009; Coote et al. 2010; Knight et al. 2013; Pullinger 2014; Rosnick and Weisbrot 2007). One way to accomplice this could be the use of sustained salaries.

17.4 Well-being above economic growth

A relaxing lifestyleEconomic growth (the policy goal of most governments) aims to increase incomes and thus gain more profit. It is commonly believed that when the economy of a country is good, this is better for the well-being of its population. But it is also generally found that as incomes increase too much, carbon footprints are likely to increase while well-being levels off (Lenzen and Cummins 2013; Jackson 2009). Recent (June 2020) research described in the Dutch book Fantoomgroei suggests that it is wrong to think that the economic growth of a country will automatically translate into better living conditions for its citizens. The authors of Fantoomgroei found that while the economy of the Netherlands grew in the past 40 years, the money was badly spread within the country. The gap between rich and poor grew and spending on healthcare, schooling, police, etc., was systematically cut. After their two years of research, the authors suggest that governments should focus more on the well-being of their citizens than on the GDP of their country. This raises the question: which policies enhance well-being for everyone while being environmentally beneficial? Such activities represent win-win opportunities for encouraging activities which give raise to relatively low quantities of carbon emissions while at the same time enhancing well-being and happiness. The ‘holy grail’ is to devise low carbon lifestyles that achieve maximum well-being.

17.6 Increase happiness with a low(er) carbon footprint

Bhutan country of happinessThe economy of Bhutan isn’t based on the Doughnut Model but it is the first country in the world to recognize the importance of the well-being of its population. Since July 18, 2008, Bhutan officially made the happiness of its citizen more important than its economic status. So now instead of using GDP as a tool to measure progress or development, they have developed the Gyalyong Gakid Palzom or a Gross National Happiness (GNH) indicator. The level of GNH for an individual and Bhutan as a country is determined through measures in nine domains: psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. All domains are weighted equally. For most domains, there are four underlying variables. Each of the around 33 variables is tested through one or more questions within a 1.5-hour personal interview.

Bhutan’s tourism operates on the principle of “high value, low impact”. This has been achieved by limiting the amount of visitors, enforcing strict entry requirements and a daily visitor tariff. The daily tariff includes necessary expenses for the visit such as accommodation, a licensed tour guide, meals and hiking equipment. A large portion of the tariff, however, is used to maintain and develop the country’s infrastructure, as well as contribute towards Bhutan’s free health care and education.

Poverty in BhutanThe outside world glamorizes Bhutan, but Needrup Zangpo, executive director of the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan warns that we shouldn’t overlook their problems. “We belong to the least developed countries, we have an increasing income gap, we have increasing youth unemployment and our environment is degrading,” Zangpo says. The findings from the last Bhutan Gross National Happiness survey showed that 8 percent of the people were “deeply happy,” 35 percent identified as “extensively happy,” and 47.9 percent registered as “narrowly happy”. According to the World Happiness Report from the UN, which contains 153 countries the people from Finland are the happiest in the world. The people from Denmark rank second, Switzerland third, while the people from Bhutan rank number 97. This report is based on levels of GDP per capita, social support, health, generosity, perception of corruption, dystopia and even the influence of our environment on our mood.

Nevertheless, the intentions of Bhutan are good. Our wellbeing should be more important than our economic value. Happiness doesn’t only reduce stress it also improves our immune system and increases our overall health. The challenge of happiness is that it isn’t permanent. To acknowledge this shouldn’t be depressing – quite the contrary. Recognizing that happiness exists and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome, may help us appreciate it more when it arrives. A key to happiness is being satisfied with what you have in life while planning for what you are about to live with. Like being happy while working, because you’re already thinking about your next holiday to a tropical palm beach. Reviews of literature reveal that social activities such as conversing with friends and family, making love, reading, or carrying out other hobbies are low carbon activities that generally make people happy (Csikszentmihalyi 2006; Holmberg et al. 2012; Kahneman et al. 2004; Caprariello and Reis 2012; Nassen and Larsson 2015). For many of the activities that generally enhance happiness, the carbon emissions depend on how they are carried out. For example, being close to nature and participating in physical activities such as walking, yoga, or sports have a low carbon footprint, except when people first need to drive their car to be able to do so.

17.7 Indulging in experiences provides more happiness

Hiking in nature provides happinessSocial activities provide happiness and it’s even proven that buying experiences and traveling can give you longer lasting happiness. Spending money on new experiences instead of products can be better for the environment, as it lowers the carbon footprint from mining and the production of all these new products297. Thomas Gilovich is a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. His findings are the synthesis of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox. They found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. For instance, how adaptation affects happiness, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases. Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same, but over time people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with the experiences that they spent money on went up. It’s counterintuitive to think that something like a physical object that you can keep for a long time doesn’t keep you as happy as long as a once-and-done experience does. Ironically, the fact that a material thing is ever-present works against it, making it easier to adapt to. It fades into the background and becomes part of the new normal. As the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences are part of you. We are the total sum of our experiences.” He goes on to say that studies showed that even a bad experience can become a good story. This is something I can fully agree with and have been saying for many years now. Even some of my worst clients make for some of my best stories about working as a tour guide. Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption, like playing a team sport. Shared experiences become shared memories and stories that we tell to one another. “By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness,” write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. If society takes their research to heart, it should mean not only a shift in how individuals spend their discretionary income, but also place an emphasis on employers giving paid vacation.

Looking foreward to a tropical holidayAnd the final kicker? The happiness of anticipation for experience is actually even stronger than waiting to buy that new awesome material thing. That’s another win-win for buying experiences over buying new stuff. According to Amit Kumar, a Cornell doctoral candidate, the new research confirms this notion. There was a study done involving people waiting for experiences compared to others waiting for material goods. In short, those waiting for experiences were in much better moods. The bigger the experience we’re anticipating, the more excitement we create. Who knows, maybe traveling into space again can be such a motivating event?