Being an eco-warrior these days is not easy, especially if you're an expat in Dubai and flying is a way of life, but small changes can have a big impact
Earlier this month a friend of mine – Georgina Wilson-Powell, the editor and founder of pebblemag.com – was sitting at her laptop in the south of England when an email popped into her inbox. It was from Prince Harry’s chief of staff at Sussex Royal. Would she come to Amsterdam, take part in a roundtable and watch the Duke of Sussex launch a new travel initiative which aims to improve conservation efforts, protect the environment and help develop the economies of communities involved in the tourist industry? Eh, okay.
Georgina and I worked together for years at ITP Media Group – the publisher behind Arabian Business – when she lived in Dubai. When she moved back to the UK she set up Pebblemag (a phenomenally inspirational website and events planner which I highly recommend for anyone who has guilty feelings about their carbon footprint or their impact on Planet Earth but wants it in a readable, interesting format and has no time for woke hippies).
For any start-up anywhere, a call to sit down with a member of the royal family is a real badge of honour.
Prince Harry’s initiative – called Travalyst – is a real step forward and has some big-name global brands backing it, including Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa. But, the issue is that his timing wasn’t great – the sixth in line to the British throne has been given a media roasting lately. On the one hand, he has been calling on us all to do more to save the planet but, on the other hand, it was reported he has used private jets more than 60 percent of the time since he got married.
The likes of Piers Morgan and the British tabloids went to town, calling him a hypocrite and lambasting Travalyst as a cynical PR stunt. He tried to downplay the commotion by stating he had travelled to Amsterdam by commercial aircraft (Georgina had gone by train).
Bashing eco-activists and being a climate change denier appears to have been given mainstream weight by Donald Trump’s dismissal of the entire concept, highlighted for all the world to see when there was a very obvious empty chair at the recent G7 discussion in Biarritz on climate change, as the US president had decided to skip the talk.
While we can’t all be like Greta Thunberg (who herself has suffered a pretty venomous, and sometimes very personal, backlash) and take a yacht across the Atlantic in order to avoid boarding a flight – especially if you are an expat in Dubai – there must be some small things we can do to reduce the anxiety over the impact we are having on the planet.
“I believe we can all take responsibility for our own actions and impact and look at how to lessen that,” Georgina says.
“That could be flying less and staycationing more, it could be carbon offsetting – which isn’t the hopeless cause some would have you believe, or it could be encouraging your business to use video conferencing rather than undertake corporate travel or investing in technology like new biofuels to make the aviation industry greener.”
One way to limit the impact of your long-haul flights is to carbon offset. “I like Treedom as you can track the trees you’ve planted and see their growth,” Georgina adds.
One idea I had was what if airlines such as Emirates offered passengers the option of sitting in a ‘green seat’? You already pay extra to choose a seat in economy so why not pay a little extra for the ‘green seat’ and the extra fee is used to offset the carbon impact of your flight? I would sign up for that.
“I think it’s a nice idea but every airline needs to offer carbon offsetting on every seat. You can already rank airlines for their emissions (newer planes produce less) on Skyscanner and I think we’re not far off consumers choosing who they fly with based not just on price but also the airline’s commitment to offsetting and investing in greener tech,” Georgina says.
“Carbon offsetting needs to become the norm and that means making it as easy for consumers at the point of booking as possible, or including it in their flight fee. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Emirates was the first to make every seat a green one?”
We don’t all need to be Prince Harry or Greta Thunberg and launch global campaigns, but, as consumers, if we club together and make enough noise something like green seats might become a reality. Until then, just Google Treedom.