Adventure Travel Trade Association Leads Climate Action in Tourism, Offers “Neutral Together” Bulk Carbon Offset Purchase to Members

24 September 2019

Starting in January 2020, Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) members can take advantage of buying carbon offset credits in bulk. The bulk purchase program, called Neutral Together, is the first of its kind available to the adventure travel  industry.

Traditionally, the cost of calculating carbon emissions has been too expensive, complicated, and time consuming, especially for tour operators running small businesses with limited budgets and staff. Neutral Together, initiated by the ATTA in partnership with South Pole, drops the price of carbon offsets from approximately US$12 per tonne to approximately US$4 per tonne.

Neutral Together will make it easier and more affordable for adventure travel companies to offset their carbon emissions. © ATTA / Border Free Travels

The ATTA’s president, Casey Hanisko, unveiled the bulk carbon offset program during the ATTA’s annual Adventure Travel World Summit held in Gothenburg, Sweden, 16-19 September 2019. By aggregating industry-wide emissions, the ATTA is able to offer a lower carbon offset price per tonne to its members.

"Historically, measuring and managing a company’s carbon footprint has been a very time-intensive and expensive endeavor, making it only accessible to companies with significant resources or steadfast environmental commitments,” said Ted Martens, vice president for marketing and sustainability at Natural Habitat Adventures, who advised and supported the development of the program. “The bulk carbon offset program aim is to change that and make carbon management more accessible for companies of all sizes within adventure travel, and hopefully soon within the broader tourism industry.”

According to a study published in Nature Climate Change in May 2018, tourism’s global carbon footprint accounts for approximately 8% of global carbon emissions. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, worldwide international tourist arrivals increased 6% to 1.4 billion people in 2018, and 3% to 4% growth is expected throughout 2019. To the ATTA, these numbers signaled a need to empower all those working in the travel and tourism industry to help mitigate the negative impacts of emissions-related climate change. Eager to offer its members a solution to this urgent problem, the ATTA has developed a straight-forward, cost-effective tool.

In the past, we certainly recognized climate change was an important problem, but we now know that, in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, we have to make significant progress in cutting emissions by 2030. The travel industry has a remarkable opportunity to contribute to this effort, not only through its own operations, but through the awareness and motivation for action it can catalyze among travelers. Now is the time to try and take big — not incremental — steps forward. That’s what the ATTA is trying to do with our climate action strategic initiative,” said Christina Beckmann, the ATTA’s senior director for strategy and impact.

Neutral Together, which goes into effect in January 2020, allows companies to use a simple calculator to determine the carbon footprint of its tours and business operations. At the discounted cost-per-tonne price, they can then choose whether to financially support a forestry, renewable energy, or cookstove project. For example, since 2011, through the KaribaREDD forestry project in Zimbabwe, nearly 785,000 hectares of forest have been protected from deforestation and land degradation, preventing more than 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. A renewable energy project in India that generates electricity using wind potential prevents 479,448 tonnes of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere every year. And a cookstove project in Rwanda provides fuel-efficient cookstoves to rural communities, which improves livelihoods and reduces emissions and the risk of smoke-related health problems. Through Neutral Together, ATTA members will further the success these and similar projects have already generated.

In 2018, the ATTA began actively offsetting carbon emissions from staff travel and select hosted events. By 2020, the organization will offset all team travel and its full portfolio of events. During its in-depth research to understand how offsetting carbon emissions works, the ATTA and South Pole began a collaboration with adventure travel tour operators such as Natural Habitat Adventures to develop a simplified system for calculating adventure travel company emissions using a set of generous emissions assumptions. Recognizing the opportunity for cost savings through aggregated volume, Neutral Together was conceived as a way to make carbon offset credits more affordable for companies of all sizes working in the sector.

“What’s cool is that this program empowers those businesses that may not have historically been too involved in the climate crisis. To date, companies who have gone carbon neutral have been the hyper-committed. But now, with the ease of measurement and the relatively low cost of offsetting through this innovative program, any adventure travel business can now offer carbon neutral travel,” Martens said.

In addition to Neutral Together and offsetting the carbon emissions created by team travel and events, the ATTA is leading the travel and tourism industry’s climate action initiatives in a number of other ways. At its recent Summit event, the ATTA and its event sustainability partner, Airbnb, supported a range of other climate actions, including Tomorrow’s Air, a collective to remove carbon dioxide through direct air capture, provide education about direct air capture technology to consumer and trade audiences, and offer sustainability training for adventure guides and operators. The ATTA is also active in the elimination of single-use plastic water bottles and is engaged in ongoing partnerships with GRAYL and LifeStraw.

To learn more about Neutral Together or any of the ATTA’s climate action initiatives, please email [email protected].

This article is part of an Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) initiative addressing important topics identified as critical to the protection and continued advancement of the adventure travel industry. Each initiative — eliminating plastics, women in leadership, climate action, and young leaders — has a dedicated team focused on building awareness of, advancing educational opportunities in, and creating a lasting impact on each of these areas within the adventure travel industry. We invite you to visit the ATTA’s initiatives page where you can access reports, read the latest news, participate in active projects, and join conversations within the membership community.