Our Climate Action Plan
‘The effects of the climate crisis caused by emissions, threaten the landscapes and communities which we – as responsible travellers – so keenly wish to visit and contribute to.’ Responsible Travel
As we are all aware, our planet is in crisis. Current IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) advice tells us that, by 2030, we need to cut global carbon emissions to at least 55% below what they were in 2017, to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. To put that into perspective, a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures will negatively impact us all including leading to a global shift in our weather patterns and the devastation of our biodiversity.
We are mindful of the role that tourism plays in the climate emergency with aviation contributing about 2% of the world’s global carbon emissions (IATA figures). As a tourism business – especially one working in Mongolia, landlocked and one of the most remote countries in the world – we are actively promoting flying as a form of transport and therefore we are opening ourselves up to accusations of greenwashing. We have a moral responsibility to make sure the way we work is as sustainable as possible.
The Covid pandemic may have crippled the travel industry but it has also provided us with the opportunity to reassess our actions and commit to being better and to #buildbackbetter. After all, tourism employs 1 in 10 people globally (pre-Covid) and tourism – when done responsibly – can be a force for good growth and positive change. It can support economic development, help to protect the environment, sustain local communities and contribute to meaningful exchange. This is why, on June 11th 2020, EL joined the Tourism Declares movement and declared a Climate Emergency. Since then, we have been working on this, our Climate Action Plan. This plan will look at our whole business and how we can significantly reduce our impact. Reducing our impact is the only way the tourism industry – as well as the places and communities on which it relies – can have a truly sustainable future.
We are a small company (150-200 travellers per year) without stakeholders and investors. We’re not a multi-destination specialist nor a general travel agency. We focus solely on Mongolia (a country we live in and love) and we’re a Mongolian registered tourism business (we pay tax in Mongolia, we hold bank accounts in Mongolia and we employ local Mongolians including paying their social security). Although we’re limited by our resources – both money and time – being small gives us the flexibility to forge our own way. We want to be a driver for behavioural change through setting a good example, promoting awareness and offering positive choices, therefore, helping to make our small corner of the travel industry a better place. This has to be more than offsetting a tonne of carbon or planting a token tree. We will be offsetting but offsets detract from the real issue of necessary reductions and so our focus has to be about reducing and managing our carbon footprint.
We don’t pretend to get everything right. But we are committed to doing all we can to reduce our carbon footprint in a way that works well with Mongolia and we are committed to reducing our overall impact in a way that is meaningful rather than tick-list. We’ll do everything we can on our limited budget to cut the carbon emissions we have any control over, encourage others to do likewise, and campaign for the wider system changes needed to move travel towards a low carbon future.
Measuring And Reducing Our Carbon Emissions
- Ultimately, our goal is to measure (and therefore be able to reduce) the carbon footprint (the average CO2 emissions) of all the tours we offer including local transport, accommodation, activities, team, and food. We want to be able to demonstrate the impact of the experiences we offer thereby enabling our guests to make an informed purchase decision. To measure the carbon impact of our tours, we are looking at Carmacal, or blueprints put together by Tourism Declares.
- Jess has been working with postgraduate students on the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO – working on an environmental plan for the EL office in Ulaanbaatar. We are looking at ways we can lower the carbon footprint of our office in Ulaanbaatar including looking at the internet browser we use, our use of electricity, gas, and paper, our water consumption, the domestic flights we take (and the international flights that Jess takes) and the use of vehicles.
- Whilst we are working towards the goal of measuring the carbon footprints of both our tours and office we will continue to make a donation per guest to the Pastures, Conservation, and Climate Action Project (known also as the Mongolian Nomad Project – see below) – managed by the Mongolian Pastureland Management Association. We wanted a high standard offsetting project local to Mongolia where the local community had a positive say in the scheme and its impact. It’s the first project of its kind in Mongolia – restoring traditional nomadic practices to enable ecosystem recovery and carbon uptake. We will also be offsetting into the same project – balancing our CO2 emissions by investing in Plan Vivo Certificates – environmental service certificates, each representing the reduction or avoidance of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide. The Mongolian Nomad Project we invest in through our carbon offsetting is of Plan Vivo Standard – based on ethical principles intended to deliver long-term climate, livelihoods and biodiversity benefits. We understand that these carbon offsetting schemes are not the full answer but they are one way that we can limit our environmental impact. We will not formally carbon offset in order to claim carbon neutrality or carbon positivity.
- Our trips do not include international travel to and from Mongolia (we receive guests from all around the world and would struggle to provide such logistics being such a small company). However, we are working with C-Level (see below) to create a ‘balance my flight’ calculator for our website allowing our guests to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by their travel plans.
Creating Sustainable Experiences
Mongolia is the size of western Europe with limited infrastructure. The easiest way to explore the country is by domestic flight. However, we do not advertise trips where our guests fly from A to B to C to tick off a list of ‘must-see’ sights. Instead, rather than tick-list or bucket list travel, we focus on slow travel – on making connections with people, places, and the Mongolian culture.
We research, design, and operate the logistics for all our trips. We work countrywide and seek out connections with local people, projects, and communities – creating long-term local community partnerships that help to provide long-term support. These partnerships form the focus on the trips we run and help to educate as well as having an emotional impact and allowing our guests to experience the local way of life in a respectful way and give back to the community.
We do not ask the people we work in partnership with to change their daily living for us. We do not try to change Mongolians or their way of life for our or our guests’ benefit or comfort. We don’t ask them to change their daily schedule or to put on an ‘act’ as this would lead to a contrived experience.
As part of our slow travel philosophy, we already encourage our guests to stay for longer (spending multiple nights in one location, thereby providing a more immersive experience). But we will continue to look at ways we can extend the range of our immersive experiences.
Unlike most companies, we only offer a selected number of departures throughout the year as this keeps our experiences fresh and original. It also means that we don’t create a ‘tourist circuit,’ spoiling an untouched region. We also don’t just focus on one more ‘profitable’ region. We work countrywide as it helps to extend our support. We will continue with our countrywide research.
We already promote low season travel – offering a 15% discount per traveller for all our low season experiences. In essence, we are keen to make tourism less concentrated around peak season in Mongolia (summer) and to help the income of the people we work with – both our immediate Mongolian team and the network of Mongolians we work in long-term local community partnership with – be more evenly distributed. We will continue to look at ways we can promote low season travel especially as it helps to combat overtourism.
In essence, adventure-style travel is relatively low carbon with hiking, cycling, and camping compared to business travel or luxury hotels. In addition, our trips are already low impact in the fact we use small local accommodation options, purchase food from local markets and meals from locally-owned restaurants and train and employ only local Mongolians. However, we have to make sure that each tour we offer makes as positive social, economic, and environmental impact as possible. One example is using the 7 principles of the Leave No Trace philosophy as a framework when designing our tours.
Using local transportation helps in the reduction in carbon emissions, air pollution, and congestion. Although it can be quite difficult logistically in Mongolia due to the lack of options available, we will utilise our skillset as local specialists to look at providing experiences where local transportation becomes part of the trip versus only a means of getting from A to B.
We will also continue to promote alternate ways of travelling to Mongolia focusing on the Trans Mongolian train. We will look at how we can start to work with reliable train ticket agencies.
Advocating For Change
As a business working in tourism, we have a moral duty to advocate for change whilst at the same time, balancing the need to sustain the livelihoods of our Mongolian team. Here are some of the ways we will be advocating for change including in the behaviour of our business, team, and our guests.
We will continue to encourage our guests and continue to educate our team on how they can reduce the impact of travel through taking personal responsibility and adopting more sustainable practices. Examples of this include publishing a Positive Impact Travel Guide with information and tips for our guests on how they can help to reduce their tourism footprint including their carbon emissions whilst travelling. It will include tips such as taking shorter hot showers, turning lights off, travelling light, and limiting the use of phones so they don’t need constant recharging. We use the Fly Aware website https://www.flyaware.com/your-journey/ to help with this.
We will encourage our guests to use the C-Level ‘balance my flight’ calculator on our website when it is ready by including the link in our email communication as well as in our travel app.
We will continue to encourage our guests and team to adopt more sustainable practises. This has led to the creation of our (Mini) Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge which helps us work towards eliminating the use of single plastics within our office and on our tours. We already work in partnership with Water-To-Go – providing a 15% discount on their reusable filtered water bottles. We provide two 20litre water containers per tour vehicle which the EL team refill en-route us Mongolia’s network of water supply stations. We also provide Steripen water filters.
On our website, the travel apps we use and our online pre-departure guides, we highlight how our guests can use the Atmosfair index to compare the carbon efficiency of the limited number of international airlines that fly into Ulaanbaatar – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/international-flights-to-mongolia-carbon-measurement/
We will continue to highlight, campaign for, and/or promote sustainable travel practices and ethical travel issues and share new developments through our blog, social media, and newsletter. This includes creating posts that may help to encourage change in the tourism industry through to creating stories on climate change.
‘Our ‘foodprint’ is one of the more hidden costs of our holidays, calculated by the carbon produced by agriculture, packaging, transport, food miles and wastage.’ Responsible Travel
It makes sense that as Mongolia was traditionally a country of nomads following a herding lifestyle living with their livestock, so their diet was based around both meat and dairy. In addition, although Mongolia is the size of western Europe its climate (the country on average experiences between only 90-120 frost-free days per year) and geography (the presence of the Gobi Desert and the mountain forest-steppe in particular) naturally limit the size of agricultural land available.
However, following a more plant based diet in Mongolia no longer proves so much of a challenge as it did previously. True, due to the remote locations we visit and the lack of facilities, there are naturally, occasionally, limitations in place. But, excluding Ulaanbaatar, (UB – Mongolia’s capital city) a majority of meals on our tours are provided by the EL team. Each of our Furgon vans contains a simple camping kitchen and this allows us to offer considerable freedom and flexibility. Not just in how we prepare and provide meals but also the types of meals we prepare and provide:
- For when our guests are in Ulaanbaatar we provide our Welcome Pack which includes a map and guide to locally owned restaurants, cafes and bars in UB including a few great vegetarian and vegan options.
- The team is encouraged to purchase local seasonal produce to help support each community we pass en route. Examples include blueberries, strawberries, and blackcurrants, wild onions, rhubarb, pine nuts, watermelons (small and fresh), cucumbers or tomatoes, and salad leaves.
- We take food miles into consideration and do not import food items. It also means we do not provide kale smoothies or Thai curries or paella. Our guests may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, no! We won’t necessarily buy it!
- Our team still prepare traditional meat-based Mongolian dishes but they also prepare vegetable based dishes as well (we do cater for vegetarians and vegans and those with dietary restrictions).
- One challenge we face is food-waste. Our team are traditionally ‘feeders’ (connected with the Mongolian custom of hospitality). Also, because we use family run accommodation and wild camping, we do not have access to fridges or freezers. However, our low season training programme does include working on ways we can manage (and therefore reduce) but within the Mongolian culture.
Our Daily Operations And What We Support
- We will increase the amount we reduce, re-use, and recycle – especially now that Ulaanbaatar has newly designated recycling bins. As an example, to help reduce our paper footprint, we have signed up for the Vamoos travel app. We have also published a digital guidebook to Mongolia as well as producing a series of online guides. We will also work on our paper sorting system and increase our re-use of items such as our training manuals and welcome pack guides.
- We have committed to reducing the amount of single-use plastic in our operations including setting up our (Mini) Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge as well as continuing our partnership with Water-To-Go.
- We have become a member of Travelife and we have started the process to work step by step towards complying with international sustainability standards.
- We will continue to organise and fund our annual national park community clean up event in Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/annual-community-national-park-clean-up/
- We will continue our long-term support of local initiatives/projects such as the Mongolian Quilting Centre who create our welcome pack tote bags – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-one-day-tours-mongolian-quilting-centre/. By working with such projects we are able to educate our guests about the issues facing the country they are exploring and enable them to give something back through the support of local organisations and projects.
- As part of our philosophy of making a difference, we don’t outsource the logistics of our trips to Mongolian or western drivers or guides working the tourism circuit. Instead, we want to show that everyone has great potential and so we invest – nurturing our own local operations and providing long-term training, support, and employment opportunities to Mongolians that want the opportunity to work in tourism and who want to aim to be the best they can be. We will continue to nurture our own local operations and continue to invest in and provide long-term training and employment opportunities.
- We will continue to look at ways we can connect our guests with Mongolia in advance of their journey and on their return – allowing them to get closer to the local way of life and give back to the community. One way of doing this is by offering language lessons to our guests with their trip assistants prior to their arrival in Mongolia.
- Continue to measure our financial and cultural impact as well as work on our Sustainable Tourism Strategy – putting what we learn back into our work including the experiences we run and in the education of our team.
We feel it’s our responsibility to be as transparent as possible and we started to measure how the tour money is staying in the local communities, the support we give to the local families, and projects we work in long-term local community partnership with. We also aim to measure our impact on each of the national parks or nature reserves where we run tours in Mongolia but this is a long-term goal. These measurements focus on our financial support, and our environmental and human impact and are separate from measuring our carbon footprint – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/measuring-our-impact/
In addition, at the end of September 2015, the United Nations adopted a global agenda to end poverty, inequality, and climate change. 17 Sustainable Development Goals have been set to make the world a better place by 2030. Tourism has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly and therefore can and must play a significant role in delivering the SDGs which cover inequality, conserving and preserving the planet’s fragile ecosystems, clean drinking water, tackling climate change, and sustainable energy. We have highlighted six SDGs that help provide a framework for measuring our impact.
Transparency & Timing
We commit to genuine, long-term change and will continue to learn and increase our own awareness of best practices and strategies in the industry that may enable us to cut carbon emissions. It’s our responsibility to engage with challenges we face head-on and we strive to be as transparent as possible and will report each year on the progress of our Climate Action Plan including our successes and failures. Where we fail, we commit to learning from our mistakes and will recognise where we need to make improvements. However, we’re a small company and we appreciate any support and guidance as we look towards a low carbon future. If you have suggestions or insights that can help us improve, please get in touch Jess.