Our Climate Action Plan
* Updated October 2022. Next update due October 2023.
‘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 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 EL joined the Tourism Declares movement which led to us being a signatory on the Glasgow Declaration. The result of these ongoing partnerships is our Climate Action Plan. We are also a member of the Get Nature Positive movement.
Our Climate Action Plan is updated annually and looks at our whole business and how we can significantly reduce our impact as reducing 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 business stakeholders or investors. We’re not a multi-destination specialist or 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 by 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 on 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, with who we are and what we do 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
- Our first challenge is how to measure.
- Although there are carbon consultancy companies available to do a private carbon audit, these are way outside of the budget of a small independent company such as ourselves.
- There are many online carbon calculators available but a majority are for individuals or for general businesses rather than tourism-specific companies.
- Of the limited carbon calculators available to small tourism companies with a restricted budget we have signed up with Carmacal.
- However, there are limitations with this online tool in the fact – like most online carbon calculators – you can only measure transport and accommodation and a few very specific activities. But, the main contributors to carbon footprints are food, consumption, transportation, and energy, and all are heavily utilised during a tourism experience.
- As a result, Jess has been working with postgraduate student Kelly Hirschbuehler from the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO – looking at how we can measure the carbon emissions of meals on tour as well as the carbon footprint of our office as well as certain tour activities.
- Using the calculations provided by Kelly in her research project we can now better calculate – not perfectly but still better – the overall carbon footprint of each trip we run.
- Our trips do not include international travel to and from Mongolia as we receive guests from all around the world and would struggle to provide such logistics being such a small company.
- But, as already highlighted, we are aware that 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 do promote the international Trans-Siberian train route which allows guests to travel by train through Russia or China and into Mongolia but the current war situation in Ukraine and China’s Xero-Covid policy has resulted in the train line being off-limits to international travellers.)
- We have a moral responsibility to make sure the way we work is as sustainable as possible and this is why we have partnered 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. We are encouraging our guests to use the C-Level ‘balance my flight’ calculator on our website and including the link in our email communication as well as our pre-departure information.
Atmosfair International Flights Carbon Measurement
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/carbon-measurement-mongolia-flights/
- Mongolia is the size of Western Europe but with limited infrastructure, so taking a domestic flight to get from A to B via C – ticking off a list of ‘must-see’ sights en route – is often seen as the easiest solution.
- But there’s a big environmental impact to consider in taking a domestic flight as emissions per kilometer are always much higher because such a large proportion of the flight is spent taking off and landing.
- See our ‘Creating Sustainable Experiences’ below for more on what we’re doing to limit the number of experiences we offer with domestic flights. As an example, although it limits our income, we don’t arrange quick 3 or 4-day‘ highlight loops’ whereby guests fly from highlight to highlight.
- 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.
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.
Our Daily Operations And What We Support
Our Newly Established Sustainability Team
During the pandemic, postgraduate student Hannah Kellett from the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO – worked on an environmental plan for the EL office in Ulaanbaatar. Hannah helped us to look 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.
As a result of this assessment, in the spring of 2023, we will introduce a new role within our Mongolian team – a sustainability team. Led by our office manager Tuya and trip assistant Deegii, the two will work together with Jess looking at ways that all of our in-house operations can be made as sustainable as possible within our means.
We will publish a yearly update but examples of what we are working on include:
- Increasing the amount we reduce, reuse, and recycle – especially now that Ulaanbaatar has newly designated recycling bins for cardboard/paper, plastic, and cans.
- Continuing 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/
- Committing 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.
- Looking at the foodprint of our tours and at the different ways we can reduce any food waste we create from running our trips (see below).
Elsewhere in the business, we have:
- Become a member of Travelife – a certification initiative for tourism companies committed to reaching sustainability.
- Continuing 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.
- Continuing to work on our Sustainable Tourism Strategy – a long-term project looking at 11 specific areas and how we can reduce any negative impact. The 12 areas include water usage, our accessibility plan, being child-safe, and animal welfare.
- As part of our philosophy of making a difference, we do not and will not 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.
‘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 in 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 to vegetarians and vegans and those with dietary restrictions).
- One challenge we face is food-waste and you can find out more here on what we are doing to combat food waste – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/measuring-our-food-waste/
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 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.
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.
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.