When we teased our new Svalbard glacier tour over on Facebook, we were asked how responsible it is. This is a very good thing. Ten years ago, this would never have happened and it says a lot about how far we’ve come as a society. We absolutely should be held to account for trips like this, all of them in fact, and we welcome it.
We totally get it. The optics of travelling to the Arctic in the midst of a climate crisis = bad. But hear us out because as with all things to do with sustainability, it’s not quite that simple an equation.
There’s two parts to our answer to this;
1. The positive impact of adventure tourism on local environmental and conservation issues in Svalbard.
2. The carbon impact of flying there – regardless of the destination.
First up, Svalbard.
Quite simply, sustainable tourism provides an economic incentive to protect, rather than exploit, vital wildlife areas. Over the years seven national parks and 21 nature reserves have been created to protect the Svalbard archipelago. That is brilliant.
Thankfully, the population of polar bears and various marine species have increased and Svalbard tour operators – including your host – have worked tirelessly alongside environmental groups such as the WWF and Friends of the Earth to block any unsustainable development such as new roads, mining and fossil fuel exploration.
Every visitor to Svalbard also pays £15 which goes directly to an environmental protection fund to manage the protected areas.
You can read more about how sustainable tourism is helping Svalbard in our interview with our local guide on the ground, Arne Kristofferson.
Second, there’s the carbon problem.
Of course, we are aware that the flight to Svalbard is damaging to the environment and the Arctic is visibly feeling the effects of climate change.
This is of course the case wherever you fly. So the big question for us all is, can you justify flying? This existential question, for us as a business, regularly keeps us awake at night. No matter how beneficial your trip might be on the ground, for travel to be truly sustainable the carbon issue has to be addressed.
The truth is, there are no viable sustainable travel alternatives available right now. But we absolutely need them.
That is why we:
1. Mitigate the carbon emitted from all trips, including our customers flights, at no cost to you
2. Have declared a climate emergency
3. Publicly published our carbon action plan
4. Started an industry-wide climate emergency movement with the goal of getting every travel business (including aviation) to do the same
As for the trip itself – mostly self-powered activities and wilderness camping – it is about as low carbon as it’s possible to get, especially when compared with the myriad cruise ships that usually visit Svalbard.
The only non-self-powered activity on this trip is a day onboard a snowmobile. Honestly, we um’d and ah’d about including this.
Snowmobiling is a basic part of modern life in the Arctic, and for many months of the year it is the only way for locals to travel between settlements. Electric ones are in the making but they’re just not an option quite yet.
Your host uses modern snowmobile models to ensure energy efficiency and noise level reduction and our journey follows a frequently used route along a valley floor leading to Tempelfjord. This limits the disturbance to wildlife by avoiding going ‘off-piste’. Any local or visitor to Svalbard wanting to venture deeper into the national parks has to apply for permission, so the activity is well monitored to avoid negative impacts on Svalbard’s wildlife.
We’ll continue do everything we can to cut carbon emissions that we have any say over, encourage others to do likewise and campaign for the wider system changes needed to move travel and aviation especially towards a low carbon future. We certainly do not claim to know all the answers. As we go, we’ll transparently share our progress, talk openly, invite criticism and collaborate with partners and competitors alike. Our carbon action plans are evolving continuously based on learning and sharing. If you have suggestions or insights that can help us improve, just email [email protected], anytime.