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Travel Companies Have a New Tool to Set and Actually Achieve Climate Goals

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Mar 19, 2021

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a partnership of several non-profit organizations, is on a mission to end corporate “greenwashing” — the making of dubious or unverifiable sustainability claims by companies to brandish their image. SBTi provides a way to verify and measure businesses’ true eco-progress, and the travel industry is signing on.

SBTi brings together the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and CDP Global, a nonprofit that helps companies disclose their environmental impact. SBTi aims to persuade businesses to reach the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, confirm that their claims are legit, and actually measure whether or not they follow through. If successful, the brand will receive SBTi-certification. If it isn’t willing to commit to science-based targets to curb climate change, it won’t.

In the travel world, Intrepid Travel became the first tour operator with SBTi-verified sustainability targets last year, showing how travel companies can have a measurable impact and also avoid greenwashing. Intrepid received extensive press coverage when the news was announced (including in this column) and had the science to back up their claims. Many large hospitality and restaurant businesses have made similar pledges, including the Las Vegas Sands and InterContinental Hotels Group, which owns Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, and other hotel brands.

Companies and governments regularly release statements on sustainability targets and initiatives. While many are credible, others may just be angling for good publicity when they tout environmental initiatives that are misleading, tough to verify, or that don’t actually require real change in their operations. A clothing brand publicizing that it only ships products to customers in recyclable packaging — while in fact the clothing items are produced from plastics and are individually wrapped in plastic bags within the box — is greenwashing.

SBTi verification works like this: a company sets a sustainability target, say to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 2018 levels by 2030. SBTi verifies that this is doable, and that the environmental impact is in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement — to keep warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and/or to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The SBTi allows companies to measure their efforts based on real data, eliminating boldface greenwashing and, hopefully, holding the companies they verify accountable for their claims. The efforts appear to be working. Follow-up studies on 338 companies with SBTi-approved targets found that they reduced their environmental impact 25 percent since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The SBTi verification process is good for companies, and the customers who use their products.

More climate wins

First, it was GM. Then Volvo. Now, Volkswagen has come forth with a major plan for its transition to electric vehicles. The company will construct six battery factories around Europe, it announced this week, in an effort to halve the cost of batteries for EVs and establish itself as a major player in battery production, alongside Tesla. Additionally, the company will install 18,000 charging units on the continent by 2025. No full commitment to stop producing gas-powered vehicles just yet, but if the company captures anywhere near the market share it hopes to in the battery sector, it would only make financial sense for them to cease the grease.

Human waste could be used to power airplanes in the future. Matador reported this week on a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which found that what comes out of us could potentially be converted into paraffin, a combustible hydrocarbon that can be used in jet fuel.

The Guardian reported this week on a new development in wind power: bladeless turbines. According to the report, Spain-based Vortex Bladeless has developed pole-shaped wind turbines that oscillate with the wind, generating electricity through the vibration of the movement. Its goal is to make wind turbines something that can go anywhere, not just on large-scale wind farms, and prevent the inherent dangers to birds and wildlife posed by rotating blades. The only downside is the nickname given to the turbine by Redditors amused by its phallic design. How would you feel about putting a “skybrator” in your yard?

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