In a poll of 18,000 global travelers conducted by, almost three-quarters of respondents said they wanted to make more sustainable choices in order to preserve the planet for subsequent generations. As more travelers express concern over their environmental footprint, the travel industry is taking steps to reduce its own. Airlines are trying to cut cabin waste and experimenting with cleaner fuels, while tour operators avoid short-hop flights when possible in favor of more environmentally friendly options.

Guidebook publishers, too, are launching initiatives that recognize the travel industry’s environmental toll and consumers’ desire to travel sustainably.

“Anybody who’s honest with their promotion of travel has to reckon with the fact that they’re promoting carbon,” says Rick Steves, whose organized tours take about 30,000 travelers to Europe each year. To offset the impact of those transatlantic flights, Steves will donate $1 million each year to organizations that combat climate change by, for instance, promoting more sustainable agricultural practices in the developing world. “By helping poor farmers put less carbon into the air, we mitigate what we produce,” he says, likening the annual donation to a self-imposed tax.

Readers who have been following Steves since he self-published Europe Through the Backdoor 40 years ago should not expect to see a major change in his guidebooks’ pages. The author says his brand of travel has always leaned toward the sustainable: using public transportation and staying at family-owned accommodations so that money stays within the community. “I’m not changing my approach to travel,” he says of his new initiative. “I’m promoting the idea that you can travel carbon-neutral by funding offsets.”

Carbon wise

Lonely Planet acknowledges travelers’ growing climate concerns in books such as the Sustainable Escapes (Apr.) and Low Carbon Europe (June). “There’s a clear demand now from the public,” says associate publisher Robin Barton. “We’re empowering people to change how they travel.”

Sustainable Escapes features carbon-conscious accommodations on six continents and encourages travelers to look at all facets of their potential impact when considering sustainability. The book advises readers on how to minimize waste, interact responsibly with wildlife, and ensure their tourist dollars stay local. Suggestions include traveling with a reusable coffee cup, cutlery, and water bottle in order to rely less on disposable items, and avoiding travel gear made of microfibers that leach into water systems when laundered.

The 80 itineraries in Low Carbon Europe favor rail, cycling, and waterways over air travel. “People are more aware of the carbon costs of taking short flights,” Barton says. Though Europe’s flight-free travel options are plentiful, the book is also upfront about the fact that such travel is often slower and can be more expensive. “It becomes part of the journey,” he says.

Waste not

Apa Publications turns 50 this year, a milestone that prompted the publisher to scour its environmental footprint and update its guidelines to reflect a formal commitment to responsible travel across its brands, which include Insight Guides and Rough Guides. The publisher intends to lessen its carbon load by reducing the number of ARCs it ships and by consolidating freight with other publishers, and cut paper consumption during the printing process. “We’re trying to be more conscious throughout our production chain,” says Sarah Clark, Apa’s head of publishing.

Insight Guide and Rough Guide authors will make a point of highlighting tour operators with a sustainable ethos and promoting less carbon-intensive methods of travel to and within each destination. Books reflecting this editorial change will arrive to the U.S. around the third quarter of 2020, Clark says.

As anti-air-travel movements gain momentum in Europe, giving rise to terms like “flight shaming” and “train bragging,” Clark and others say, climate concerns could eventually motivate people to just stay home if the industry doesn’t take steps now to modernize its practices.

“Travel has to reconcile this with their essential business,” Clark says, and publishers will be watching. “We want to steer travelers in a way that is ultimately more sustainable for the planet.”

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