Sustainability and the Road to a Green Future


By Stephanie Auslander, Destinations International

Summary: Sustainability is no longer a niche in the tourism industry but rather a new normal. A recent report from the United Nations highlights the need for a sustainable path forward. Within the destination context, sustainability encompasses green certification programs, electric vehicle usage, and building resiliency. 

Destinations International continues to prioritize climate change as one of their eight key pillars and strategic opportunities identified this year. In their first comprehensive update in eight years, the United Nations released a report outlining their growing concern over global warming. Formally known as the IPCC Report, it has provided updates in relation to impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Specific findings indicate that 3.45 billion people are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change accounting for 45% of the world’s population. 

Global events such as the Australian wildfires, California draughts, and increased flooding are a prequel to more extreme weather events on the horizon if minimal action is taken to combat the changing climate. The report estimated that one billion people are expected to live in coastal flood-prone zones by 2050 which accounts for 1 in 10 people globally.  

As a result of the report, this presents a strategic opportunity for tourism destinations to pursue a more sustainable future. There is untapped potential for destination organizations to reduce climate change effects, pursue green strategies, and help improve lives for all people. Tourism can facilitate a key role in achieving a greener future with key simple initiatives. It will take a coordinated effort between multiple segments of the industry to create lasting and meaningful impacts.  

Sustainable practices are in demand both from consumers and suppliers, and they present a chance to reset the industry. According to, 61% of travelers indicated they wanted to travel more sustainably in the future stemming from the pandemic. Market research indicates that millennials and Gen Z are among the fastest-growing segments of sustainability demand. According to Insider Intelligence, 28% of Generation Z adults view sustainability as a top concern and are more likely hold brands accountable, pay a premium, and influence others on purchase behavior.  

Key Strategic initiatives  


Knowledge is the key to influencing consumer purchase behaviors as consumers are increasingly seeking information about green industry initiatives. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, Alabama has recently launched a campaign aimed at encouraging visitors to take home beautiful beach memories but leave only a footprint. Additional initiatives are aimed at reduction of litter, communicating new regulations, and conservation education. 

Sustainable Friendly Offerings 

Research has indicated that tourism organizations who seek sustainability as a key pillar are likely to have a competitive advantage. Sustainability encompasses various things including green-friendly accommodations, restaurants, destinations, and tours. Pursuing green-friendly initiatives requires the input of multiple partners who can assist in adapting to a changing climate. Adventure Green Alaska educates consumers on where to find local businesses which practice conservation of the environment, cultural awareness of the Indigenous population, and embody social sustainability. The program recommends that businesses complete the Adventure Green Alaska certification program and evaluate their own operations for implementation strategies. 

Electrifying Transportation 

Transportation accounts for 50% of all carbon emissions as evidenced by planes, trains, and automobiles. The transition to electric vehicles will require a collaborative effort in conjunction with climate action legislation. A growing number of cities have started the transition to a greener future, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York with ambitious plans to reduce emissions by 2030. Additional transportation initiatives include electric car-sharing programs, local purchase incentives, free public charging stations, and public bus certifications.  

Resiliency & Adaptation 

Building resiliency against climate change will take a collaborative effort across the industry to achieve optimal results. Various initiatives have ignited globally including revising land use plans, building necessary infrastructure, making impacts on a macro level, and helping those who are most vulnerable in adaptation. Resilience strategies are not a stand-alone effort by one destination but a collaborative effort in which organizations work with local governments, private businesses, and pursue strategic planning at the highest levels.