Sustainable tourism: is compensation the answer to all ills?

Interview with Julien Etchanchu, responsible for sustainable practices at Advito

After a first paper on the facts, here come the solutions, at least the viable ones. Carbon offsetting, which has been praised by the tourism industry, is only a short-term solution. To reach carbon neutrality in 2030, as requested by the European Union and the COP 21, what should tourism do? Are there viable solutions? Julien Etchanchu, responsible for sustainable practices at Advito, brings his vision of tomorrow’s tourism. His comments may not be popular, but they open up a debate that the ecosystem cannot afford to ignore.

In a first paper, you stated the urgency of climate change, now it’s time for solutions. Some tourism companies, such as Voyageurs du Monde, systematically include carbon offsetting for their trips. As there are good and bad hunters, there is also good and bad compensation…

Julien Etchanchu: That’s a bit like it.
The idea was very brilliant at the beginning, but it has been totally misused. The main problem is to give a market value to nature, ethically we have fallen a bit low.

Then the price of the compensation is too low today. Roughly speaking, the market is between 5 and 10 euros per ton of CO2, so a trip from Paris to New York can cost only a few euros.

“On earth, we can still compensate for 8 years” then what do we do?

Besides being totally wrong from a scientific point of view, there is a perverse effect behind it.

The traveler can say to himself that he can travel even more, because he compensates for only a few euros more. A tree takes 30 years to grow, what happens during this time?

I have a client who had a big reforestation program in California. Unfortunately, the giant forest fires burned everything. All this to say, you have to focus on serious and therefore expensive projects.

You don’t just need a carbon offsetting approach to avoid Tree Wahsing. – What would be the true and fair price of a ton of CO2?

Julien Etchanchu: Below 5 euros per ton, without even looking into the details, you can strongly doubt its viability. The latest studies say that 70 to 80% of offset projects are not viable.

According to my research, the right price cannot be below 20 euros per ton. Scientists estimate the true impact of a ton of carbon at several thousand euros.

In companies, I put an internal price of carbon that we generally set at 70 euros. – By offsetting our emissions, will there be any room left for man on earth?

Julien Etchanchu: It is a good point that you mention.

The IPCC says that if we offset all our CO2 emissions from today, in 8 years, it will not be possible to offset anything.

On earth, we can still offset for 8 years. So carbon neutral doesn’t mean anything, because it implies that your friend is not carbon neutral, it’s not a viable model.

A company cannot be carbon neutral, it is a scientific nonsense.

“Clearly business travel will never return to 2019 levels, and in some ways that’s good.” – If I understand correctly, it’s not marketing, but you have a real impact on your customers’ business.

Julien Etchanchu: I don’t want to be pretentious, even if I think we have an impact. After that, we bring them knowledge on the subject.

The good news is that I really see an evolution.

At the very beginning, managers would come to us and say: I have so much CO2 emissions, tell me where to plant trees so that I can be carbon neutral.

Now, very big companies come to us and say they have to reduce, as recommended by the IPCC, the absolute emissions by -50%, how can I do that? There is a positive evolution.

We demonstrate with figures that it will be essential to travel less. We are not Greenpeace, so they trust us. – So you advise them on the items that pollute the most and how to reduce their impact, is that right?

Julien Etchanchu: To summarize, we have a 4-step strategy, whose order is very important.

The first rule we give them is to travel less, two travel better by taking either the train or new planes. The 3rd point is to favor suppliers who make efforts such as hotels, airlines, car rentals, etc.

And finally, the last axis of work is in the compensation, if they do it, it must be well done. – Before coming back to this carbon offset. Listening to you, the work of reducing carbon emissions has become a bankable activity …

Julien Etchanchu: Completely, it is sure that it pays.

After that, our situation is particular, because we sell trips. And I don’t think that the revenues we are making will compensate for the losses caused by the crisis.

Clearly, business travel will never return to the levels of 2019, and that’s good.