The 3 R’s of Circularity

The circular economy is a topic that comes up quite a bit in sustainability. Though the terminology might be new the concept has been around for a long time. I remember as a kid there was a popular “recycle, reduce, reuse and close the loop” jingle. Luckily, the songs used to educate children on this topic have come a long way since then, even though the concept is still the same. We all get the basic concept of circularity as it applies to our own actions but what is the circular economy all about?

The circular economy is an alternate approach to growth, a definition in which growth isn’t fueled by the consumption of limited natural resources, and where waste isn’t generated as a byproduct. Rather circularity is focused on reduction, reuse and recycling. Each of these components is very important and linked. Reduction or not making a product in the first place is the most impactful. Reuse is the second most impactful, if you have to have it make sure you can use it more than once, and recycling is the last resort if you have to have it and can’t reuse it make sure it is disposed of properly and hopefully gets repurposed into something else rather than ending up in a landfill.

Unfortunately, many of our cultures buying habits are very wasteful, with cheap products that designed to be used once and discarded being the norm. This is a major challenge to circularity. How do you convince enough people that it is better for the environment and cheaper in the long run to buy a reusable water bottle than to buy a case of single use water bottles every week? I’m sure there’s a jingle for that. This is not to say that there hasn’t been progress, recycling is increasingly the norm whether its in your hotel room, at your home or in the garbage receptacle on the street. While recycling is great, as we know it’s the last resort of the three R’s and may even be creating the illusion that its ok to consume single use products.

So enough doom and gloom, let me now mention a couple of examples of circular business practices. After all circularity is often a good investment, as it reduces costs. For those of us in the hotel and restaurant business, Ecolab is a household name. Providing cleaning solutions particularly in laundry and dishwashing are some of Ecolab’s core businesses. Ecolab has redesigned its equipment to be exceedingly water saving, and to reuse water. Many hotels and restaurant have also embraced companies that provide biodegradable and compostable to-go cups, cutlery and packaging.

These are just a couple examples. How do you or your business participate in circularity?

What you might not know about carbon offsetting

When I’m reading about what various companies are doing to reduce their footprint, carbon offsetting comes up quite a bit. Though I’m loosely familiar with the concept, I realized there is a lot about carbon offsetting that I’m not sure about, and likely a lot of people are in the same boat.

Let’s start with the basics. Carbon offsetting is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases that is typically used to offset an emission made somewhere else. Offsets come from different providers who are rewarded with the opportunity to sell carbon credits in exchange for making investments in projects that result in carbon reductions such as clean energy or planting trees. Governments, businesses and individuals can buy these carbon offsets as a form of mitigating their own negative environmental impacts.

One of the top carbon credit providers in the US is Sustainable Travel International ( Its their mission to promote responsible travel and tourism that contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of destination. This organization has a handy tool for individuals to calculate their carbon use online and to purchase offsets equivalent to say a trip you are taking. Some airlines offer their customers the opportunity to purchase offsets when booking flights, in addition many green tour and accommodations providers are already offsetting so this is a good thing to look for when you’re choosing providers for your travel plans.  

This all sounds well and good, and overall I think it is a great practice that incentivizes worthy projects that reduce greenhouse gasses, but as with everything there are some other important considerations. Not all offsets are equal. Quality of offsets might vary as well as price so a little research may be required to find the best offset option. Another thing to consider is that an offset is not the same thing as being green, in fact it’s a way to pay a price and support a green project in lieu of being green oneself. Some critics have likened this practice to an indulgence or pardon for bad behavior. So, when possible it best to directly support the business that has made reductions to its own footprint rather than a business that is offsetting. Or if you are considering offsetting yourself, consider how you might reduce your impact first.

Was this information on offsetting helpful? Have you ever purchased an offset? Tell me about it.

Are delivered meal kits bad for the environment?

I’ve been a meal kit subscriber for a couple of years now. I love food, love trying new things and eating out. My own go to cooking style however is decidedly uninspired so the convenience, selection and easy to follow recipes included in the meal kits is perfect for me. I’ve tried a couple different meal kits, but Sunbasket is my go-to. I partially credit them with helping me improve my diet and lose over 50 lbs. Last week when my Sunbasket was delivered it came with a letter inside describing how they are changing their packaging to keep up with seasonal heat and decrease spoiled food. The letter emphasized Sunbasket’s commitment to sustainability and described the new recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials. Obviously how the meals are packaged is a big variable. What I have experienced is that meal kit providers use predominately environmentally friendly packaging materials. Alternative materials such as denim, cotton and paper insulation are used in lieu of Styrofoam.  Still, when I am disposing of the box and packaging materials that my food is delivered in I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

Though I’m inclined to think Sunbasket and companies like it that offer organic, non-GMO responsibly sourced food are environmentally friendly I wonder what the overall footprint of delivered meals compared to food traditionally purchased at a grocery store is. What I have found is that there is very little research published on the subject. One study by ScienceDirect found that meal delivery services do have a significantly smaller overall carbon footprint compared to meals bought from a grocery store. According to their study grocery meal greenhouse gas emissions are 33% higher than meal kits. This takes into consideration emissions getting the food to the grocery store, refrigeration & time spent at the grocery store, and the customer traveling to the grocery store to make the purchase. The study states that customers often make multiple or last-minute trips to the grocery store for specific ingredients.

Food waste is another consideration. The direct to consumer supply chain of the meal delivery service eliminates the food waste attributed to spoiled non-purchased food at the grocery store. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 31% of food in America is thrown away and that more than two thirds of that waste is in our kitchens. Meals made from kits eliminate this waste because only enough of each ingredient to make that meal is included in the kit. When meal kit providers have excess food it is donated. Most meal kit companies support local food banks or organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

After learning what I could about the environmental impacts of meal delivery kits I feel better about my purchasing decision. I’m sure there are other factors that play into this that I have failed to consider here so if you have any thoughts or comments on this subject I would love to hear from you.

Take Care Tahoe

A couple days ago I hiked a portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail up to Dardanelle Lake. It’s a pretty popular hike and as such there’s a good-sized parking lot with facilities for the people who come to utilize it. Of course my dog did her business as soon as we got there so I picked it up (using an Earth Rted biodegradable bag) and went to toss it in the dumpster. On the front of the dumpster I recognized one of the quirky signs made by Take Care Tahoe, a group comprised of some 20 local organizations. This particular sign said “Hide Your Trash Here Please” and was a bright blue color with some trash cartoon characters on it. The signs made by this group have spread around town in both public areas and in businesses, and feature address environmental concerns such as aquatic invasive species, pets, fire, litter, tap water, and trails. One of my favorites, is the “if its your dog its your doody” sign.  In all they have 112 different signs in both English and Spanish. Perusing their site I decided it would be pretty cool for me to put the “Such a turn on. Tahoe has some of the America’s greatest tasting water so kick the habit of bottled water and drink from the tap” sign in my vacation rentals.

I like a lot about what the Take Care Tahoe Group is doing. They have created a highly visual way of reminding both locals and visitors about our sensitive environment. What I hear a lot from locals is that tourists are responsible for the garbage issues particularly on the beaches, but what I observe is that its neither an exclusively local or tourist issue. Their imagery is cute and punny and educational rather than authoritative and commanding. They have also successfully gotten the business community involved in spreading the messages. At my last hotel we were dog friendly and we purchased some of the signage about picking up after your pet. I think these kinds of business non-profit partnerships are critical.

I first saw these signs through The Tahoe Fund which is one of the founding organizations in the Take Care Tahoe group. The Tahoe Fund has a history of success at involving business in their environmental fundraising projects. For local hotels they have a “Green Bucks” program where hotel guests can make a $1 contribution to the Tahoe Fund. Green Bucks have raised thousands of dollars for projects like hiking trails that visitors and local alike enjoy. This is a great example of how hospitality business and non-profits can help to promote eco-tourism in an area.

Do you have similar programs, initiatives or partnerships in your area? I would love to hear about them.

Single Use Plastic Bans

In the winter my husband, dog and I travel south to Mulege, in Baja California Sur Mexico for about 6 months. Inevitably we spend a fair amount of time picking up garbage, primarily single use plastics, from the beaches whether its through an organized cleanup day or spontaneously as we enjoy a day at the beach. Despite our love for our charming little town, in our experience small town Mexico tends to be decidedly behind the times both when it comes to sanitation and disposal and when it comes to using biodegradable products. To a certain extent it’s attributable to a tough financial situation, and to a certain extent to our willingness to look the other way. It is the norm when taking food to go for it to come in Styrofoam container.

This is why I’m so encouraged to hear that the states of Baja Ca Sur and Baja Ca (Norte) have taken the lead in Mexico in banning single use plastics. Admittedly, I first heard about this legislation I thought to myself, ok another law in Mexico that that will have no enforcement[MS1] . But I am optimistic and encouraged as a read Facebook posts from local businesses in my town who are responding positively to the legislation and getting on board with removing single use plastics from their offerings. Baja CA Sur is just one of many examples of governments deciding to do something about the issue of single use plastics. By 2021 both the EU and Canada have vowed to ban single use plastics.

So what can you do? If you’re a hotelier, it’s time to take a hard look at the amenities you provide to your guests. If your bath products come in single use packaging what alternative might you explore? Refillable bulk containers are one option as are alternative biodegradable packing such as the Beekind brand offers for its travel size products. If you provide bottled water in your guest rooms can you switch to glass or metal bottles or better yet provide a reusable bottle filling station in your lobby? If you’re an individual be prepared with your own container if you are going to take food to go. Decline a straw or bring your own. Bring your own reusable water container rather than ordering a bottled water. It takes all of us: government, business and individuals to make the switch from single use plastics.

Start Stop Technology

The last year or so I’ve noticed when sitting at a stop light or walking on the bike trail near a stoplight what I thought were people turning off their engines until the light turned green. Assuming the driver was actually turning the ignition off and back on I thought to myself, that is interesting I wonder why they do that? This week I took my car to the dealership for some work and was given a loaner car to drive around until mine is ready. Sure enough this car turns itself off when I come to stop and restarts when I let my foot off the brake and it’s not a Hybrid, but an regular SUV.  My gut reaction is to find this kind of unsettling but knowing that there must be a reason for this I decided to look into it.

What I have found it there is really not a lot written in Start Stop Technology as it pertains to environmental impacts. Perhaps because it is fairly new in the US in non-hybrid vehicles there isn’t a lot of data to measure yet. Nonetheless, the reason for Start Stop technology is precisely that, to reduce CO2 emissions. When the engine is turned off rather than idling it uses less gasoline and produces less emissions. Idling cars waste some 3.9 billion gallons of gas per year in the US. Currently less than 50% of new vehicles in the US are equipped with this technology, and with lots of older vehicles on the road the effect on this is probably fairly small at this point. While the actual gas and emissions savings vary depending on how you are using the vehicle, sources estimate that the reduction in each of these factors is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-15% with higher reductions being associated with city driving and 6% being average. While this definitely isn’t as environmentally impactful as an investment in a hybrid or electric car, it seems to be a small move in the right direction by automakers.

I don’t think I will be running out to buy a new car based on this technology alone whereas I would be inclined to consider a new hybrid or electric car. I am interested to see how this technology pans out over the next several years. Because I’m not the type of person to buy a new car and drive it a couple years and trade it in on another new car reliability and durability are important to me. The thought of my car having to start 5 or 10 times more than what a normal car does concerns me because of the possibility that something could fail (while I’m sitting in traffic) and it wouldn’t restart. Start Stop equipped vehicles have larger battery requirements as well which at least partially offset the positive environmental impacts related to emissions.

What do you think about Start Stop Technology? Would this influence your decision on what car to purchase?

The Sharing Economy

The sharing economy is defined as a way of distributing goods or services in a way that differs from the traditional model in that the resource is often shared peer-to-peer or amongst peers sometimes through a commercial intermediary. The sharing economy is also known as the access economy as in many cases the people doing the “sharing” don’t even have to know each other but are willing to pay to access someone else’s good or services. There are a number of companies that facilitate sharing of almost anything from consumer goods to parking spaces. Some commonly known companies that operate in the travel space are Uber and Lyft in ride sharing, and Airbnb in house sharing. There is even flight sharing and carpooling apps.  Not all companies follow this same peer to peer model. Zipcar allows sharing of a vehicle that they own, and Lime offers shared scooters owned by the company.

Companies operating in the sharing economy, have faced enormous pushback from providers of traditional services such as taxis and hotels which can be threatened as customers choose to move their business away from traditional businesses. Though I can understand that there are a number of considerations in each of these situations such as safety, regulations, taxes etc., I do feel that businesses have to be willing to adapt to changes in consumer preferences and these companies are better suited in some cases to give the customer what they want and thus should be rewarded for their innovation.

One of the reasons that I am interested in the sharing economy is because in many cases I think it is not only good for the pocketbook but good for the environment. Some people may no longer need to own their own vehicle because they can rent one for a short period, or reliably get a ride share. In some towns, mine included people who might have driven or taken a ride share somewhere in town, are riding electric scooters, that they leave at their destination for the next rider to pick up. House sharing uses significantly less water and electricity than a hotel stay where rooms are cleaned and stocked with linens and single use amenities on a daily basis.

In addition to the natural tendency for shared goods to be more sustainable, I think there is enormous potential for companies operating in these spaces to push the envelope and that this could be a key differentiator for businesses that competing in this space. Uber offers UberXL for larger groups and should offer an UberGreen option for electric cards and hybrids. Airbnb offers Airbnb Luxe for luxury homes and should be offering an AirbnbEco for homes that meet certain green standards. With minor tweaks to the current offerings these companies could make measurable, reportable reductions in their environmental impacts while giving their customer the choice to opt in, and their providers financial incentives for doing the right thing.

How do you feel about the sharing economy? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Slow Travel

I’m a newbie to the concept of slow travel. Even the term is new to me. I’ve heard of the slow food movement and inferred that it must be the travel equivalent without really exploring what precisely that entails. There are a lot of facets to slow travel that aren’t immediately apparent and there is no one recipe for slow travel since it is more of a mindset than a specific action. So, what is slow travel all about? First let me describe what slow travel is not. Slow travel isn’t picking up a Fodor’s guide to a destination, taking an international flight for a week’s vacation where in a whirlwind you cram in as many “must see” sights as possible. Admittedly this is how I often find myself traveling, and I think I’m not alone. I often find myself on strict time schedules, passing through places, or trying to fill my one week off with as many “fun” things as possible without ever allowing myself the time to fully experience a place. This habit is fueled by my own FOMO (fear of missing out), but actually results in missing out on a lot as well as not being at all relaxing.

Slow travel is about the quality of the experience, with the more time, attention and depth given to the experience the higher the quality. This might mean fewer overall attractions can be fit into your travel window or that you need to stay longer. Slow travel is about immersive experiences, living like a local and experiencing local culture through connections with people. Another component of slow travel can be the idea of giving back to the place that is hosting you. Participants in slow travel often utilize the sharing economy whether its house sharing, car sharing, or bike sharing. This leads me to the reason I am writing about slow travel which is because slow travel has a lower (environmental) impact than traditional travel. So in addition to getting a more genuine local experience, slow travelers save money and are practicing a more sustainable form of travel. I find these reasons very compelling, though I know slow travel is not for everyone or every trip. I’m looking forward to looking at my future travel plans through the lens of slow travel.

Please tell me about your slow travel experiences.

What is Overtourism?

Having just survived 4th of July weekend in Lake Tahoe, the topic of overtourism is on my mind. Overtourism is a term used to describe a negative feeling of too many tourists in a particular destination.  Apart from being annoying to locals and tourist alike, overtourism has variety of other implications for locations where it has become an issue. These include: crowding, strain on infrastructure, traffic, increased housing costs, deterioration of local culture, and damage to the environment to name a few.  

Who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend at a pristine alpine lake, where there’s a myriad of avenues for entertainment and one of the best fireworks displays in the country? Many of our weekend visitors paid nearly $300 a night for the experience. Sadly, many first-time visitors are in for a shock when they experience traffic that takes an hour to drive the 5 miles from one end of town to the other, and beaches that are full by 8am in the morning. I saw a number of posts on social media from visitors saying Tahoe is beautiful but I had no idea it would be so crazy, or never again on 4th of July weekend. I wont even repeat the words the locals used to express their sentiments.

The short-term effects of an extremely crowed raucous beach day were definitely evident on July 5th when local volunteers organized by Keep Tahoe Blue picked up 1875 pounds of garbage from just 5 beaches, the most trash picked up in the last three years. One of the long-term effects is the ongoing debate about vacation rentals. Guest visits during prime weekends often exceed local hotel bed capacity, and/or visitors are looking for something different from the hotel experience. Locals who became so frustrated by the lack of affordable housing and annoyed with the impacts of vacation rentals in their neighborhoods won a vote in 2018 to eliminate vacation rentals form most parts of the city of South Lake Tahoe. This is now in court and we will see how it plays out.

I’m not at all making the case that tourism is a detriment to my city. In fact, that would be absurd as the local economy here is extremely tied to tourism. The key is really to driving visits year-round rather than at peak times. I’m also not anti-vacation rental because as an owner/manager of three of them that would be extremely hypocritical plus they also have a positive economic impact to the city and provide a more unique experience that guests are wanitng. I’m just using this as an example of the effects of (seasonal) overtourism in an area.

Have you experienced overtourism? What should or is being done to make that tourism sustainable?

Millennial Travel Preferences & The Environment

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about millennial travel trends, and what they mean for sustainable travel. This might be somewhat narcissistic and seen through rose colored glasses because I’m a millennial myself. So please feel free to chime in on this topic in the comments. First off, the reason I think this topic is important to consider is that millennials are an ever-increasing segment in the travel market. By 2020 more than half the global workforce will be millennials wielding strong purchasing power. In addition, millennials are already the largest segment of business travelers.

Millennials are naturally more environmentally conscious than their predecessors, having grown up facing the reality of some some tough environmental issues that were unimaginable to previous generations. According to an MIT survey, millennials self-describe as being more concerned about protecting the environment than older generations. And further cementing the trend, Generation Z (born after 2000) seems to be following in their footsteps. Thus, the incentives for travel companies to improve their green initiatives and in turn capture a higher market share is huge.

There are some other distinguishing trends amongst millennials that lend themselves to green and sustainable travel choices. Millennials are more concerned with experiences over material things, and up to 75% of millennials are looking for travel experiences where they can learn something new. This trend lends itself to eco-tourism where travelers can experience and learn about the natural environment and conservation of their destination. Millennials are also more interested in living like a local, which means they want stay where the action is and where they may not need a car to experience their destination. Living like a local also pertains to trying new foods, and millennials are more health conscious than their predecessors, and more concerned with where their food comes from. One final trend that I’d like to mention is in regards to bookings. Millennials are highly influenced by social contacts and recommendations from friends and influencers rather than traditional advertising. Thus, it is important for travel companies to provide a genuine and unique experience that will create buzz.

I hope these insights help you or your business in some way. Have a great day.


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