On the Way to Sustainable Tourism?

The UN Climates Change Conference 2021 took place last November, and the world is still digesting the results of the Glasgow Climate Pact. What is certain is that big things need to happen in all the fields of life for us to have a liveable future on this planet. The global tourism industry is one of the key players in the much-needed change.

The global tourism industry is responsible for approximately eight percent of the carbon emissions of the world[i] Tourism is mostly about intangible experiences utilizing the multifaceted cultural and natural environments. Nevertheless, tourism accelerates nature loss via, e.g., land use, erosion and producing garbage. The division of the carbon footprint of global tourism consists of many sectors of hospitality, even construction and mining, as can be seen in the picture below by Sustainable Travel International.

Picture 1. Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism

More than 300 tourism stakeholders launched the “Glasgow Declaration of Climate action in Tourism” during the climate conference in November[ii]. This is a good start but, of course, still, a modest one considering pre-pandemic travel and tourism accounted for 10.4% of global GDP, being also a significant employer whose’ direct, indirect and induced impacts accounted for 1 in 4 of all new jobs created globally[iii]. However, tourism is and has been a significant socio-economic booster and in many times the sole contributor to well-being in, e.g., rural areas.

Covid-19 pandemic has treated the travel industry severely all over the world with a state of zero tourism for weeks if not months in many destinations. In Finland, tourism and hospitality industries have also suffered greatly, although domestic tourism, especially during the summer months, has been able to compensate for some of the damage. However, Covid-19 has given us all an opportunity to re-think our priorities, values and travel patterns[iv]. The pause also made the consumers realize the positive and negative impacts of tourism[v]. An independent report commissioned by Booking.com argues, “83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future”[vi]. Results by a study at Turku UAS suggest that the values and travel motivations by Finnish customers support sustainability. As travellers, Finns respect nature and understand the main principles of sustainable tourism. They are also interested in nature and local, authentic culture. More than half are willing to pay more when services and products are sustainable[vii]. However, studies also reveal that a responsible attitude is regrettably unlikely to materialize as concrete and sustainable choices of consumption. For example, every third traveller confessed that their main aim during a holiday is to relax and not to worry about the negative impacts of tourism[viii].

Case Finland

Sustainable tourism cannot be at the discretion of the travellers only. It is the responsibility of the tourism and hospitality companies, Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and other service providers to be in charge of sustainable supply and make it easy for the consumers to make sustainable decisions. The objectives and incentives have to come from the top level. Finland and the City of Turku are both in the forefront of preventing climate change with aspiring objectives. Finland aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2035[ix]. In addition, it wants to be the world’s first fossil-free welfare society as well as a leading sustainable tourism destination. How to get there?

Visit Finland has launched a program called “Sustainable Travel Finland” (STF)[x] designed for Finnish tourism destinations and companies. The idea is that a tourism company first has to be certified by a recognized label. There are approximately 20 different certifications that are accepted currently, varying from national to global and covering various fields of tourism, e.g. accommodation, boat harbours, golf courses and events to whole destinations[xi]. Once the certification is in place, the journey towards STF mark stars. There are seven steps: 1) commitment 2) training 3) development plan 4) communications 5)verification and measuring 6) certification and audit, and finally 7) closing and continuous improvement[xii]. The aim is not only to encourage individual businesses but whole tourism destinations to become sustainable. The “carrot and stick” mentality used by Visit Finland may mean that those companies who are not changing the way they act will not be included in international marketing activities in the future.   

The City of Turku aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2029[xiii]. Its Destination Management Organization, “Visit Turku” together with Turku Business Region – a regional development company[xiv], are the mentors of the local tourism and hospitality industry who advise, train and even help finance the sustainability change in Finland Proper region. It is encouraging to see that the change is happening and sustainable choices are possible. Travellers can search for alternatives, e.g. via Visit Finland’s links: https://www.visitfinland.com/sustainable-finland/sustainable-travel-destinations/

It is not possible to stop travelling altogether. Therefore, it is the duty of the industry to make the change happen, but also the travellers have to stay alert and demand for sustainable solutions.

Written by Susanna Saari, Turku University of Applied Sciences


[i] https://sustainabletravel.org/issues/carbon-footprint-tourism/

[ii] https://www.unwto.org/news/tourism-unites-behind-the-glasgow-declaration-on-climate-action-at-cop26

[iii] https://wttc.org/Research/Economic-Impact

[iv] Glusac, E. (2021) Global Wellness Trend Report. The Future of Wellness. Global Wellness Summit.

[v] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com

[vi] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com

[vii] Haapaniemi, T. (2021) Kuluttajien arvomaailma matkailutuotteita ostettaessa. Turun ammattikorkeakoulu

[viii] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com


[x] https://www.businessfinland.fi/en/do-business-with-finland/visit-finland/sustainable-travel-finland-label

[xi] https://www.businessfinland.fi/suomalaisille-asiakkaille/palvelut/matkailun-edistaminen/vastuullisuus/sertifioinnit–ohjelmat

[xii] https://www.businessfinland.fi/suomalaisille-asiakkaille/palvelut/matkailun-edistaminen/vastuullisuus/sustainable-travel-finland

[xiii] https://www.turku.fi/en/carbonneutralturku

[xiv] https://turkubusinessregion.com/en/

Circular Economy: A Way to Reach Sustainable Development

The world is currently facing environmental degradation and consequently negative repercussions on human well-being. This situation can be mitigated if modern economies and societies are willing to take the finite resources of the planet into consideration and start moving towards an alternative model that can lessen the risk of resource scarcity and respond to climate change challenges, as assured by the Circular Economy (CE) model.

The circular economy “is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended.” (European Parliament, 2015). The EU currently places the transition towards the CE model on top of its agenda in order to reduce the 2.5 billion tons of waste it generates annually. (European Parliament, 2015).

The CE measures, such as waste prevention, eco-design and re-use, are expected not only to reduce the total annual greenhouse gas emissions, decrease pressure on the environment, improve the security of the supply of raw materials, increase competitiveness, stimulate innovation; but also, it is expected to save money for the EU companies, boost economic growth as well as add  0.5%  growth rate to gross domestic product (GDP) and create more than 700,000 jobs in the EU alone by 2030 (EU Parliament, 2020).

Source: EU Parliament (2015)

That being said, the European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) in March 2020. This action plan is one of the foundational elements of the European Green Deal, which aims to attain the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target and halt biodiversity loss (European Commission, 2021).

Recognizing this, several industries and organizations embarked on more sustainable practices within the new CE framework. However, the businesses and technological innovations alone are not sufficient to achieve a complete transformation to CE. Citizens awareness is crucial in that regard, given that some of the obstacles facing this transformation are associated with attitudes such as perception of sustainability and risk aversion (Ritzén and Sandström, 2017) and cultures, for example, the lack of consumer interest and awareness. Citizens perceive themselves unaccountable for that transition and believe it is only governments and businesses responsibility (Kirchher et al., 2018). Therefore, a paradigm shift cross-cutting the individual behaviors reaching to the collective societal adaption of the CE principles through a bottom-up approach is the viable option to internalize CE principles. This can only be accomplished by education, to equip the people to become themselves the agents of the evolution towards CE (EU Commission, 2020).

The EU-funded TOO4TO project, hence, contributes to this goal by embedding the desired knowledge about circularity and sustainable economy in its modules. The course entails the necessary information about the circular economy, economics, sustainable production concepts and the concept of planetary boundaries. Students will get familiar also with the influence of public policy on the transition process to CE and the techniques of evaluating the business actions in terms of sustainability.

Practically as observed by Rodriguez and Marcote (2020), including circular economy and sustainability into the educational modules of the students altered their perception about their role and contribution to the CE transition and raised awareness with regards to the change in daily habits. As stated by Rodriguez and Marcote (2020: 1361)

“Students have sought out, developed, and provided solutions that have improved their impact on campus (water and energy saving, longer use of devices, less waste and more recycling). This critical view of their consumption is necessary to make the transition to the CE. Students can understand how their purchasing decisions have direct and serious consequences on the planet. They also recognized their inconsistency when shopping without need, just for fashion. The transition to more sustainable consumption patterns and levels will require reinforcing new habits through education”.

Written by Ashrakat Fouda, Global Impact Grid






Ritzén, S. and Sandström, G.Ö. (2017), “Barriers to the circular economy – integration of perspectives and domains”, Procedia Cirp, Vol. 64, pp. 7-12.

Kirchher, J., Piscicelli, L., Bour, R., Kostense-Smit, E., Muller, J., Hublbrechtse-Trujens, A. and Hekkert, M. (2018), “Barriers to the circular economy: evidence from the European union (EU)”, Ecological Economics, Vol. 150, pp. 264-227.

Rodrigues, A., Marcote, P. (2020), “Circular economy, sustainability and teacher training in a higher education institution”. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 1351-1366. Retrieved from: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2020-0049/full/pdf?casa_token=0DPVaO9GfywAAAAA:RNd9KN4b72-BJMC_Z1wkZx1oFyGT__8hwsK_-uLnIt_tHqU1zdPydrJuBk76kQI6IKevjgsKyZ89Yg8mYUe3mYjvh0Je_MONPM-R8KxL6MgfSSHtng