The holiday season is here! Time to take a break from daily life and unwind. Many people pack their bags and set off to see the beauty of the world.
But for the eco-minded, finding the right holiday destination can be difficult and with mixed results.
In early 2016, Prerna Prasad--a member of the Young Champions change-maker community--and her husband who live in India, were planning for a holiday to Malaysia. Since her two favourite things in the world are traveling and natural spaces, she envisioned a destination that could satisfy those two passions equally.
But what she thought would be a quick internet search for a suitable eco-friendly hotel ended up taking weeks.
"Eco-friendly hotels are such an amazing experience. Every place we stayed was unique, built using local materials and none of the hotels were made of concrete," she said.
After this experience, Prasad made it her mission to help other environmentally conscious travellers like herself. She even quit her job to dedicate more time to this passion.
The result is Ecoplore--India's first booking website dedicated to eco-friendly hotels, or 'eco-stays' as Prasad likes to call them. Eco-stays are hotels that engage in environmentally friendly practices such as sourcing locally grown organic food, using energy-efficient lighting and proper management of waste.
The tourism industry is estimated to contribute 8 per cent of global greenhouse gases. When factors such as construction of hotels and the energy needed to facilitate tourism are considered, this figure might go much higher.
Ecoplore only list eco-stays that are made from non-concrete materials such as wood, stone and mud. Hotels wishing to be listed must also have at least 33 per cent green area. "By green, I mean trees and forests; not lawns or grass." adds Prasad.
It remains important for Prasad to uphold such strict criteria for greenery, not just for beauty, but also for environmental and health benefits that greenery has to offer.
A mature tree can absorb up to 150 kg of CO2 per year, playing an important role in climate change mitigation and improving air quality. Forest cover also provides a habitat for numerous animals and plants, enriching biodiversity.
"At Ecoplore we promote those hotels in unknown destinations that are working towards environment conservation at a local level. We personally visit and verify every hotel before deciding to take them on our platform.
"We investigate them by staying there for a night and we pay for everything--no favours are taken. We observe every detail and if the intent of the hotel owner is more for environmental conservation and not only for making money, then we decide to enlist them," Prasad affirms.
This eco-stay aggregator is changing the way new hotels are being constructed in India. Hotels promoted by Ecoplore are getting more customers, improving their businesses.
Rob de Jong, Head of United Nations Environment Programme's Mobility Unit, said: "People around the world are starting to think deeper about their travel. There is much that individuals can do to reduce the impact from their travels. From the mode of transport they take, to their destination, and while they are at their destination, the places where they stay. This initiative is a welcome help for the more environmentally conscious traveller."
Efforts from change-makers like Prasad promote Sustainable Development Goal 12: Sustainable consumption and production patterns, promoting a greener economy.
"One of the things that gives me most satisfaction is that hoteliers who would have built a concrete building and damaged a beautiful location now want to build beautiful mud houses instead. That's a very positive development," Prasad says cheerfully.
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.
Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Applications open in January. When you apply, you also become part of our change-maker community. Stay tuned!