While it has been a chilly and rainy start to the summer season in Montana, my mind has not been deterred from thoughts of backpacking through wilderness areas, fishing trout-filled streams, and river trips that range from raging white water to carefree floating. And I am not alone in these dreams. In fact, I share them with more than 10 million tourists that are about to trek Montana’s roads, waterways, and hiking/biking paths this summer.
Tourism is a huge economic driver in Montana, bringing in over $3.2 Billion in 2012. These visitor dollars support 42,900 jobs in this state, and provide $305 million in local and state tax revenue. When I looked at where that $3.2 billion goes, I was taken aback, but not entirely surprised, to see that 35% of it (over $1 billion!) was spent on travel-related fuel. In the summer, the majority of Montana’s millions of visitors rack up many miles making the trek from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park, so I can see how all those trips to the pump add up.
But what about the environmental impact of all that windshield time? Our planet recently surpassed the 400pm CO2 mark, and about 5% of those emissions can be attributed to tourism globally. For a local lens on tourism impacts, the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research has scores of reports that demonstrate the environmental, social, and economic impacts of tourism. It seems that now, more than ever, we all ought to be taking another look at how we can lessen our carbon footprint as we embark on our summer adventures.
Luckily this is another arena in which I am not alone. There are a number of groups addressing the climate impacts of tourism on multiple scales. At the federal level, the National Park Service has instituted a Climate Friendly Parks program that engages park visitors and staff in efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. At a personal level, an internet search of terms like “ecotourism”, “sustainable travel”, “lessen my environmental impact” yield thousands of guides on how to make travel choices that decrease one’s negative impacts.
In the tourism industry sector, Brendle Group provides an array of services to assist companies and organizations in assessing current operations and practices, then determining the most effective strategies for increasing energy and water efficiency, conserving resources, designing buildings and systems, and managing organizational change to build a more sustainable tourism industry. We accomplish this work not only at the level of the individual business, but also at the industry level through initiatives such as the National Ski Areas Association’s Sustainable Slopes initiative. Through the work of sustainable tourism advocates from multiple angles, we can increase the odds that more travelers, both residents and visitors, are able to enjoy the mountains, rivers, and public parks not only in Montana, but around the world- well into the future.