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European Climate Pact
News article28 June 2023

Sustainable summer: Five ways to make your holiday more climate-friendly


We all enjoy taking a well-deserved break, especially during the summer holidays. But travelling to different destinations can come with a considerable environmental footprint.

By taking small steps to make our holidays more climate friendly, we can help tourism become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. ‘The biggest long-term challenge – and opportunity – for the tourism industry is sustainability and the need to take climate action,’ says Cinzia De Marzo, Climate Pact Ambassador and sustainable tourism expert. ‘Tourism makes a significant contribution to carbon emissions, and our industry also stands to be adversely affected by climate change. It is therefore vital that we ensure tourism also plays a role in contributing to a solution.’

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips for a sustainable summer escape.

Travel by train and make the journey part of your adventure

Did you know that transport is the main source of air pollution in cities and is responsible for almost a quarter of Europe’s total emissions?

When it comes to green travel, using Europe’s trains is one of the most climate friendly ways to get around. Statistics show that road transport emits over 70 % of total transport emissions and aviation around 13 %. In comparison, rail transport emits just 0.4 %. And, since rail travel is largely electrified, it is responsible for significantly lower emissions per person, per kilometre than both air and road transport. Travelling by train also helps to reduce air pollution and avoid traffic jams, supporting its reputation as a climate-friendly transport option.

What’s more, Europe’s railways often offer unique views of breath-taking scenery – from routes that wind through Alpine valleys to coastal lines with unparalleled views of the sea. So, if you’re travelling over the summer, consider the journey as part of the adventure and hop on a train.

From campsites to luxury hotels – go for eco-friendly accommodation

Hotels and holiday accommodation account for 2 % of global emissions. This figure will need to be cut significantly if we are to limit global warming and meet our climate targets. So, where we choose to stay the night has a big impact on the world around us.

Different types of accommodation have vastly different approaches to sustainability, so have a look at the eco-credentials of hotels or campsites before you book. You could also check whether they have been awarded an EU eco-label as a guarantee of their commitment to sustainability.

When choosing accommodation, ask yourself: does it use energy-efficient lighting and electrical appliances? Is it powered by solar panels or other forms of renewables? Does it avoid single-use packaging and disposable cutlery in its kitchen or restaurant? Does it recommend nearby bike hire? Does it provide breakfast that makes the most of local produce? These are just some of the ways your hosts can show they’re committed to preserving our planet for future generations.

Taking a city break? Explore one of Europe’s Green Capitals

If you’re thinking about a small summer getaway, why not visit the beautiful city of Tallinn – the  2023 European Green Capital? Launched in 2010, the European Green Capital Award has been given to 15 cities across Europe in recognition of their sustainability efforts.

This summer Tallinn is hosting a range of green events to celebrate its award win. Explore the mossy plants in the city’s botanical garden, learn how to make shoes from pineapples and jackets from mushrooms. Or why not head down to the environmentally friendly youth song and dance festival? Whatever you decide, you can be sure of an unforgettable experience.  

Pack green

From plastic bags and containers to bottles of shampoo, it’s very easy to pack items that aren’t climate friendly when going on holiday – but that can easily be resolved with a little planning.

Why not pack a reusable water bottle so you can avoid buying single-use bottles? This may seem like a small action, but nearly 40 % of the plastic produced in the EU is for packaging, and almost 25 % of the plastic produced for all purposes ends up in landfill. You can also take your own reusable straws for drinks, cutlery for picnics and buy eco-friendly toiletries like natural shampoo bars.

You could even go one step further and buy items like linen shirts made from bamboo or swimwear that contains recycled plastic – a good way to use and reuse existing materials.

Think green first during your stay

You’ve arrived and at last it’s time to relax. Why not keep things green by exploring your surroundings on foot or by bike? Cinzia De Marzo says that being smart about your choice of transport is key to make your holiday climate friendly. ‘It is crucial to reduce transport’s impact by encouraging visitors to use local or “soft” mobility options to get around the destination,’ she says. ‘For example, bikes, car sharing, trains or public transport services such as trams, buses and the metro.’

While you’re out and about, be a sustainable holiday maker – stay on marked paths to protect local wildlife and biodiversity, and avoid using excess water, particularly in areas that can be affected by drought such as arid regions in Southern Spain. Also, don’t forget to clear up any rubbish you’ve made at the end of a day on the beach or up in the mountains.

You could also eat at local restaurants that use ingredients that have been grown sustainably in the area. This can be a great way to sample authentic dishes from the region, while supporting local green businesses.

Ultimately, sustainable tourism is not just about doing our bit for the planet, it can also offer us huge benefits and opportunities in return. According to Cinzia De Marzo, ecotourist destinations can offer a ‘unique experience to tourists looking for a better place to visit or a better place to live, combining quality of life with safety, entertainment, cultural insights, relaxation, beauty and health.’ By making our holidays more climate friendly, we can have a better experience overall.

So, enjoy whatever holiday plans you have, and give nature a break too with a little climate-friendly planning.

The European Climate Pact is a movement of people united around a common cause, each taking steps in their own worlds to build a more sustainable future. Why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter to keep receiving sustainability tips like these and to hear about ways to get involved in the Pact’s work?


Publication date
28 June 2023