Innovation That Matters

What Can We Learn About Sustainable Travel From Past Innovations?

Lessons From the Innovation Archive

In this series, we’re unearthing ideas from our extensive archive of over 10,000 innovations that are relevant to the times we find ourselves in today.

Whilst the response to the coronavirus pandemic is already spurring new and innovative ideas and solutions that may shape sectors for years to come, we can also look to the past for lessons in agility. With this in mind, Springwise is resurfacing ideas from our extensive innovation archive.

One of the positive side effects of the lockdown has been on the environment, with one study estimating a 5.5 per cent drop in total global carbon emissions for the year, compared to 2019. Part of this is due to a steep decline in travel caused by the pandemic.

As the travel industry grapples with how to move forward, one thing for certain is that sustainable travel innovations will be as important as ever once more people are able to manoeuvre around the globe. 

Ticking the carbon offset box used to be enough for most travellers’ consciences, but for the younger generations, it is just the start. Environmentally friendly behaviours from travel companies are no longer seen as “nice-to-haves.” Rather, there is now an expectation that, as they help travellers explore the planet, organizations should be behaving responsibly to help protect it. 

The following innovations highlight the progress some have made over the past several years and may offer inspiration for green travel initiatives that we will so desperately need more of in the future. 

For more lessons in business innovation, check out Disrupt! by Springwise’s James Bidwell, now available in paperback. 


Originally published: 15th April 2015

One per cent of the world’s carbon emissions are created by the hotel industry, and while many individual hotels such as Cottage Lodge in the UK and Tubo hotel in Mexico are making concerted efforts to provide a greener service, a new platform called GreenHotelWorld is stepping in on behalf of those hotels which have yet to step up to the plate — by offering to offset the carbon emissions of any stay booked through their site.

Eco-conscious travellers can search for their dream hotel using the GreenHotelWorld website. The online travel agency has partnered with Expedia and lists more than 130,000 hotels in 107 countries, with detailed information on how green their practices are. GreenHotelWorld has also teamed up with myclimate to ensure all users’ stays are carbon neutral — by compensating the CO2 emissions of the less eco-responsible accommodation options free of charge.

As with a regular travel site, customers begin by entering their destination and date of travel. The platform then uses a green rating algorithm to filter their options, showing which hotels have certified green practices and which do not — they have more than 5,200 eco-friendly hotels in their database. Travellers can even prioritize certain green practices such as environmental protection and social responsibility.


Originally published: 15th April 2015

Way back in 2011, we covered a platform that organizes trekking tours in Southeast Asia, donating a percentage of their revenue to support female entrepreneurs. Now, sustainable travel is available to the less adventurous: Kind Traveler enables luxury holidaymakers to donate money to charity in exchange for exclusive deals with sustainable hotels.

The enterprise works in partnership with a number of ‘Kind Hotels’, whose sustainability initiatives are displayed on the Kind Traveler site. Customers select a destination and choose from the 10 cause areas — disaster relief, animal welfare and environment among others. The platform then enables users to donate to any of their charity partners from a selected list of either local or global charities.

Under animal welfare, for example, holidaymakers can choose the local charity, Pacific Marine Mammal Centre, or a global one such as Wildaid. In exchange for a donation, customers are offered exclusive rates — a donation of USD 10 can result in discounts as high as 20 per cent. Those booking can choose from a growing list of locations, among them New York, Miami, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Luxury resorts can often stand in high contrast with the country’s overall economic situation, and tourism often doesn’t contribute to national economic growth. When tourists are aware of this contrast, it can make for an uneasy experience. Kind Traveler’s ‘give and get’ model proposes to solve this problem.

As Jessica Blotter, CEO and Co-founder explains, the idea for the enterprise began when on holiday in Belize — finding it difficult to get excited about visiting the Mayan ruins while ignoring the surrounding devastation, they made a decision to help.


Originally published: 15th January 2018

The cruise industry is booming, but cruise ships are not always an eco-friendly form of travel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average cruise ship generates up to 80,000 litres of sewage a day, and use heavy bunker fuel to power their engines, which can emit dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide.

The Ecoship Project aims to change this with a radical new cruise ship design that aims to be the world’s greenest cruise liner. The project is being funded by Peace Boat, a Japanese non-profit organisation that promotes human rights and environmental sustainability through ‘peace voyages’. The Ecoship is being designed by Oliver Design and is expected to have its maiden voyage in 2020.

Among the Ecoship’s design innovations is a hull inspired by the shape of a whale which is designed to reduce fuel consumption, a bed of air bubbles at the base of the hull to reduce drag, a 6,000 square-meter solar farm, and a garden that uses recycled garbage and wastewater. Propulsion will be by means of a hybrid engine that uses bio-fuels, including fuel generated from kitchen waste, and the ship will also carry retractable wind generators and photovoltaic sails.

The heating and air-conditioning will be augmented by recycling the ship’s waste energy, reducing the electricity load by 50 per cent. The Ecoship will operate on a zero discharge/zero-waste basis and is aiming for an estimated 40 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in comparison to a cruise ship with conventional propulsion.


Originally published: 23rd July 2010

Air travel may not be the most sustainable mode of transportation, but it’s becoming increasingly easy for consumers to choose a greener ride to and from the airport.

Back in 2008, we saw the Seattle-Tacoma airport begin offering free electricity for plug-in cars, and now the Portland International Airport has set up a bike assembly station. Located on the airport’s lower terminal roadway, the new bike assembly station will enable people travelling with bicycles to more easily assemble and disassemble their bikes before and after flights. Portland is already well-known for its bicycle-friendliness, of course — it even has a bike path connecting to the airport. 

Accordingly, the assembly station can now be used by travellers and airport employees alike to get ready for a commute along that path, as well as by visitors to the city needing to disassemble their bike for a return flight home. As an extra service, Travel Oregon and the Port of Portland have made basic bike tools available for check-out at the airport’s State Welcome Center along with literature about bicycling resources in the region.

With many travellers visiting Oregon and southwest Washington to take advantage of bike tourism and to participate in the region’s many bicycle events, the Portland airport’s bike-friendliness makes extra good sense. Given the countless universal advantages of the bicycle, however — and the corresponding explosion in its popularity — Portland’s example is ripe for emulation in any bicycle-friendly city around the globe.