Going green is expensive. That traditionally seemed to be the perception from consumers and companies when the idea of adapting our lives - and businesses - to be more environmentally friendly first began to seep into society’s consciousness. But this week we had proof from Europe’s largest tour operator that far from it costing the earth, going green can now actually save you a huge chunk of money - around £28 million to be precise.
On Monday Tui Travel released its Sustainable Holidays Report 2013, which revealed that it had achieved huge group savings through “environment efficiencies”.
It also provided an update on its target of delivering 10 million “greener and fairer” holidays between 2012 to 2014. It revealed that last year it took 3.8 million customers to hotels with sustainability certificates, which on top of 2012’s numbers means some 5.8 million of its customers have now taken greener travel breaks.
It’s an impressive figure to have reached within two years, although Tui’s director of group sustainable director Jane Ashton admits it will be a “challenge” to reach the 10 million mark.
"The first year we took two million customers on greener and fairer holidays. Last year that grew to 3.8 million"
“In the UK we had almost 50% of Thomson customers staying in hotels that achieved a Travelife [the Abta-owned environmentally recognised] award.”
“The first year  we took two million customers across the group on greener and fairer holidays. Last year that grew to 3.8 million.
“Our aim over the three-year period from 2012 is to have had 10 million people, so this is a massive challenge on our hands. And what the hotels have to do to achieve this sustainability rating is constantly changing, so the bar is constantly being raised - it will be quite a challenge but we’re up for it,” she insists.
Tui claims to be the largest supporter of the Travelife sustainability certificate system - an Abta initiative, which rates hotels based on green credentials - and the company featured 554 rated hotels last year.
Ashton admits that trying to convince hotels to go green can sometimes be difficult, but she says that Tui is committed to working closely with hoteliers on improving their environmental credentials.
“One of the key things that we are seeing is a big increase in the number of hotels we managed to persuade to have sustainability standards.
“It’s not always easy to encourage hoteliers to get engaged and take action, but once they experience the considerable savings they can achieve by reducing energy and water and electricity and the benefit on customer engagement, they fly with it - we’ve had lots of converted hoteliers,” she says.
Alongside providing greener holidays for consumers, Tui has three further goals for 2015. Like many other large companies, it is trying to reduce its carbon emissions with the aim of operating “Europe’s most fuel-efficient airlines” as well as saving “20,000 tonnes of carbon” from ground operations. Last year one of its airlines, TUIfly, was rated the world’s most climate-efficient carrier worldwide in its category, by climate protection organisation Atmosfair.
The third plank in Tui’s plan involves encouraging its employees to think green. Staff need to be aware of what the company is trying to achieve or, as the report notes, “it simply won’t happen”.
Building up awareness is done through both formal and informal means. Ethical behaviour guidelines are written into the company’s code of conduct but smaller exercises are also encouraged. Tui Belgium organised a free breakfast for staff who cycled to work during an event in March, while Tui Deutschland held “green days” for staff in Hanover, along the theme of “biodiversity”, which included information on species protection in gardens and responsible fishing.
"It’s not the first thing that customers are looking for in a holiday, but it does translate to higher satisfaction overall"
The final goal is to ensure customers regard Tui as a leader in delivering more sustainable holidays. This is an area in which Ashton believes the tour operator is making significant progress.
“We’ve seen from our research that customers do care about these things and that they are prepared to make changes - it’s not the first thing that they are looking for in a holiday, but it does translate to higher satisfaction overall when they are staying in these hotels,” she said.
“There’s a strong correlation between eco-friendly and customer satisfaction.”
Along with offering ethically focused holidays and reducing the environmental impact of some of its hotels, Tui is also keen to educate people of all ages on the benefits of sustainable travel. Its UK and Ireland division is helping schools to teach children about the importance of green holidays. Since it launched back in 2011 the programme has engaged with more than 600,000 pupils and their families in just under 3,500 schools.
It is almost 10 years since Tui first produced the report and over that period the travel industry has come a long way. While it is impossible to eliminate all the environmental problems associated with flying a plane or building a new hotel, the sector is now more aware of the impact it can have.
“It’s all part and parcel of delivering that special holiday experience - our aim is to do that by minimising the environmental impact and we have plans to spread and increase the economic benefits we bring, making it a key travel experience that is special in the future,” Ashton says.
“We are the market leader, and we feel we have a responsibility to lead on this issue. It’s really critical for the sustainability of our business.”
In recent months there has been a backlash on certain types of animal attractions, such as elephant rides, which have been banned outright by Intrepid Travel. Tui hasn’t banned the activity, but Ashton says the company works with industry bodies on the subject.
“Abta has animal welfare guidelines, which it has been developing for a number of years now for different types of attractions such as elephant rides, safaris and dolphinariums,” she says.
“We have different types of excursions [and] have a programme of auditors who visit these venues and check against these standards. [We’re] not banning elephant rides but working with them to ensure that standards are met.”
Despite the fact that this year marks the end of Tui’s current sustainable strategy, Ashton says the company is already looking further ahead.
“We’re working on the next strategic plan right now, which we aim to have published around the beginning of next year. We’re building on what we have achieved so far, looking to see how we can widen our influence - how we can work even more effectively with stakeholders in the future.”
Tui rightly sees itself as a leader in the field; the industry can only hope that this year’s report helps persuade others of the need to go green.