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Eco travel in Africa: offset your carbon footprintby Dalene Ingham-Brown

Awareness of environmentally friendly practices and ways of 'going green'  are at a high with 5,251 cities and towns in 135 countries participating in Earth Hour last year. Millions of people around the world are going organic, recycling and using their green conscience when doing just about everything. Now people can not only practice green-living, but green-travelling too, thanks to eco travel in Africa.

Green Travel

One of Overlanding Africa's overland trip suppliers, Nomad Adventure Tours, has  found a way to reduce the carbon footprint of travelling for those doing overland tours, and it's called the Green Seats Project. The Green Seats Project allows travellers to enjoy eco travel in Africa and offset their carbon footprint by upgrading their overland trip ticket to a green one. Roughly, for an extra ZAR 150 you can offset your carbon footprint for a 15 to 21 day tour. This extra money goes towards planting trees that absorb carbon emissions and provide oxygen to the earth.

I chatted to Nomad Adventure Tours'  trust custodian and fundraising co-ordinator, Shannon Fletcher to gain insight into the Green Seats Project.

Dalene: How long ago did Nomad realise there was a need for options to eco travel in Africa?

Shannon: The idea actually started on a much larger scale. The owner and managing director of Nomad Adventure Tours, Alex Rutherford, has always had a love for nature and feels a responsibility for helping the planet. That's why it is high on the list of priorities for both Alex and our current general manager, Henk de Kok, who originally studied and worked in nature conservation. With this passion in mind we wanted to explore ways of giving back to nature and the environment. We started a few projects to reduce our impact on nature, but the first real steps were taken in 2007 with company policy changes.

Dalene: What can one do to offset the carbon footprint of an overland truck?

Shannon: Well, we think the way we do it is the best. A huge amount of time and effort went into the research and final decision of our method of offsetting. We looked for something that has high carbon storage capacity, as well as a project that helps out the land and people. Using the Spekboom is perfect. It really is one of the best ways to offset carbon. The plants are used to rehabilitate degraded land and the projects which allows us to do this creates awareness and employment in underprivileged communities.

Dalene: How does one calculate the carbon footprint an overland truck leaves?

Shannon: We have only used one variable in our calculations which is fuel. In order to produce diesel, and through using diesel a certain amount of carbon is created. This is largely based on fuel consumption. We track our fleet’s fuel consumption religiously, and this allowed us to calculate a carbon emissions fairly accurately.

Dalene: What kind of trees are planted and why?

Shannon: We plant Spekboom (Portulacaria afra). It's also known as dwarf jade plant, elephant's food or elephant bush. It's an evergreen succulent shrub that grows to be about 2,5m in height and is found mainly in the South-Eastern Cape area, especially around Baviaanskloof and the Addo Elephant National Park. It has enormous carbon storing capabilities and its capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is equivalent to that of moist, subtropical forest. The additional benefits are that this amazing bush is also drought and fire resistant. The use of Spekboom delivers the most value for money in carbon capturing terms, and it also has the most significant ecological benefits in the way of replenishing degraded areas.

Dalene: Who physically plants the trees and where?

Shannon: The planting is done by the local communities where the planned rehabilitation planting will take place. The project engages teams who have been trained through South African Government’s successful ‘Working for Water’ programme which is a poverty-relief initiative with social and ecological objectives. Along with sister initiatives it provides a ‘bridge’ for teams who have completed their governmental contract and are looking to enter the private sector with their newly acquired skills in landscape restoration. The planting takes place in the Baviaanskloof Mega reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Dalene: How does a traveller book an eco travel in Africa ‘green seat’?

Shannon: Very simply. The traveler will be offered the optional ‘green seat’ when booking their tour through Nomad or their agent. The fee, which as mentioned before, is worked out for each tour, and then added to the tour cost.

Dalene: What percentage of travellers book a green seat with Nomad?

Shannon: There still aren't as many as we would like, but as people become more aware of their impact on the environment and their CO2 contributions, we definitely see the numbers of green seats increasing slowly but steadily. I would say at a guess, about 10% of travellers book a green seat with Nomad . We would like to see this increase by at least 50% by the end of 2013.

Dalene: How can others in the travel and tourism industry get involved?

Shannon: Other tour operators who would like to offer a ‘green seat’ type of initiative to their clients are welcome to contact the Nomad African Trust or Green Earth Consulting (they assisted us initially). From here we will provide them with any information they need with regards to ways they can get involved and answer any questions they may have. At the moment we're setting up green seat projects in conjunction with Green Earth for some international agents who want a custom made solution. Very positive and exciting! Inspired to book a green seat and enjoy eco travel in Africa? Enquire now.

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