Melbourne Business School News How we're helping Intrepid Travel make tourism more sustainable

How we're helping Intrepid Travel make tourism more sustainable

Working with Melbourne Business School to reduce emissions and protect biodiversity is helping Intrepid Travel transform the tourism industry.

MBS and Intrepid sustainability projects

The tourism industry is responsible for 8 per cent of the world's total carbon emissions. That's why environmental leaders at Intrepid Travel are determined to make a positive impact that extends beyond their own organisation.

"Not only do we want to continually improve and ensure we are doing the most we can to help the planet, but we want to educate our industry on how to make those same changes," says Dr Susanne Etti, Global Environmental Impact Manager at Intrepid.

"Why should they have to reinvent the wheel when we have already done the work? Climate change needs everyone's help."

Founded in 1989, Intrepid is a Melbourne-based travel and tour company that has an unwavering commitment to delivering impact-focused tourism.

A member of the UN Global Compact since 2008, Intrepid became carbon neutral in 2010. Now, the company is working with our Centre for Sustainability and Business to continue its environmental mission.

"We have a north star – which is climate – and we have carbon neutrality in place," says Dr Etti.

"But we know we have to do more."

In 2020, Intrepid declared a climate emergency, developing a seven-point commitment plan and becoming the first global tour operator to adopt verifiable, science-based targets.

To help meet these targets, Intrepid has engaged the Centre for Sustainability and Business to lead two projects – one investigating the viability of increased EV usage on their tours, and a second to develop a biodiversity plan.

"These projects are two really important areas we wanted to advance and we're excited to be using the skills and expertise of the centre to do so," Dr Etti says.

"I've always been a huge advocate for business and climate to come together, and working with the centre means we can harness the knowledge of the academics and the University of Melbourne.

"We can learn from each other – it's such a powerful thing."

A culture of sustainability

Intrepid's climate journey began in 2005, when the senior management team were inspired by Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers. A survey of customers and stakeholders found that they too believed the company had a role to play.

Intrepid's climate journey accelerated as it began measuring its impact on the environment, implementing a decarbonisation roadmap and earning B-Corp certification.

"As part of this, we began reviewing all of our trips and communicating the emissions of them to our customers," Dr Etti says.

"That’s been a real success. Last year we launched carbon labels on 800 trips, which means we've broken down all components and the associated emissions. This ranges from the accommodations stayed in, the kilometres travelled, right through to the meals had and the food waste created."

It also voluntarily reports its business and trip emissions annually in its Integrated Report, which it publishes as an accountability and transparency marker.

The company is committed to furthering this work and reducing carbon emissions from its trips and offices, of which it operates 29 globally, wherever possible.

"By breaking it down like this we can really look into where it is logistically possible to do better – whether that's removing flights or transitioning to EVs where we previously have relied on fossil fuels," Dr Etti says.

MBS and Intrepid sustainability projects

Mapping the global EV landscape

One of the projects led by the Centre for Sustainability and Business will see Associate Professor of Strategy David Keith and student fellow Marice Lim investigate the possibility of increasing the use of electric vehicles on Intrepid's trips.

"We know that transportation makes up a big proportion of our emissions," Dr Etti says.

"Because we are a small group adventure company, we need to move customers on their trips. Often, it's done by slow travel on rail or on foot, but in many cases it's through vehicles that we're either leasing or owning."

While EVs and hybrids are already part of Intrepid's decarbonisation strategy, the lack of suitable EVs in many regions means some trips still include vehicles that run on fossil fuels.

"When we talk about the big levers in addressing climate change, one of the biggest levers for the travel industry is switching to EVs," Dr Etti says.

"But the availability of vehicles and the ability to access charging stations are huge challenges. So while there is a willingness to use them, we don't often know how or where to start."

Dr Keith, an expert in electric vehicles and former Assistant Professor at MIT, said the challenge was in understanding where opportunities existed – and what it would take to seize them.

"Intrepid are operating in 114 countries, which means they are dealing with a wide variety of issues to consider when it comes to how EVs and charging stations might be procured and used," he said.

"Deploying electric minibuses in developed countries with existing public charging infrastructure is one thing, but when you're dealing with overland trucks in Africa – this is another matter.

"We want to help Intrepid understand: 'What will it take?'"

MBS and Intrepid sustainability projects

A strategic approach to biodiversity

The second project will see Dr Gary Veale, Executive Director of the Centre for Sustainability and Business, and student fellow Sebastian Nazar develop a biodiversity strategy for Intrepid.

"We're just getting started on our biodiversity journey and we are wanting to understand it from a global level," says Dr Etti.

"While we are doing some work in the field, we don't yet have that overall biodiversity strategy to really look at the dependencies, the impacts and especially the opportunities that we have.

"What does it mean to be nature-positive? What does it mean for the tourism industry? Where are our dependencies?"

By conducting in-depth research, interviews and analysis, Sebastian and Dr Veale will come up with a roadmap of recommendations and help Intrepid understand its role as a global, responsible tour operator in restoring nature in the biodiversity crisis.

"Intrepid need assistance in understanding and prioritising their biodiversity global footprint, and upskilling and growing their capabilities," Sebastian said.

"I'm hoping to develop a biodiversity strategy that includes existing and proposed initiatives to advance Intrepid towards nature-positive impact tourism."

The two projects will help Intrepid make its operations more sustainable and bolster its position as an environmental leader in the tourism industry – but that's not something Dr Etti wants to hold onto too tightly.

Her vision is that Intrepid serves as an advocate and role model for other companies within the sector to follow suit.

"We want to share the knowledge we gain and educate our industry," Dr Etti says.

"Solving these global problems is going to need a coordinated approach. There’s no benefit in gatekeeping."

To learn more about what sustainability means for your organisation, visit the Centre for Sustainability and Business page.

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