In 2019 Boat Bike Tours started a journey to become carbon-neutral by 2021. Here’s the story so far – as told by our sustainability coordinator Margriet Lakeman.

At an annual meeting in October 2019, we were brainstorming how to make our tours more sustainable with tour leaders, skippers and office staff. Ideas were noted down on a big sheet of paper:

  • Avoid food waste
  • No disposable plastic on board
  • Reuse cycling maps
  • Slower sailing

More suggestions were made until a skipper grumbled, “What’s the point? We did this last year.” I reluctantly agreed he was right. In one year we hadn’t gone beyond choosing paper or plastic for the packed lunches on our tours.

Good intentions

We’ve had green intentions for a while. In 2018 we collaborated with sustainable tourism consultancy Sea Going Green on a pilot program. With three of our ships we investigated and determined the average carbon footprint per guest per tour. We also investigated changes with a group of green-minded skippers and tour leaders.

Unfortunately, our daily workloads didn’t leave much time to act on our good intentions. So one day I decided a change of tack was necessary. Restless in my marketing role, I approached Laurens (owner of Boat Bike Tours) to ask if I could focus fully on making the company more sustainable. He agreed immediately! He had decided that we would become 100% climate neutral by 2021. I was going to be busy!

Measuring is knowing

At the end of 2019, we did a baseline measurement of the Boat Bike Tours fleet with Sea Going Green. Each ship owner received a questionnaire about onboard consumption of fuel, electricity, drinking water, glass, paper, plastic, laundry, waste produced and more.

I also spoke with each ship owner to hear how they felt about sustainability. It was great to learn about a ship that could run almost entirely on solar cells; or that a water-saving shower head can reduce consumption by 40%. On some boats disposable plastic was already at a minimum, while other skippers were now seeing what they could change.

These conversations were sometimes tricky – some skippers saw sustainability as a marketing gimmick, or thought we were getting lost in research. “We have to start somewhere,” was always my answer.

Overcoming challenges

After one very difficult conversation, I sighed to my sister that this was no easy task. “You should be happy with the criticism, it’ll keep you on your toes” she replied. And it does! By February 2020, I’d visited all ships and the completed questionnaires could be analyzed by Sea Going Green.

This step was also a challenge, as there were plenty of information gaps or unclear answers about ship parts, engines and generators. This revealed that our measuring system still needs refinement – an ongoing process which will improve each year as we run it.

Greening the office

We also wanted to know the footprint of our office in Amsterdam North, so besides measuring gas, water and electricity consumption, I calculated how many cartridges, printouts, office supplies and even bottles of dish soap we use annually.  Other initiatives included setting up recycling bins, meeting with experts and skippers to learn about HVO biofuel as a ship fuel alternative, and planting an olive tree in front of the office as a symbol of greening.

A change that made me quite (un)popular was when I pointed out that flying to Austria for a team-building weekend wasn’t wise if we’re serious about sustainability. We ended up taking the train to Maastricht instead, which earnt me some ungrateful glares. That taught me another lesson: making changes means making choices, and if I’m the one pushing the change then I can’t let reactions get me down. So now I walk around the office with a big smile and a “Let’s go Green” T-shirt. Luckily many colleagues are very supportive, like our product manager Jossie Verkerk.

Unexpected situation

At the start of every year we attend ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel fair, to present our new tours and ships. This year we also planned to announce our 2021 carbon neutral goal and I was looking forward to the response.

We also had a pre-season meetup planned in February for all skippers, tour leaders and staff. Besides the usual first aid and puncture-fixing workshops, I’d invited Li An Phoa, founder of Drinkable Rivers, to speak. A woman with a mission, she works to reconnect people with rivers and to strive for a world with drinkable waterways. Her cause fits so beautifully with Boat Bike Tours, where our tours cruise rivers every day.

And then… the coronavirus struck. The ITB trade fair was cancelled, our pre-season meeting was cancelled and the whole tour season was postponed. Of course. Now, a couple of months later, we are adapting to this strange new situation. But even with the impact of the coronavirus all round us, we still haven’t lost sight of our green goals. We are still continuing with our carbon neutral 2021 plans – including a biofuel pilot and CO2 compensation program.

For the moment, other issues need attention, but we look forward to the time when it’s safe to welcome our guests again, and to share a greener travel approach together.

If you’d like to learn more about our carbon-neural plans you can visit our sustainability page for more information.

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