I paid my first visit to Turkey during the early years of mass tourism to witness, at first hand, a conspicuous conservation success. Here was a country listening to wise advice from overseas well-wishers, in this case German Green MEPs and pioneer British eco-warrior David Bellamy.
They did not want the country to repeat the mistakes of its neighbours by sacrificing precious nature habitat for unrestricted holiday development. They wanted it to save one of the last strongholds of the loggerheaded turtle in the Mediterranean.
The government listened, and in 1987 it halted hotel development on the beach at Dalyan, declaring it a sanctuary for the nesting turtles. 25 years on, the beach is still unspoiled. It remains a stronghold for loggerheads, looked after by a team from Pamukkale University.
Since then Turkey has maintained strict planning rules on its popular south and west coast, as its tourist industry burgeoned, zoning specific areas for development, and prohibiting holiday expansion on large stretches of coast. The policy has largely worked, although I have seen worrying examples of well-off foreignors “trying it on” by building inappropriate holidays homes.
In other respects, Turkey has done little to impress the green-minded tourist, In common with most other countries with a large holiday economy in the region. There are, it is true, the ubiquitous rooftop solar panels on hotels and holiday homes. But this is a long established technology, used to heat water. Only now is Turkey beginning to address the challenge of using the sun in a significant way to generate energy.
The country wide and high quality coach service is one oif the most comprehensive in the world. Coach travel is the most carbon efficient form of motorised transport we have. See George Monbiot’s article. We should also applaud the introduction of long distance footpaths in the 2000s, and the greater emphasis on protected habitat.
The picture, even in such quiet and underdeveloped green tourism areas as the Bozburun Peninsula, is not quite the overall timeless idyll which travel companies and most travel writers like to depict. Keep your eye on the broader picture and this is indeed a fabulous, sunlit vista of bays and headlands scarcely changed since the Persians crept around this coast to defeat the Spartans at the battle of Cnidos in 394 BC.
Close up, it can be a different matter. To walk to the beach in one holiday village on the peninsula I know well, we have to pass a pile of refuse spilling out of plastic bags outside a popular restaurant. It builds up, it is taken away, then it builds up again, unsightly and malodorous.
Plastic bags at are handed out with reckless abandon. I have to move fast to put my morning loaf into my canvas shopping bag before the shopkeeper has a chance to stuff it into a plastic bag. (Not that it’s any different in my local shop in England.) Or perhaps it is. Plastic bags, and containers of all sorts, litter the pebble beach on the local coastline, casually despoiling the random remains of Ancient Greeks and Byzantines. (The UK is moving to a charge on plastic bags.
What are the bigger holiday companies doing to help and promote environmental protection in Turkey? Not so much, as far as I’ve been able to see. To some extent they can be said to harm the local economy, for example with all inclusive packages in big resorts that discourage clients from eating in local restaurants.
I did find one company (I’m sure there are others), Exclusive Escapes, making a virtue of its care for the environment. (I should disclose that I visited Turkey as a guest of the company.)
For a start the company has dispensed with its physical, albeit prize-winning, 300 page brochure. It now puts everything online. Then it faces up to the fact that air travel, pretty well essential to get to Turkey, is planet-damaging.
“In order to discover the beautiful regions we feature, air travel is necessary from a practical perspective. We sensitively encourage our Guests to repair the damage that air travel does to the climate, by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions through Climate Care.”
It costs £4.50-£5.50 per person for a return flight. Climate Care uses the money to fund projects based around renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and reforestation. It only funds projects that are in addition to existing actions governments are taking.
The company promotes “Responsible Tourism” by upholding these “core values to our philosophy”. They include “protecting the environment, and the social, cultural and economic aspects of the areas that our guests visit. We aim to maximise the benefits of tourism to a destination whilst minimising the environmental impact.”
Exclusive encourages property owners to minimise their impact on the environment by adopting environmental policies to cover laundry, lighting and energy conservation.
In 2012 Exclusive began to promote recycling in the resort of Kalkan, sponsored the introduction of “eco-collection bins”. “Recycling is considered a novel idea in our regions at present, so we’re proud to have organized these collection points – the first in Kalkan. They don’t just serve our villas and hotels; they’re for the whole of the local community to use as well.
“We recycle clear glass, paper and aluminium/plastic. Place the items in the containers in your villa. Any recyclables taken to the nearest collection point as often as necessary.”
The company deals mainly with family run properties, which helps it benefit the local economy. “We promote long term relationships with our property owners and suppliers. We believe that our holidays should provide more than just a flavour of local culture [to clients], and should be of signifcant benefit to the local community.” Exclusive employs local people, ”rather than people who travel from the UK for the summer season”.
The company is following its own advice back in the UK. In its offices it recycles paper, cardboard, plastic and printer cartridges; it discourages the use of plastic cups and paper towels. It uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, and Fair Trade tea and coffee. It doesn’t use air conditioning, opening windows for fresh air.
Offices rely on natural light wherever possible, instead of artificial lighting. There is a strict policy on switching off devices at the end of the day.
It offsets staff air travel emissions with a financial contribution to Climate Care, and encourage staff to use public transport or cycle to work. Old office furniture, equipment and mobile phone handsets are donated to charitable organizations. None of this is new, of course. But it’s good of the company to be pointing out what it’s doing, even when this commitment should be standard across the industry.