The next time you pack your bags, remember this: you make a global impact.
Whether you’re going across the state or across the sea, the carbon footprint you leave behind depends upon the eco-friendliness of your travel. Where you go, how you get there, where you stay, who you buy from, what you eat, what you throw away…they’re all choices that make a big difference regarding the environmental burden your journey places on our already-stressed planet.
There’s a lot you can do to help the earth, and one of the most effective ways to help is to become a more eco-friendly traveler. A 2012 TripAdvisor survey found that 57 percent of travelers polled often base travel decisions on eco-friendly factors. By gaining a little knowledge, carefully planning, and sticking to a few tips, you can be an eco-friendly traveler too.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and not all destinations are eco-friendly equals. Yale and Columbia universities have developed an environmental performance index to rank the greenest locations, which is a tool that the Ethical Traveler, a nonprofit organization, uses to find destinations that fit the bill. Other sites such as IgoUgo and The Travel Channel offer additional recommendations for great eco-friendly spots.
Choose Eco-Friendly Vendors
Once you’ve chosen your destination, optimize your journey by booking eco-friendly vendors —airlines, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and resorts, to name a few. Those that adhere to the second of the American Society of Travel Agents’ Ten Commandments on Eco-Tourism are considered among the best:
“Patronize those (hotels, airlines, resorts, cruise lines, tour operators, and suppliers) who advance energy conservation; promote water and air quality; provide recycling; manage waste and toxic materials safely for people and the environment; and provide experienced, well-trained staff dedicated to strong principles of conservation.”
Your local library is a great place to find travel guides by eco-friendly publications such as Lonely Planet, Moon Travel Guides, Rough Guides, or indie publishers who specialize in this type of travel. Online forums are another great place to get information, such as Slow Travel Talk, BootsnAll, or Thorn Tree.
Pick Eco-Friendly Accommodations
How will you know which accommodations are eco-friendly? Just ask.
According to Ron Sambria, vice president of Sustainable Tourism for Rainforest Alliance, travelers should check with hotel managers to see how their establishments are contributing to conservation and the surrounding community. He also recommends finding out whether the hotel has been certified by a third party, such as Leadership in Environmental Design (LEED), or Green Seal.
Green hotel specialists also recommend screening for the following eco-friendly criteria:
- A reuse program for linen and towels.
- A 100 percent nonsmoking policy.
- A recycling program for guests.
- The use of compact fluorescent lights.
- The use of nontoxic cleaning products.
There are also numerous eco-friendly resources that provide links for booking eco-friendly properties across the globe.
In addition, the World Wildlife Fund provides a list of important conservation tips for travel, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers a list of responsible travel tips to follow before, during, and after your journey.
The next time you venture out to see the world, remember that everything you do impacts the environment around you, and ultimately the planet as a whole. By doing a little research and planning, you can go to your next travel experience as a giver instead of a taker — rewarding, responsible, and eco-friendly.
Rebecca Lindegren is the Digital Strategist for American University’s Masters in International Relations program. She is also the news editor for The Word is Bond, a hip hop blog. Outside of work, she enjoys skiing, cycling and social media.