Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Help Ensure Your Eco-travel is Actually Green and Ethical

Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Help Ensure Your Eco-travel is Actually Green and Ethical

It’s midsummer and you may be dreaming of a vacation. Are you interested in eco-travel? A lot of people are these days: 87% of global travelers now say they want to travel sustainably and 68% plan to choose an eco-friendly accommodation. This is good because tourism accounts for a whopping 8% of global carbon emissions.

If you are looking for a sustainable destination, make sure you do some research before you choose. Inspired by the trend in ecotourism, a lot of hotels and tour operators are “greenwashing”— they’re marketing themselves as sustainable and ethical, when in fact, they do little or nothing positive for local communities or the environment.

The nonprofit International Ecotourism Society describes ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.”

If that’s what you’re after, take these steps to ensure that your next trip is truly eco-friendly.

Ask questions

There is real green and there is astroturf—and, unfortunately, there is a whole lot of that plastic stuff. So don’t choose your destination based solely on an advertisement that touts a commitment to the environment and responsible engagement with local communities. Look more closely.

The International Ecotourism Society says any organization involved in ecotourism should do the following:

  • Minimize physical, social, behavioral and psychological impacts.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climates.
  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

If you’re serious about going sustainable and ethical when you travel, you should ensure that the companies you deal with adhere to the above principles. So ask them specific questions, like these:

  • Do you invest a percentage of your profit in environmental conservation? How much?
  • How do you minimize your environmental impact? Can you give a few examples?
  • Do you follow the Leave No Trace policy?
  • Do you hire local people and buy local products?
  • Are you involved in any community-empowerment initiatives?
  • Do you have programs that promote understanding and appreciation of the local environment and culture?
  • Does the trip respect the dignity of the local people and community?

Go to the website of your accommodation or tour operator and look for information on building materials used, efforts to save energy and conserve water, and initiatives to engage with local people. If you can’t find info like that, maybe the hotel or operator’s ethical claims are empty.

Look for affiliations

Affiliations are not a guarantee of sustainable bona fides but they are a good start. There are a lot of standards organizations that certify hotels, lodges and tour operators as green and ethical.

For example, LEED, TripAdvisor GreenLeaders, and the aforementioned International Ecotourism Society. Look for certification by groups like these. Also look for affiliation with organizations like National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund. Nat Geo certifies a selection of Unique Lodges of the World and the WWF has its own tour operation called Natural Habitat Adventures.

Visit these websites

Book Different: A travel booking site for sustainable travel where you can search over 1 million accommodations.

Eco Trip Match: A free service that matches travelers with ecotourism providers.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council: The GSTC certifies certification bodies. That’s as wonky as it sounds but the GSTC website does have a good page of advice for travelers and even an online training course on sustainable travel.

Green Destinations: A nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of sustainable tourism and certification of destinations. Check out its top 10 sustainable destinations.

Green Global Travel: A colorful and detailed blog full of information on ecotourism practices and destinations.

International Ecotourism Society: The oldest and largest international ecotourism association. A great site to learn about sustainable travel.

National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Awards: Honors companies and destinations—from airlines to hotels to countries—that are driving positive change in the tourism industry.

TripAdvisor GreenLeaders: The popular travel site’s program rates eco-friendly hotels and B&Bs based on basic green practices like recycling, serving local and organic food, and supplying electric car charging stations.

Don’t take a cruise

Neither planes nor ships are good for the environment. But at least when you take a flight you can offset your emissions when you buy your ticket. There are few options to do that when you take a cruise, even though cruise ships—which burn sludgy, tar-like heavy fuel oil—emit far more carbon per passenger than planes do, as well as tons of air-polluting, climate-damaging sulfur dioxide. In fact, the average cruise ship releases as much particulate matter into the air in one day as 1 million cars.

And then there is the sewage problem. A cruise ship is, in essence, is a small floating city. The world’s largest cruise ship holds 9,000 passengers and crew. The average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 21,000 gallons of raw sewage daily, along with over 450,000 gallons of gray water, 4,000 gallons of oily bilge water, and up 19 tons of solid waste. Where does it all go? Straight into the ocean.

Avoid poverty tourism

We strongly recommend that you avoid any travel companies that peddle in “poverty tourism,” the unethical practice of traveling to, fetishizing and exploiting impoverished areas for the purpose of tourism and entertainment. Learn how to spot poverty tourism and how to avoid it.

Travel is like any other consumer industry: it follows demand. So if we choose more sustainable and ethical options when we take our trips, the travel industry will respond and, through our choices, we’ll make a positive impact—wherever we land.