If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m somewhat of an eco freak. I try to keep my carbon footprint to a minimum, I recycle everything I can, use minimal amount of plastic and I LOVE Mother Nature! But in some situations trying to be green can be hard. Yes, there are things you can do around your home to help the planet, but what about when you travel? I’m in the group of people who loves to travel, and in my opinion, don’t travel quite enough. But having said that, I haven’t been quite that aware of trying to be green when I’m exploring this great planet of ours. I just recently started bringing my own recyclable water bottles when flying, instead of buying the single use bottles that are sold at all the airport vendors, but I’m sure there is a lot more I can do.
Lets start this discussion with the hotel you’re staying at. Do they advertise that they’re a “green hotel”? If so, that could really mean anything, or nothing at all, but its a start. You really want to look for “eco lodge” or “sustainable hotel”, if you’re able to find one. Eco Lodges are typically located in semi-remote natural areas and work to conserve the area around it, while bringing awareness to the environment and local culture. A sustainable hotel is one that will conserve water and energy, offer local products and support the local community. I will say, it’s difficult to find either of these here in NYC, but more and more hotel chains are realizing that Americans are interested in conserving, so things are changing for the better.
One of the biggest sins of travel is flying, but unless you vow never to travel by plane, there often isn’t anything you can do to avoid it. Just to give you some data to understand its impact on Mother Earth, a flight from San Francisco to New York adds 2 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (CarbonBalanced.org). In comparison, an average American puts 19 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in an entire year. But there is something you can do, and it doesn’t cost a fortune. Airlines like United and Delta were some of the first to institute a Carbon Offset Program, which allows you to calculate how much your personal flight is impacting the environment, and offers a way you can do something about it. Delta provides a calculator on their site (you can find it HERE) that lets you calculate an amount of money that would offset the emissions you help create, then provides a link to donate your cash to programs such as The Nature Conservancy. These organizations take your money and use it for forest protection projects around the world. On a flight from New York’s JFK airport to LAX in Los Angeles, the calculator figures that your carbon offset in monetary terms would be $5.73. When you consider an extra checked bag costs you $25 to $50, a measly $5.73 is worth it, especially when it means you’re helping the planet.
Another simple tip: Try to fly direct flights. The heaviest emissions are in take-off and landing, so the less of that, the better. And if you’re really serious, seek out airlines with newer planes, or ones that are making an effort to reduce emissions. Southwest Airlines, as an example, is retrofitting their planes to be more efficient, and any airline flying the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is using 20% less fuel than other, older planes.
On a less clinical and more optimistic side, what you choose to do on your trip can be a big part of how you help the Earth. Rather than visiting a zoo, seek out a Wildlife Sanctuary instead. This way your entry fee goes to protecting and helping animals, as opposed to just putting them on (unnatural) display. Similarly, seek out organizations who are eco-conscious that provide tours, rather than a tour group that might cart you around in a carbon emitting bus. Every destination has a way to minimize your impact on the world while still enjoying the sights. For example, in London you can enjoy their Cutting Edge Dream Tour, and see the city while also learning why London is considered the second most sustainable city in the world.
There is a lot you can do to help keep down the waste when you travel as well. Vacationers create about 2 pounds of waste per night, but you can reduce yours by bringing your own shampoo/conditioner/soap instead of using those tiny plastic bottles they offer. You can cut back on having your towels washed every day. You can wave off the housekeeper for a few days (I mean do you really need your sheets changed every day?). Don’t forget to keep your showers short and turn off the lights when you leave. Every little bit helps.
Ultimately, there are a lot of ways you can travel the world while still caring for it. For the amount of time you search for the right hotel, you can spend a little more just adding the word “green” to your searches to find solutions that are eco-friendly. Just remember, that world you want to explore is the only one we have, and if you want something still around for your children to visit in 50 years, it’s good to try and take care of it now.
‘Tourism is responsible for about five percent of global CO2 emissions, and transportation generates 75 percent of all tourism-related emissions.’ (Rainforest Alliance)
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