Each day, we as travelers are faced with choices. Where to eat, what to see, and where to stay are some of the most common questions we ask while on the road. The number, and variety, of options available to us today can be overwhelming.
It can be even more confusing if you’re an eco-conscious traveler searching for sustainable alternatives (just as a refresher, “sustainable travel” means traveling in a way that has a low impact on the environment and creates positive experiences for the local community). With all the terms out there now to describe a destination/hotel/tour operator as sustainable (such as eco, green, responsible, environmentally-friendly), how do you know if you’re truly choosing a sustainable option?
Through Internet research, assigned readings in my graduate-level tourism classes, and by drawing upon my past travel experiences, I’ve put together this list of easy-to-follow tips to help guide you in choosing the best sustainable option for your next adventure.
Recycling is a good start…
This is a huge component of what defines sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism seeks not only to minimize impact on the environment, but also to generate employment opportunities for the local people and have a positive impact on their economy. This can range from hiring local employees, teaching locals how to benefit from tourism without compromising their traditions, and buying and using produce and other materials from local vendors. Typically, using local materials and buying local produce also has the lowest impact on the environment. It goes full-circle, this idea of sustainable tourism!
What about certifications?
I’ve learned a lot about certifications that assess the sustainability of buildings and business operations, such as LEED and Earth Check. I generally feel that they are a great way to easily identify an establishment that is committed to sustainability, though first you must familiarize yourself with the ratings system of each certification program to really understand its value. If you have to make a decision between a certified option and a non-certified one, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you automatically choose the certified option. This is because the process that a business goes through to obtain most of these certifications is often time-consuming and costly and many smaller or newer businesses simply may not have the resources to become certified right away. It’s worth looking them up online or calling and asking a few questions – even without fancy certifications, small boutique hotels and eco-resorts can be respectful of their natural surroundings. If you do a little research, you should be able to determine on your own which is best for you.
I hope you find this list useful in helping you choose more sustainable options for your future travels. If you want more guidance, there are many websites available that take the guesswork out of assessing sustainability, such as Eco Hotels of the World. And, for even more ways to go green while traveling, please read Kim Mance’s 2009 Marie Claire piece on green travel. Things are changing fast, it’s true, but her tips are still completely applicable.
Happy (sustainable/eco/green/responsible) travels!