See the world (and try to save it)

En­vi­ron­men­tally sound choices, while chal­leng­ing, can be deeply ful­fill­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY AN­DREA SACHS

If you travel, you will leave a char­coal smudge in your wake. You can’t help it. Planes spew car­bon emis­sions, ho­tels guz­zle gal­lons of wa­ter to laun­der sheets and tow­els, and thirsty trav­el­ers chug-a-lug plas­tic bot­tles of wa­ter. But don’t let the guilt dampen your va­ca­tion. Eco-friendly travel prac­tices can lift the re­morse and lighten the blem­ish on Mother Earth.

Green travel is not a pass­ing trend but a por­ta­ble life­style choice. Ac­cord­ing to a Trip Ad­vi­sor sur­vey, nearly two-thirds of trav­el­ers plan to make more en­vi­ron­men­tally sound choices over the next year. A ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents said that they turn off the lights when leav­ing their rooms, par­tic­i­pate in the ho­tel’s pro­gram to re­use linens and tow­els, and re­cy­cle on-site. Trav­el­ers can do much more by build­ing an eco-trip block by block.

“Sus­tain­able travel is all about cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the com­mu­ni­ties you visit,” said Jon Bruno, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Eco­tourism So­ci­ety. “Leave the place bet­ter than you found it.” Easy, right? Not al­ways. Environmentalists of­ten tout ar­cane terms such as low-VOC paint, warm-mix as­phalt and aero­ponic gar­den­ing. Eco-ex­trem­ists can make you feel guilty for want­ing a hot shower and light­bulbs that don’t cause eye­strain. And less-than-hon­est prop­er­ties and tour op­er­a­tors em­bel­lish their Earth­friendly achieve­ments, an act of false­hood called green­wash­ing. But don’t let these chal­lenges de­ter you. “When our choices align with our eco-in­ter­ests and val­ues,” said Dawn Head, owner and ed­i­tor of the on­line re­source Go Green Travel Green, “it doesn’t feel like we are mak­ing sac­ri­fices to be green.”

For guid­ance on plan­ning the ul­ti­mate eco-trip, we turned to a panel of green-travel ex­perts. Fol­low their tips and watch your foot­prints turn greener with each step of your jour­ney.

Choos­ing a green destination

No destination is a Green Giant; they all make en­vi­ron­men­tal mis­steps. How­ever, some coun­tries and cities demon­strate a deep com­mit­ment to Earth-friendly poli­cies and prac­tices. Ask for a re­cy­cling bin and they’ll point to three.

Bruno, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­motes eco­tourism, com­mends the ef­forts of Namibia, where its con­sti­tu­tion in­cludes habi­tat con­ser­va­tion and the pro­tec­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources, and Ecuador, which placed 97 per­cent of the Gala­pa­gos’s land­mass un­der the watch­ful gaze of its na­tional park ser­vice.

“The en­vi­ron­ment has its own rights in Ecuador,” he said.

Among emerg­ing lo­cales, Bruno is keep­ing an eye on Uzbek­istan, a former Soviet republic with a bur­geon­ing out­door cul­ture (ski­ing, moun­taineer­ing, white-wa­ter raft­ing, bird­ing); al­ter­na­tive lodg­ing, such as yurts and co­op­er­a­tive-run guest­houses in the Nu­ratau-Kyzylkum Bio­sphere Re­serve; and more than 1,000 na­tive va­ri­eties of ap­ples. In Brazil, he praises the am­bi­tions of the town of Bonito, the Por­tuguese word for beau­ti­ful.

“This lit­tle town has put ev­ery­thing be­hind eco­tourism,” he said. “The Rio da Prata is so clear, it feels as if you’re hang­ing in the air watch­ing the fish float by.”

Closer to home, Bruno high-fives Hil­ton Head, S.C., a sur­pris­ing choice con­sid­er­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as a golf-and-ten­nis haven. But the city has shown its green colors as a mem­ber of Tree City USA and Audubon In­ter­na­tional’s Sus­tain­able Com­mu­ni­ties Pro­gram. It is also one of two towns on the East Coast to have re­ceived gold-level sta­tus from the League of Amer­i­can Bi­cy­clists. The 12-by-4-mile is­land may be com­pact, but its paths stretch like Silly String across 60 miles of ter­rain.

Ev­ery­one and their sci­ence teacher seems to pub­lish an an­nual list of the world’s green­est des­ti­na­tions. Dual Cit­i­zen, a con­sult­ing firm, re­leased the fifth edi­tion of its Global Green Econ­omy In­dex last year. Of 80 coun­tries and 50 cities sur­veyed, the com­pany anointed Swe­den the top green ba­nana, fol­lowed by Nor­way and Fin­land. Among de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, the re­port sin­gled out Zam­bia, Ethiopia, Brazil and Costa Rica, but noted that the two African coun­tries need to bur­nish their “per­cep­tion rank­ing.” And while Asia didn’t fare well, Cam­bo­dia did im­prove its stand­ing, ris­ing 20 spots to 20th. (For con­text, the United States placed 30th.) In the city cat­e­gory, Copenhagen ex­pe­ri­enced deja vu when it re­turned to the No. 1 spot af­ter hold­ing it in 2014.

But don’t judge a destination by its rank­ing, or lack thereof. When re­search­ing a va­ca­tion spot, look for places that nat­u­rally em­brace the green life­style. Tell­tale signs in­clude a ro­bust pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem, acres of park­land, walk­a­ble neigh­bor­hoods, des­ig­nated bike lanes, farm­ers mar­kets and vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties. Your dis­cov­er­ies will bounce you all over the map, from Tokyo to Chat­tanooga, Tenn., to Cape Town, South Africa, to Adelaide, Aus­tralia.

Head has an im­por­tant mes­sage for “last chancers”: Ig­nore the clar­ion call to “go be­fore it’s gone.” She warns that trav­el­ers can do more harm than good by vis­it­ing en­dan­gered ar­eas, such as a Pa­cific is­land un­der threat from ris­ing seas, a melt­ing glacier in Antarc­tica and an abo­rig­i­nal rock worn down by count­less pairs of feet.

“Choos­ing a place be­cause it might not be there any longer?” she said. “Well, you’re de­stroy­ing it.”

Choos­ing a green mode of trans­porta­tion

What makes Mother Earth proud? See­ing you use your own power to get around.

Many ad­ven­ture-tour op­er­a­tors, such as Back­roads and VBT, ar­range cy­cling, hik­ing and walk­ing hol­i­days. Bonus points if you can reach the start­ing point by bike or foot.

Next in line are trains and buses. How­ever, their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment de­pends on such fac­tors as route, fuel type and pas­sen­ger load.

“Among land trans­port, trains are gen­er­ally very en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly,” said Randy Dur­band, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Global Sus­bike tain­able Tourism Coun­cil. “In terms of non­rail trans­port, the larger num­ber of pas­sen­gers per ve­hi­cle is best.” For Dur­band, the magic num­ber is 40-plus.

The green­est rides typ­i­cally run on elec­tric power or al­ter­na­tive fu­els and boast a high oc­cu­pancy rate. Switzer­land is lead­ing the car­a­van with its hy­brid buses and trains pow­ered by hy­dro­elec­tric­ity; Ja­pan is run­ning close be­hind.

If you plan to drive, con­sider rent­ing a fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cle. Hertz in­tro­duced the Green Trav­eler Col­lec­tion in 2011. The pro­gram, which is avail­able at se­lect lo­ca­tions, stocks a va­ri­ety of mod­els, such as the Toy­ota Prius and Nis­san LEAF. Some peer-to-peer rental sites also list low-im­pact cars. On Turo, vis­i­tors in San Francisco can tool around in a Smart Fortwo, BMW 13 or Tesla, the sul­tan of elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Cruis­ing can be very, very good or very, very bad. Sail­boats and cata­ma­rans are as gen­tle on the planet as a sea breeze; larger ves­sels can have a stormier ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment. Friends of the Earth has some un­flinch­ing words for cruis­ers. “Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans take cruise va­ca­tions ev­ery year,” the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion wrote in the in­tro­duc­tion to its an­nual Cruise Ship Re­port Card. “Yet, most trav­el­ers don’t re­al­ize that tak­ing a cruise is more harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health than many other forms of travel.”

It as­sessed 17 ma­jor cruise lines and as­signed grades that would make any par­ent cry. Only one com­pany, Dis­ney, earned an A-mi­nus; the other cruise lines re­ceived Cs, Ds and Fs.

In their de­fense, the cruise lines have been mak­ing strides. They are in­stalling LED lights and tinted win­dows, treat­ing black and gray wa­ter to near sip­ping stan­dards, us­ing low­sul­phur fu­els and re­cy­cling all types of refuge. Last year, Royal Caribbean com­bined forces with the World Wildlife Fund to set sus­tain­abil­ity goals for 2020, such as re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions and serv­ing sus­tain­able seafood.

“The cruise in­dus­try is in­vest­ing more than $10 bil­lion in new tech­nolo­gies, fu­els and waste man­age­ment sys­tems, many of which are al­ready de­ployed, as fur­ther pro­tec­tive mea­sures for the en­vi­ron­ment,” said a spokes­woman for the Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion.

This year, Hur­tigruten an­nounced plans to ex­plore even greener wa­ters. The Nor­we­gian cruise line is build­ing two ex­pe­di­tion ships that will run on hy­brid tech­nol­ogy, the world’s first of its kind. Imag­ine an aquatic Prius slip­ping silently through the fjords.

“For too long, ‘in­no­va­tion’ in the cruise in­dus­try has been a race to build big­ger ships with more wa­ter­slides, bumper cars and surf­ing waves,” said Daniel Sk­jel­dam, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “For us, in­no­va­tion is all about hon­or­ing our Nor­we­gian ex­plorer her­itage and mov­ing the in­dus­try for­ward by de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy and so­lu­tions that will ben­e­fit our guests and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

And now for the black sheep of the char­treuse bunch: air­planes.

“There re­ally aren’t any green ways of fly­ing,” Head said. “Just min­i­mize as much as you can.”

To shrink your car­bon foot­print, the ex­perts of­fer a litany of sug­ges­tions. Travel less but stay longer. Se­lect a full flight on a large plane in a fuel-ef­fi­cient fleet. (A sam­pling: Nor­we­gian Air, Finn Air, Alaska Air, Vir­gin At­lantic and Cathay Pa­cific.) Book the itin­er­ary with the fewest num­ber of con­nec­tions, be­cause take­offs and land­ings guz­zle fuel. Pa­tron­ize green air­ports, such as Chicago’s O’Hare, which boasts an api­ary and a ver­ti­cal gar­den, and Bos­ton’s Lo­gan, which erected minia­ture wind tur­bines. Pack light and bring a re­fill­able wa­ter bot­tle and snacks from home. And pass on first-class: The ex­tra leg and el­bow room is a waste of space and fuel. Feel free to spread your an­gel wings as you pass through the Prof­li­gate Class to Con­ser­va­tion­ist Coach.

Since the 1990s, some air­lines have of­fered cus­tomers a means to off­set car­bon emis­sions. This is how it works: Cal­cu­late the CO2 from your trip and do­nate the cor­re­spond­ing amount to an or­ga­ni­za­tion of the car­rier’s choos­ing. Cathay Pa­cific, for one, sup­ports a cook­ing and heat­ing project in China’s Shanxi Prov­ince; Qan­tas di­rects funds to a group that con­serves the Tas­ma­nian wilder­ness and re­stores in­dige­nous prac­tices in West­ern Aus­tralia. Bruno backs the con­cept, with reser­va­tions. “There is no in­dus­try stan­dard or trans­par­ent sys­tem that al­lows car­bon-off­set buy­ers to see what their pur­chase has done,” Bruno said. “How­ever, some stan­dards are re­ceiv­ing greater ac­cep­tance. They just aren’t any­where near an in­dus­try stan­dard.”

Martha Honey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Re­spon­si­ble Travel, en­cour­ages trav­el­ers to off­set their en­tire va­ca­tion. This way, you can neu­tral­ize even more emis­sions and se­lect the pro­grams you wish to sup­port, in­clud­ing ones that ben­e­fit your va­ca­tion destination. Com­pa­nies such as Car­bon Fund and Car­bon Neu­tral can as­sist with the cal­cu­la­tions and vet­ting process. Honey shared some sug­ges­tions, as well.

“Tree-plant­ing is iffy. Some­times they die,” she said. “Sup­port re­new­able en­ergy in your destination.”

Choos­ing a green ho­tel

No pres­sure, but . . . “Once you are at your destination, if you can get the ho­tel right,” Head said, “you can make the great­est im­pact.”

Un­for­tu­nately, ho­tels rib­bit their green­ness louder than a pond of frogs. The ca­coph­ony can be deaf­en­ing, and dis­hon­est.

To si­lence the noise, Head sug­gests fo­cus­ing on the is­sues that mat­ter the most to you. Then find a ho­tel that matches your pri­or­i­ties. “De­cide your cause and what you won’t com­pro­mise on,” she said.

Most ma­jor chains and many in­de­pen­dent ho­tels op­er­ate in-house green pro­grams. (Dur­band tips a hat to Ac­cor and IHG.) Look for a fact sheet on­line, or call the front desk and un­leash the ques­tions. Ask them how they dis­pose of their gray­wa­ter and if they com­post. In­quire about the bath­room fix­tures and toi­letries, in-room re­cy­cling bins and the prove­nance of the restau­rant food.

You can also search for ho­tels ap­proved or ac­cred­ited by re­spected cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams, such as Green Key, the Global Sus­tain­able Tourism Coun­cil and the U.S. Green Build­ing Coun­cil, which over­sees LEED cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The most holis­ti­cally green ho­tels sup­port the three pil­lars of sus­tain­able tourism: en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and eco­nomic.

“If you have an op­por­tu­nity to stay with a lo­cal provider in an eco-lodge,” Bruno said, “that can be more sus­tain­able” than a LEED ho­tel.

The Unique Lodges of the World, a col­lec­tion of 55 prop­er­ties af­fil­i­ated with Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, bang on all three drums. For ex­am­ple, Sabi Sabi Pri­vate Game Re­serve in South Africa erad­i­cates in­va­sive species, em­ploys a sus­tain­able waste­water man­age­ment sys­tem and as­sists com­mu­nity pro­grams that spe­cial­ize in ed­u­ca­tion, health care, sports, cul­ture and con­ser­va­tion.

As a guest, you can also ad­vance the cause with­out much ef­fort.

“Mak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly choices on your own dur­ing your stay can have a long-term im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment and only takes small changes,” said Rhi­an­non Ja­cob­sen, vice pres­i­dent of strate­gic re­la­tion­ships at the U.S. Green Build­ing Coun­cil.

Some ways you can help: Par­tic­i­pate in the ho­tel’s linen-and-towel-re­use pro­gram and al­ways flick off the lights when you leave the room. Skip the bot­tles of wa­ter in your room and re­fill your own bev­er­age con­tainer. (Try Hy­draPak’s Stash or Klean Kan­teen.) De­cline house­keep­ing and, de­pend­ing on the ho­tel, score a food-and-bev­er­age credit. Use wa­ter glasses and cof­fee mugs in­stead of plas­tic or pa­per ones. At break­fast, ask the staff for real table­ware in­stead of dis­pos­able plates and uten­sils. Avoid buf­fets, which re­sult in mounds of wasted food. Re­cy­cle. (Ad­vises Dur­band: If the ho­tel is not “vis­i­bly re­cy­cling, ask them to be­gin do­ing so. They need to hear this from more cus­tomers.”) Bor­row the prop­erty’s bikes and uti­lize its shut­tle ser­vice. Wear out­fits more than once, or if you must do laun­dry, find a lo­cal fa­cil­ity that sup­ports the com­mu­nity. Don’t fall for those wee bath­room ameni­ties; bring or buy your own and take them home or do­nate them. (Ad­vanced ac­tivism: En­cour­age your ho­tel to en­roll in Clean the World, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that sends do­nated ho­tel toi­letries to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.)

If you no­tice a lapse in the ho­tel’s eco-prac­tices, speak up. “Sug­gest­ing ways a ho­tel can be­come greener is a great way to push for change,” Ja­cob­sen said.

One suc­cess story: In the 1980s, a guest at the Bu­cuti & Tara Beach Re­sort in Aruba shared his dis­ap­point­ment with the bar’s use of plas­tic cups. Owner Ewald Bie­mans agreed and elim­i­nated the waste­ful ma­te­ri­als. Since that one ex­change, the re­sort has racked up nu­mer­ous awards and ac­co­lades for its en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices. Last year, Green Globe, a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion board, named the prop­erty the “Most Sus­tain­able Ho­tel & Re­sort in the World.” The re­sort scored a 98 out of 100.

Choos­ing green ac­tiv­i­ties

The Earth-friendly op­tions are le­gion: You can sail, snorkel, scuba dive, hike, pad­dle­boat, pad­dle­board, kayak, bike, swim, bird-watch and play I-spy-a-mon­key in a tree. Visit a crafts or food mar­ket, and don’t for­get to bring a re­us­able bag for pur­chases. Take a tour that em­ploys lo­cal guides. Give yourself an ex­tra pat on the back if the com­pany donates some of its pro­ceeds to a lo­cal con­ser­va­tion group or char­ity.

You can also lend a hand dur­ing your hol­i­day. “The green move­ment has changed from how to pre­serve and pro­tect to how to use less and do good when you’re there,” Head said.

Many ho­tels and tour op­er­a­tors ar­range short-term vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties. For ex­am­ple, 1 Ho­tel Cen­tral Park, which part­nered with Bette Mi­dler’s New York Restora­tion Project, in­vites guests to help beau­tify the city by wa­ter­ing trees, com­post­ing and pulling weeds. Par­tic­i­pants earn Lyft ride cred­its to the gar­den plus two cock­tails for their ef­forts. At Emi­rates One&Only Wol­gan Val­ley in Aus­tralia, vis­i­tors can help con­ser­va­tion­ists by mon­i­tor­ing feral an­i­mals, con­duct­ing wom­bat sur­veys and test­ing wa­ter qual­ity.

If you are more of the do­nate-and-run kind of trav­eler, Laura Hoff­man, op­er­a­tions man­ager of Global Base­camps, a so­cially re­spon­si­ble tour op­er­a­tor, rec­om­mends Pack for a Purpose. Af­ter you plan your trip, check the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s list of des­ti­na­tions and pro­grams that seek sup­plies. In Ja­maica, for ex­am­ple, Beaches Ne­gril Re­sort & Spa works with Mount Airy All Age School, which serves 650 chil­dren. Vis­i­tors can pick from a long list of items to do­nate, such as pens, Fris­bees, ten­nis balls and board games — ba­si­cally all the clut­ter in your garage that you have been mean­ing to clear out.

IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BY TOMI UM FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BY TOMI UM FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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