On the Eco-Road Again…

As noted earlier this week [www.sundance.tv], signs of summer’s impending arrival are starting to pop up. Along with chores like mowing your grass, for many of us summer often offers the opportunity to travel and vacation. Before you gas up, buy tickets or book a hotel, we have a few tips and resources to make your travels greener and more eco-friendly.

Because vacation often involves going somewhere else, usually by train, plane or automobile, staying closer to home leaves a lot smaller carbon footprint [www.sundance.tv] on your vacation. If your plans call for a road trip or long plane ride, carbon offsets [www.sundance.tv] are part of the equation for a cleaner, greener vacation. For ideas and info on where to go, Responsible Travel [www.responsibletravel.com] is a fairly inclusive resource, with tips on just about everything from accommodations to wildlife holidays. Further, sites like EcoTravel.com [www.ecotravel.com], the International Ecotourism Board [www.ecotourism.org] and the Rainforest Web [www.rainforestweb.org] offer different, more boutique-feel version to green travel searching. If trekking through Nepal or paddling the Amazon isn’t your idea of vacation, you can still stay green with the Green Hotels Association [www.greenhotels.com], which features a list of member hotels, related environmental products and more ideas for green travel. Once you’ve picked a place, check in with the Environmentalist’s Travel Guide [blogs.salon.com] for easy tips on greening your vacation on the go; if you want a more interactive forum, log in to the Green Travel Network [groups.yahoo.com] for some practical ideas from folks who’ve made traveling work for them.

If “eco-tourism” — taking a vacation that aims to actively helps the planet through habitat restoration or ecological work — is a part of the plan, it’s important to be a bit wary of where you’re going and what you’re doing. Despite the potential to do enormously good things, the downside of such a vacation is that it brings cars, busses, boats, and foot traffic to the world’s most pristine and untrodden areas. Reading something like the article Ecotourism and Its Impact on Forest Conservation [www.actionbioscience.org], will give you a good a sense of the risks involved: “In Nepal, ecotourists… have stripped the landscape bare of sticks and twigs for fuel and left trash that spoils the experience for future visitors. In the Galapagos… the impact of visitors is manifested by disease, fire, and theft, has altered the natural balance of the island ecosystems.” The Sierra Club, in the report Is Ecotourism Good for the Planet? [www.sierraclub.org], weighed some of these risks and drafted a set of conservation policies for ecotravel that include proper waste management, energy conservation, and prohibited forms of travel, such as by helicopter. Conservation International [www.conservation.org] is also developing a Tourism Assessment Manual that will evaluate the environmental and biodiversity considerations within a tourism destination. Anyway, the point remains: take a look under the hood of any organization you choose, and try to take care to leave wherever you go cleaner than when you came. Vacation is supposed to be fun, but it can also be good clean (and green) fun if you take a moment to plan and think about the impact of it and be sure that others will be able to enjoy as much as you for years to come.