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The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

Adventure
Háifoss waterfall in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.


Transportation

Buy Carbon Credits
We Are Neutral is a Florida-based non-profit that works with organizations to reduce their carbon footprint. Geared toward businesses, the site offers a helpful carbon footprint calculator for flights, cars and even hotels. Just enter a few basic details, and the handy tool estimates the amount of carbon your trip produces. It even suggests how much you should donate to offset that amount, and allows you to donate directly to We Are Neutral, which uses the funds to plant trees.

Fly Environmentally Friendly Airlines
Kelley Louise, the executive director of Impact Travel Alliance, says that JetBlue has started using a sustainable jet fuel blend, while the International Council on Clean Transportation has named Norwegian Air the most fuel-efficient transatlantic airline. Meanwhile, the Atmosfair Airline Index 2017 is a helpful tool for discovering the most fuel-efficient airlines, plus it offers a carbon footprint calculator and the ability to donate through its site. Also useful, the International Air Transport Association counts more than 30 airlines with carbon offset programs, like Delta, United and Emirates.

Book Non-Stop Flights
Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel recommend flying non-stop: "It's the takeoffs and landings that create most of an airplane's carbon emissions."

Consider Trains Over Planes
Steve Long, co-founder of The Travel Brief, advises using trains whenever possible. "From London to Paris, trains emit almost 90 percent less carbon than a flight," he says, based on using a carbon calculator from EcoPassenger. Long adds, "Excellent railway infrastructure makes trains a viable alternative to flights, including most of Europe and East Asia, and some countries in Southeast Asia." And rail lines like Eurostar have a dedicated eco-friendly program to reduce carbon emissions, plastic and more.

Use Public Transportation
Long says that many major cities around the world offer easy downtown train access. "The historic city centers in Europe and Asia tend to be compact and pedestrian friendly (unlike North American cities), and their metro systems are extremely developed, making it very easy to get to anywhere in the cities quickly."

Lodging

Stay in Eco-Friendly Hotels
Green Global Travel suggests checking if U.S. hotels hold a LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. "The program judges hotels on sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design." For international hotels, Green Global Travel adds, "Look for seals of approval from other certification programs, such as EarthCheck (Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean) and Green Tourism (UK). Some countries, including Costa Rica, have their own certification programs to rate sustainability initiatives."

If your heart is set on a hotel that doesn't hold one of those designations, consider booking it through B'n'Tree. The site will plant a tree whenever you book a stay via one of their partners, including popular hotel booking sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Hotels.com.

Opt Out of Housekeeping
Steve Long of The Travel Brief notes that many Marriott brands (Westin, Sheraton) are among the hotels offering incentives to guests who decline housekeeping services. For example, Marriott will credit accounts up to 500 bonus points a day. "Skipping housekeeping services means less energy used, less water used, and less waste generated," says Long. "Even if a hotel doesn't offer incentives, you can always request to skip housekeeping."

Food

Eat Locally
Margot Peppers, editor of LazyTrips, cautions against dining at familiar restaurants while abroad. "Often these global chains import food from far away, which translates to more carbon emissions," she says. "Instead, seek out local businesses that use native ingredients. Even better, choose places that grow their own produce or head to a local farmers market."

Try Going Vegan
Menghan Wang, co-founder of TheTravelBrief.com, notes that a recent study found that the meat and dairy industry is predicted to contribute more greenhouse gas than the fossil fuel industry unless changes are made. Reducing meat consumption helps. Wang acknowledges that going vegan isn't an easy change, but traveling is a great time to experiment. And, she believes, "It gives you less risk of getting sick." (Food poisoning from improperly stored or prepared meat, fish and dairy is a risk you don't really need to take while traveling.)

Tours

Join an Environmentally Responsible Tour Group
Not all organized tour groups identify themselves as eco-friendly, so Green Global Travel says to consider the following when choosing: "Find out how the tour operator gives back to the local community. Do they lease the land from locals? Do they hire local guides? Do they take a leading role in preserving the area's natural resources? Community-based tourism is the most sustainable." They add, "And don't take any tour that promises hands-on encounters with wild animals, such as riding elephants or walking with lions. If you do, you're supporting an industry that illegally captures, transports and abuses millions of animals each year."

That said, small tour groups tend to be more eco-conscious than large ones, and those affiliated with an environmental group like the Rainforest Alliance are good places to start.

Reconsider Taking a Cruise
In 2017, German environmental group NABU released a study determining that the average cruise ship released the fuel emission equivalent to a million cars—a day. But lines like Hurtigruten have taken steps to reduce emissions with hybrid ships. Hurtigruten has also eliminated single-use plastic, recycles its waste and uses local food suppliers, detailed here.

Souvenirs

Support Local Businesses
Like food, imported souvenirs geared toward tourists carry a higher carbon footprint than locally made items. Plus, says Green Global Travel, "When you buy directly from an artist, you're not only helping them feed their family, but in many cases you're helping to preserve their culture."

Seek Practical Gifts
Especially when buying souvenirs for others, it makes more sense to return home with items that can be consumed, worn or otherwise used in daily life, as opposed to items that are likely to wind up in the back of someone's closet or in the trash.

Of course, don't feel bad if you return home empty-handed. Simply sharing your vacation photos and stories can prove more meaningful than a quick gift grabbed at the airport. Plus, putting the planet first is a valid reason.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed a quote to Kelley Louise instead of Margot Peppers. The post has been updated.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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