There are, however, a fair few things you can do before you travel, along the way and afterwards – if you wish to go green as you globe-trot. From giving back to the local people to curbing your contribution to single-use plastic, there are myriad ways to protect the planet as you travel.
What do the accreditations stand for? What do the buzzwords actually mean? From planning to packing, to time when you’re away, Juliet Kinsman – author of The Green Edit: Travel (Easy Tips for the Eco-Friendly Traveller) – has your sustainable efforts covered.
If you’re looking for tips on how to be more eco-friendly as you travel the world, Kinsman shares her starter A-Z of truly greener getaways, from packing to planning.
A — Accreditations
Look for certifications that signal a business is kinder and more responsible. See the B Corp certification stamp on Intrepid Travel or Sawday’s: this means they consider the impact of all decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. For hotels, EarthCheck, BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) denote green practices and principles.
B — Biodiversity
Healthy ecosystems need a rich variety of species to function. Many environmentalists consider this the biggest crisis facing the natural world. When investing in a wilderness safari or choosing a country cottage in a pretty setting, all the better if it has boosting biodiversity on its manifesto. The Long Run is a non-profit collection of committed and passionate conservationists, lodges, retreats and parks.
C — Carbon Footprint
Keeping emissions low is the aim of the eco-travel game. Flying is the biggest contributor to our footprints (especially the taking off and landing part). More on flight-free alternatives later, but if you are taking a plane, the simplest answer? Seek out energy-efficient hotels (see some suggestions here), walk wherever you can and use less stuff. Sure we can calculate our trip’s GHG spewings to be offset (by totting up each tonne of CO2 to be countered by buying reductions made in another location), but not all offsetting schemes are equal: it’s better to reduce in the first place. If you do want to use an offsetting scheme NOW Offset Carbon is a simple-to-use calculator and offset tool powered by the highly regarded South Pole.
D — Disposability
Single-use plastic and a throwaway culture is sending a stream of junk to landfill. If it gets there. Carrier bags have been kiboshed and straws demonised but convenience is still king, and it’s hard to spend time on the hoof without creating rubbish. Don’t be fooled by talk of biodegradable and compostable gubbins: chances are those things can only be broken down under controlled conditions.
E — Energy
Choose transport and properties powered by renewable energy generated from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower resources. Keep your kilojoule consumption down to a minimum: whether turning off lights and AC while away or strolling instead of taking a taxi. It’s worth doing your homework when it comes to your logistics: Wightlink operates England’s first hybrid energy ferry (and is planning a fully electric version) – so hop on the Victoria of Wight next time you’re crossing the Solent. Bulungula Lodge in South Africa, owned by the Xhosa community in Ngileni Village, is completely powered by the wind and the sun.
F — Foodprint
Mitigate your diet’s CO2 emissions through menus made with ingredients sourced locally, or grown on-site. Choose hosts who serve no imports or beef. It’s not just fashionable to be a locavore or mindful of food miles, favouring fresh, organic food straight from farmers and small producers equals a lower ‘foodprint’.
G — Giving back
You could book a volunteering vacation with a reputable grass-roots NGO, use a travel company with an established charitable foundation, or simply sign up for an excursion with a local indigenous guide (a tour of the original adobe settlements in New Mexico’s Rio Grande valley with the Native Americans of Taos Pueblo, perhaps, or Madidi National Park in Bolivia with the Uchupiamonas). Or, if you don’t want to devote your entire trip to an NGO’s mission, Charitable Travel is similar to a typical travel agent in the UK, except that a portion of the price of your high-end package holiday bought from this social enterprise goes to a charitable cause of your choosing.
H — Homestays
Locals inviting tourists into their homes means an authentic taste of local life plus it results in direct-action wealth distribution in underprivileged areas. Play pastoralist in a Mongolian ger (yurt) in the Gobi grasslands or at Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp and help fund conservation in Kenya. G Adventures is a tour operator that finds accommodation in this way, such as in Panauti in Nepal where they launched this initiative in 2012 to empower women through their hosting of guests.
I — Indigenous people
Indigenous people govern 65 per cent of the earth’s landmasses (and 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity). Choose hotels that help indigenous people economically and preserve their traditions in a meaningful way such as Gal Oya Lodge, which celebrates the Veddah people in Sri Lanka, or Uxua in Brazil which showcases artefacts from the Pataxo Indians.
J — Jobs
Tourism employs 10 per cent of the global workforce: our holidays help a lot of people and their extended families. It’s satisfying to plan itineraries that support microbusinesses with social or environmental missions along the way – such as getting your souvenirs from somewhere such as Small Projects Istanbul, a community space where Syrian refugee women in Turkey access language, computer and leadership lessons as well as coaching in crafts such as sewing, silk-screening and jewellery design, as included in Intrepid Travel itineraries.
K — Kids
Connecting children with causes and conservation nurtures tomorrow’s change-makers. Have a family day out in Wales at the Centre for Alternative Technology in a former quarry near Machynlleth and explore woodland and gardens, learn about green living, graze on vegetarian picnics. Turn to their online shop to tool them up with books and experiment kits at home.
L — Leakage
Communitarians appreciate the meaning of this term: it refers to how much money stays in a local economy. Think twice before booking that international chain hotel where the revenue is destined to end up in overseas coffers.
M — Minimise Packing
Pack as lightly as possible. Carry-on luggage is the holy grail. Pack lighter and stay fresher with some cotton essentials woven with ultra-fine solver threads. Come again? Denmark’s Organic Basics boast a SilverTech magic that means more hygienic socks and tees thanks to cunning antibacterial and antimicrobial properties in the fabrics, so not as many hot washes or detergent needed for your smalls, while you’re on the go.
N — Nature
Minimising the negative impact on nature is the overarching goal of green travel, obviously. But it’s not just about being sustainable — as travellers we can strive to leave places better than we find them by turning to lighthouses in this landscape such as The Future of Tourism, a coalition of non-profit organisations that aims to disseminate tools and training and promote best practices to support tourism in mitigating against climate change and biodiversity. Hundreds of travel companies – including tourist boards and tour operators – have signed on to the coalition’s guiding principles.
O — Ownership
Consider who owns a business you’re giving your money to and what their purpose and values are: are they an ethical airline investing in renewables, are they an eco-friendly operator who books you into locally owned accommodation? It’s worth doing your homework.
P — Provenance
Just as we consider the source and the origins of what we eat or wear, travel is about value chains. Ponder the integrity of that souvenir or the manufacturing origins of those in-room amenities, and always favour hyperlocal or artisanal.
Q — Quality over Quantity
Taking fewer holidays, and going for longer is a great way to be green.
R — The Three Rs
Looking at our packing through the REDUCE, RECYCLE, REUSE lens, is a good guide. Cut down on what you take, survive on what you already have and head to charity shops to pick up pre-loved bargains.
S — Slow Travel
Traversing new landscapes on foot or by bike or boat means passing scenery at a pace that lets us savour every detail, story, flavour better. And it’s greener, yes.
T — Transport
The further we stray from home, the greater our environmental impact in terms of transit. Plan flight-free European jaunts through Green Traveller, where Richard Hammond recommends journeys by train and ferry, or book through Responsible Travel which launched a Green Flying Duty as an alternative to offsetting until there are solutions in place to fly clean and green. The money raised is ring-fenced for accelerating progress for research and development.
U — Undertourism
Consider going somewhere starved of visitors – owing to a natural or human-caused disaster or because a place just hasn’t had the same TV or social media-related publicity – where they are desperate for tourism cash, be it for education, health, conservation or just to put food on the table.
V — Volunteering
Hands-on contributions from outsiders should be in cahoots with a reputable NGO and be of clear benefit to the communities being visited, not just a chance for foreigners to virtue-signal on social. Acting as a citizen scientist, meanwhile, can be as easy as sharing your ornithological observations on eBird, a platform from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
W — Water
Many tourist-hosting establishments are guilty of recklessly getting through this increasingly precious natural resource by plumbing main pipelines to keep golf courses or gardens green. Support hoteliers managing utilities responsibly and listen out for them talking to you about rainwater harvesting and low-flow toilets. And opt for short showers, not long lazy baths yourself too, obviously. Look for hotels that capture rainwater, recycle grey water and responsibly replenish the water in their pools only according to the number of people using them, as does Lefay Dolomiti.
X — Xenobiotics
These are all chemical compounds alien to a natural biological system including the drugs and pollutants in environments or our food systems. Opt for organic, toxin-free ways of being such as at Kapuhala Sicily, where the hotel restaurant only serves farm-to-table biological food grown on its own land. Or Denmark’s first chemical-free hotel, The Socialist, in a converted transformer station, which has treated bedrooms with an invisible, scent-free titanium dioxide coating called “CleanCoat”.
Y — Yurts
Tents. Pods. However you choose to camp, the lighter your touch on the terrain the better. In the UK, the National Trust has top tips.
Z — Zero waste
A trashless existence is always worth toasting. A business being resourceful and transparent around operational processes especially in under-developed destinations that don’t have the means to recycle is golden. It feels good to bask under the glow of that halo. Take solid shampoo bars that also serve as a body wash — such as from the Lush Naked range. A satisfyingly easy way to leave less in your wake.
The Green Edit: Travel (Easy Tips for the Eco-Friendly Traveller) by Juliet Kinsman, published by Ebury.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.