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How to Determine What Green Travel Means to You

The greenest vacations are sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly. If you want to be truly green, make sure your trip is as kind as possible to the environment and benefits the local community and economy at your destination. Unfortunately, no single certification program or standard guides the way the travel industry describes green travel. That means that it’s up to you, the traveler, to assess how eco-friendly a particular business trip or tour really is.

Some standard green travel descriptions include:

  • Sustainable vacations are careful to avoid negative impacts on the environment and may or may not include a focus on local cultures.

  • Ethical or responsible travel is sustainable but usually includes a focus on treating the local people fairly and equitably. Much of the income generated by tourism in the developing world never reaches the local people; an ethical vacation ensures that the money you spend goes into the local economy rather than to a multinational corporation.

  • Geotourism is a term coined by the National Geographic Society to describe travel that encompasses natural, cultural, and economic sustainability for local cultures.

  • Ecotourism is sustainable and ethical travel in a natural environment.

You’re likely to see terms such as eco-, ethical, green, and sustainable tourism used to describe travel that’s environmentally aware. It’s up to you as a consumer to go beyond the words, however, and research exactly what the travel organization means by them. Ask the company about its environmental and cultural policies, and examine the trips that it offers so that you can assess whether or not the company actually lives up to its marketing materials. Just because a business calls itself green, environmentally friendly, or eco-aware doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s as green as you’d like it to be.

You can consider a range of issues in deciding exactly what green travel means to you — this is truly an opportunity to put your money where your heart is:

  • Greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions

  • Carbon offsetting programs initiated or offered by the tour company, destination, or hotel

  • Contributions to the local economy

  • Protection of the local environment

  • Conservation of wildlife

  • Support to local, indigenous cultures

  • The overall impact of travel to that region and whether it’s over-traveled

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