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Aviation history was made this week: A solar-powered airplane called the Solar Impulse completed a cross-country flight without using any fuel. Instead, the plane ran on energy generated by nearly 12,000 solar cells.
If only everyday travel were so sustainable. Travel can be a balm to the soul, opening us up in ways that we could never imagine. Thanks to modern air travel, we can venture around the globe, absorbing other cultures and broadening our worlds. But travel can also be incredibly damaging to the environment. The carbon footprint of air travel is huge, and traveling to environmentally delicate locales can put those places at risk. For instance, coral reefs around the world are being destroyed, in part because of a careless tourism industry.
So should we eschew travel altogether? Should we give up the chance to toss a penny into Rome’s Trevi Fountain, to marvel at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or to feel the warm waters of the Caribbean on our feet?
Luckily, there are ways to make our travel more environmentally friendly. Here are a few of them:
Buy carbon offsets: Travelers can purchase carbon offset credits, which allow people to make up for their carbon emissions by investing in programs that reduce carbon emissions. Check out websites such as Conservation.org and CarbonFund.org to learn more.
Stay in a hotel that has a good “green” track record: Anyone who’s stayed in a hotel remembers the ubiquitous signs imploring guests to save water by using their towels more than once. But these days, hotels are taking more significant steps to reduce their environmental impact. For example, Kimpton Hotels Chain has implemented dozens of eco-friendly standards and policies through its EarthCare program, which are listed in detail on its website. Travelocity.com maintains a list of green travel partners, such as the California Area Green Business Program and New Hampshire Sustainable Lodging program, which help travelers find hotels and other lodging with green certification and programs.
Choose environmentally friendly locales: Aruba’s tourism board recently announced that the island is "on track to becoming the world's first sustainable energy economy and achieving the goal of running on 100 percent sustainable energy by 2020.” And Costa Rica is regarded as a pioneer in environmental protection, according to the World Bank. Sustainable Travel International says, “Sustainable destinations reinvest the profits from their tourism activities in environmental conservation and historic restoration and preservation.” Visit sustainabletravel.org to read more about which destinations are working to improve sustainability.
Rent a hybrid car: Next time you’re trying to decide between the sedan and the SUV at the rental car desk, why not choose a more eco-friendly ride instead? Ask the car rental company about their hybrid options.
Embark on some eco-travel: Give back on your next global jaunt by choosing an eco-volunteer opportunity. Lots of organizations exist to help travelers find trips where they can contribute to sustainable projects. For example GoEco has projects that send travelers to help out at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, work at a center for underprivileged children in Guatemala, or pitch in at a refugee health clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Have you planned an environmentally friendly vacation this summer? What tips can you offer?
Photo: Bart Speelman