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Getting a handle on responsible travel

Every industry wants to be ethical these days, from fashion and food to cars and travel.

Every industry wants to be ethical these days, from fashion and food to cars and travel. And while travelling itself — from flying to staying in wasteful luxury hotels — can be un-ecological, there are ways of using your holiday for the good, whether you’re compensating for your carbon footprint or contributing in a positive way to the place that you visit.

Hotels and tour operators all over the world are jumping on the responsible travel bandwagon, and selling themselves as sustainable, ecological and ethical, even if their product falls short.

So how do you know if a hotel or travel company has got genuine ethical credentials, or whether they are just greenwashing? How can you make sure you’re a responsible tourist? There are two key factors here — ideally, your holiday should be ecologically sound, as well as contribute in a positive way to the local community.

To be an eco-tourist, look for hotels and resorts that strive for minimal environmental impact and self-sufficiency.

A true eco hotel uses solar energy or wind turbines to generate power; uses biodegradable cleaning products; and reduces waste by recycling and re-using as much as possible. If possible, the food served should be grown organically, and locally, rather than flown in.

Ethical tourists should be on the look-out for ways of contributing to the local community when they travel, especially in developing countries.

You can do that by staying at a hotel that employs or is run by local staff on a fair wage; teaches you about the about the local community and its way of life; and feeds some of its profit into the local community, supporting rural schools, clinics or even conservation projects in areas such as the Amazon rainforest.

There are lot of ways that you can be a responsible tourist too, by off-setting your carbon emissions when you take a flight (or better still, by taking the train); by supporting local businesses rather than corporate chains when you go abroad; and buying products made locally.

The great news is that being ecological, doesn’t have to involve camping, scratchy sheets or sharing bathwater — there are plenty of places where you can enjoy a luxurious holiday without guilt.

You won’t be able to stop climate change and bring world peace single-handedly, but every effort makes a difference. Here are our suggestions of some places where you can do just that.

Masai Mind: Basecamp Masai Mara Kenya
Built on land belonging to Masai tribes, this stunning lodge is designed to be sympathetic to its surroundings. The special bond established between the Masai community and the lodge’s founders means local tribesmen act as landlords, tour guides and drivers as well as workshop project leaders. The women sell traditional beaded jewelry and leather goods directly to guests and local projects include planting trees in order for the camp to be self-sufficient in wood.

The 15 thatched tents are heated via solar panels and showers open out to the sky. All dirty water is recycled into gardening water. Mornings generally begin with a spectacular game drive. Expect to spot gracious giraffes, clomping elephants and black-backed jackals. See www.basecampexplorer.com.

Chocolate gold: Yachana Lodge, Ecuador

“Yachana” is an indigenous Kichua word meaning “a place for learning.” This charitable lodge believes in education and empowering the community in order to create sustainable tourism. Throughout your stay, employees will help you immerse yourself in the local culture and put you in touch with some of the wonders of nature — ever knew you could make poisonous arrows from dart frogs?

The botanical gardens burst with butterflies and a local incentive allows guests to adopt acres of rainforest for conservation. The food is mostly vegetarian and made with ingredients grown in the lodge’s permaculture garden. Healthy eating aside, make time to visit the local chocolate factory: Cocoa is bought off local farmers above market price and the Yachana Jungle chocolate is then sold in the lodge shop and abroad.

You can visit the Yachana Foundation’s Technical High School, aimed at promoting and pushing the education of indigenous and mestizo students living in remote rural areas of the Amazon. Also on site is the Mondaña Medical Clinic to provide greater access to health care to the 8,000 local residents. See www.yachana.com

Power of the Sun: Lalla Mira, Morocco
North Africa’s first organic riad fights off the Atlantic Ocean’s humid air with its sun-panel-heated floors. Bedding is organic and hypoallergenic as it is locally made with a mite-free fibre called kapok. All food is grown on the riad’s own pesticide-free farm. The hammam steam room is the oldest in town and has been renovated to run on sun power. This charming gem was built entirely from handmade clay bricks and is conveniently close to the banter and bustle of the souks as well as the surfing paradise of the Essaouira coast. There is a quaint little library back at the hotel as well as a split-level rooftop terrace for sunbathing. See www.lallamira.ma.

Pygmy Paradise: Sukau Lodge, Malaysia
In the heart of the Malaysian rainforest you’ll find the plush and leafy paradise that is Sakau Lodge. There are 20 rooms in total, basic huts built on stilts in the riverbed. The hot water heaters are solar-powered, as are the engines used to power all the boat engines. What makes Sakau so lovable is the attention to detail. Cooking oil is recycled for lighting purposes. In search of total peace and quiet? The lodge is only accessible by boat, keeping interference to a minimum. See www.sukau.com.

Trip to the top of a tree house: Perché dans le Perche, France
Star gaze over a bottle of Bordeaux, and keep an eye out for the occasional badger from your tree house perched in the woods of La Renardiere, a natural estate just hours away from Paris. Your home is high in a 200-year-old chestnut tree and can sleep up to five people. All of the grey water from the tree house is purified as it is passed through a series of troughs containing reeds, plants and volcanic rock. Bathroom toiletries are bio-friendly as are all cleaning products used to keep the place pristine and pure. Breakfast is an organic feast delivered to your tree in a basket — all homemade and prepared by the owners, from the jams to the bread and butter.

La Renardiere also works with local students on how to manage and optimize the site’s naturally rich biodiversity and ecosystems, and school children have developed a natural garden designed to evolve with the seasons. Local artists whose work has been inspired by the site are invited to exhibit their work. See www.perchedansleperche.com.

Eco Orchid: The Orchid Hotel, India
Everything in this luxurious Mumbai hotel — from the coat hangers made from reconstructed sawdust to the interior wall panels made from fertilizer waste — is designed to be as eco as possible. The main atrium is designed in order to allow in the maximum amount of to natural light, and the rooftop pool allows for extra insulation. The restaurant was built using recycled wood and all window frames are made with reconstructed rubber wood. The hotel also supports the Nirmalaya Composting Project where all waste from the local annual 10-day Ganesh festival, from food to garlands, is converted into organic manure. See www.orchidhotel.com.

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