julia dimon /for metro toronto

 

Libertador Tambopata Lodge, an eco-tourism lodge in the Peruvian rainforest, uses solar energy.

 




Greenhouse gases are so last year. And if going green is the most fashionable mantra around, then travelling carbon neutral is the new black.





Celebrities, almost-presidents and an increasing number of travellers are becoming more and more environmentally aware. When booking accommodations, air transportation or tour operators, globetrotters are now choosing companies that place a high priority on environmental protection.





The travel industry, in turn, is working harder to provide eco-travellers with socially-conscious service. Here are some tips on reducing your environmental impact on the road:







Flights


Air travel releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to both global warming and climate change. For travellers who want to cut back on their carbon emissions, Responsibletravel.com offers the following advice:



  • Look for alternatives to flying. Investigate other forms of transportation: by train, bicycle or sailboat.

  • Take-off and landings are the biggest carbon-emission culprits. Fly direct instead of taking a connecting flight.

  • Purchase electronic tickets — they’re less waste than a paper ticket.

  • To calculate your carbon footprint, visit www.sustainabletravelinternational.org. Using its online carbon calculator, type in the flight destination and find out how many tons of CO2 your flight releases into the atmosphere. You can then offset your carbon emissions by donating a bit of moolah. Sustainable Travel International takes your money and puts it (or 85 per cent of it, after overhead costs) toward energy efficiency projects in developing countries.


Toronto to New York, round trip, is 0.29 tons of carbon. The total cost to offset this emission is $4.70. A round-trip flight from Vancouver to Sydney, Australia is 6.11 tons of CO2. The total cost to offset this emission is $98.62.





Though there’s debate about whether this financial contribution should absolve you of responsibility, at least the donation goes to a good cause.







Hotels


Before booking accommodations, do a little investigation to see if the hotel is really eco-friendly. Here are a few tips from National Geographic:



  • Ask if the hotel has environmental policies or programs. Does management strive to reduce consumption and conserve energy? Do they use alternative energy sources like solar or wind power? Does your tourist dollar support local communities or wildlife conservation?


Asking these questions will help you determine if this is a business you want to support.







Tour companies


While browsing for an environmentally and culturally responsible tour operator, look for those who run small tour groups, boast a strong enviro policy and support locally-run enterprises.





G.A.P, a Canadian-based tour operator, offers small group trips to more than 100 destinations. The company puts a priority on conservation and sustainable tourism. www.gapadventures.com.





For a searchable directory of eco-tours and recommended tour operators from all over the world, visit www.ecotravel.comor www.responsibletravel.com.







What you can do


Even though you’re on holiday, you can still be green. Here are a few more tips:



  • Reduce your energy consumption by turning off the lights and air conditioning when you leave your hotel room.

  • Conserve water and opt out of having your towels and bedsheets washed daily.

  • Bring your own soaps and creams, instead of using those amenities provided by the hotel.

  • Don’t buy tourist souvenirs made from animals or plant products.

  • Cut down on waste by bringing re-chargeable batteries.





Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an online magazine for independent travellers. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.