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As ecotourism has grown in popularity, many travel providers and hotels have jumped onto the “green travel” bandwagon while doing little to actually support its sustainable practices and conservation efforts.

“Greenwashing” — claiming to be eco-friendly without making a significant effort to minimize environmental impact — occurs in all industries, and travel is no exception. A hotel chain, for example, might promote itself as green because it allows guests the option of reusing towels or sleeping on the same set of sheets for more than one night. But, according to the University of Oregon’s Greenwashing Index (GWI), this policy “actually does very little to save water and energy where it counts — on its grounds, with its appliances and lighting, in its kitchens, and with its vehicle fleet.”

There is no internationally recognized group that certifies the environmental practices of the travel industry, so it’s mostly up to individual vacationers to make their getaways as green as possible. These suggestions can help you be a savvy eco-minded traveler:

  • Research companies that market themselves as being green, advises the GWI. Can you easily find more information about the company’s sustainable business practices on its website? Does it have a comprehensive environmental story? Is there credible information to substantiate its green claims? If not, let the buyer beware.
  • Look for a seal or certification mark from a recognized, independent third-party organization that specializes in verifying green advertising — such as the U.S. Green Building Council or Rainforest Alliance — and check with the certifier to verify the company’s marketing claims.
  • Ask tour operators and hotels directly about their waste-management operations and conservation policies, as well as the percentage of employees who are local residents and whether they support any projects that benefit the local community or environment.
  • Avoid trips that involve interacting with wild or captive animals, such as riding an elephant or petting a lion cub.
  • Support local tradespeople and artisans, but don’t buy products made from endangered plant or animal species or remove natural features, such as wildflowers, rocks, or shells, from the landscape.
  • Consider purchasing carbon offsets to minimize the environmental impact of vacation flights.

Find more tips at www.responsiblevacation.com.

For more on sustainable travel, check out “Travel Lightly: The Beauty of Eco-Tourism.”

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