A round-trip flight from London to Brazil uses twice as much annual carbon emissions of an average African; that’s half the annual carbon emissions of the average citizen. So if you’re a socially conscious traveler looking to reduce your carbon footprint, you’re in luck: ecotourism is now on the rise. Ecotourism, which minimizes the impact of travelers on surrounding ecosystems, provides access to some of the world’s most remarkable places, without destroying what makes them so special in the first place. By way of conservation, alternative energy, sustainable practices, awareness, and environmentally sound methods, you’re now free to take that vacation with your mind at ease.
Alaska has been somewhat of a role model when it comes to environmentalism. And as a state with over 100 national and state parks plus dozens of threatened or endangered species, this comes as no surprise. Eco-lodges, including Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, which runs solely on alternative power sources, have emerged throughout the state, and many eco-tourism operators offer eco-tours and adventures to explore the sprawling tundra, colossal glaciers, soaring mountains, and vast, pristine wilderness of the majestic landscape. Big, remote, and wild – Alaska calls to naturalists.
Hawaii has been practicing sustainability for millennia. So for locals and Natives who hold fast to the notion of malama aina, meaning to care for the land, staying green comes easy. A longtime member of the International Ecotourism Society, Hawaii offers more than just eco-friendly beach activities, such as surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and scuba diving. Visitors can also learn about ancient sustainability methods at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, see modern eco-practices in action at Kahua Ranch or Kona Coffee Living History Farm, hike to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, or learn about Hawaiian culture at a hula festival or traditional luau. Eco-lodges are aplenty, but it’s best to take advantage of the lush scenery and camp.
Green travel is as much a part of the Californian culture as are açai bowls and staying fit. The western state, which already has over 125,000 green jobs, is changing the tourism landscape, offering the first notion of ‘urban ecotourism’ in San Francisco – which includes things like walking and cycling trails, a conservation-minded aquarium, and restaurants featuring local and sustainable foods. In Yosemite, 95 percent of the park protects some of the nation’s greatest treasures; efforts to decrease emissions for the other five percent include new hybrid shuttle buses and green concessions. In Palm Springs, Desert Adventures offers eco-friendly excursions to San Andreas Fault, Mystery Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Park.
The Pacific Northwest has always been a pioneer in the green movement. Surrounded by miles of natural beauty, there is plenty to explore by foot, and with efforts to support its growing cycling population, Oregon has made way for tons of trails and bike routes – so there’s no need to start that engine. Amity Vineyards, a sustainable vineyard since 1991, produces three ‘eco-wines’ that are both organic and sulfite-free. Portland offers eco-tours of Oregon and SW Washington and is home to an eco-pub, a brewery that operates under the motto of reduce, reuse, and recycle. In Sunriver, visitors can stay at the LEED-certified Sunriver Resort.
While home to wildly diverse terrain and two national parks, Montana has been the victim of natural gas drilling in recent years. But efforts, especially in Missoula, Whitefish, and Bozeman, have been made to bring the region back on the eco-track. Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, the first LEED-certified hotel in Montana, uses water conservation systems, alternative energy, and 100 percent organic towels, mats, and bathrobes. In Yellowstone National Park, Xanterra Parks & Resorts has implemented a recycling program and conservation practices, as well as sourcing sustainable seafood from the local fisherman. The Grand Teton Lodge Company purchased wind credits to conserve energy and diverts half of its waste by reusing and recycling.
Traveling in Colorado as an ecotourist is hardly a challenge. As a region where diverse landscapes are ubiquitous, locals are keen to preserve the state’s natural beauty. Many Colorado attractions and lodgings are dedicated to the LEED Certification Program, with Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art being crowned the first gold certified museum in the nation. Element Denver Park Meadows has implemented energy conservation and recycling practices, while several tourism companies offer eco-friendly adventure activities – whether that means rafting through river canyons or exploring the Rocky Mountains National Park.
At Mount Rainier National Park, eco-tourism is king. Stay at the Cedar Creek Treehouse, an eco-friendly B&B cabin high up in the trees, or head to the education center with information on the mountain’s resources. Hiking, rafting, and kayaking are popular eco-activities, while a visit to Seattle offers visitors a chance to try local and sustainable produce, seafood, and beer. In Cle Elum, the Suncadia Resort offers a LEED-certified stay, praised for its sustainable initiatives implemented across the resort.