How Sustainable Travel Works

Image Gallery: Paradise Sustainable travel can include relaxing on a hammock at an eco resort. See pictures of paradise.

Worldwide, the economic and environmental impact of travel is enormous. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that industries dealing directly with tourists contributed more than $1.7 trillion to global GDP in 2010; add indirect contributions and that figure soars to $5.7 trillion [source: WTTC]. The mileage logged by travelers is also impressive. In 2008, Americans alone traveled 6.5 billion miles (10.5 billion kilometers) on domestic flights and another 3 trillion miles (4.8 trillion kilometers) on the road [source: RITA]. Travel within and among other countries undoubtedly adds trillions of additional miles, resulting in an extraordinary amount of greenhouse gas emissions. So how can businesspeople and vacationers minimize the environmental consequences of their trips while maximizing the amount of money they infuse into the local economies? This question is the basis for the recent movement toward sustainable travel.

Sustainable travel emerged from the idea of ecotourism, which The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Both concepts emphasize the importance of green travel and accommodations, as well as activities and experiences that benefit the local economy. Sustainable travel goes a step further, though, encouraging these practices not only for trips to natural areas, but for trips to any destination. There are many ways you can practice sustainable travel, from choosing hotels that conserve electricity and water to buying food and other goods that are produced locally. You might even consider volunteering or farming in the communities you visit. Basically, by being environmentally conscious while assisting and empowering the local population, you can help to ensure that your destination will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

However, in a world where everyone claims to be "going green," it's difficult to know exactly which hotels, tour operators and transportation services are actually taking meaningful steps to protect the environment and help local people. Luckily, there are an increasing number of nonprofit groups that can assist you in your search. Their Web sites detail the green credentials of accommodations across the globe, and some organizations even certify hotels and other operations as eco-friendly. Whether your trip is long or short, business or pleasure, these Web sites are an excellent reference.

Want more information? Buy some carbon offsets and take a trip through our sustainable travel guide.