How Sustainable Travel Works

How to Plan a Sustainable Trip

A study conducted in 2002 by the Travel Industry Association of America and funded by National Geographic Traveler magazine revealed that Americans are receptive to many of the goals of sustainable travel:

  • Seventy-one percent of respondents felt that their visit to a destination should not harm its environment.
  • Sixty-one percent enjoy their experience more when the destination preserves its natural, historic, and cultural sites and attractions.
  • Fifty-three percent have a better travel experience when they learn about the customs, geography, and culture of a destination.

[source: TIA]

Unfortunately, as these attitudes have become increasingly mainstream, some hotels and transportation companies have attempted to make themselves sound greener than they really are through a process known as greenwashing. Luckily, numerous resources are now available to guide the eco-conscious in the right direction when it comes to sustainable travel.

Greenwashing is a problem in many areas, not just the travel industry. A 2007 study by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that all but seven of 1,018 products used misleading or false labeling to promote their products as eco-friendly [source: TerraChoice]. A common greenwashing tactic in hotels is to ask patrons to reuse their towels and linens instead of washing them daily. Though signs may proclaim this practice will "save the environment," it's really more of a cost-saving measure for the hotel than anything else. A famous example in the airline industry involved British Airways' widely-praised plan to give customers the chance to buy carbon offsets when they booked their flight. However, after 20 months, only 0.01 percent of the airline's total carbon emissions had actually been offset.

You can avoid greenwashed accommodations and travel with the help of some nonprofit groups and a little personal research. Currently, no single regulating body exists to oversee green certification in the travel industry. There are, however, several independent organizations that certify ecolodges, including STI and TIES. You can also look for more general recognitions like the Green Seal, Energy Star or LEED certification. If the hotel or tour operator isn't certified, you can research it on numerous Web sites, including,,,, and If all else fails, call the hotel or tour operator and ask them about their environmental policies. If the clerk has trouble responding, you should probably move on.

Ready to start researching? Click over to the next page for some great links.

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More Great Links


  • Bureau of Transportation Statistics. "Table 1-32: U.S. Vehicle Miles." 2010. (April 14, 2011)
  • Christ, Costas. "Green Dictionary: Navigating the Eco-Lexicon Jungle." National Geographic. 2010. (April 12, 2011)
  • Davies, Nick. "The Inconvenient Truth about the Carbon Offset Industry." The Guardian. June 16, 2007. (April 16, 2011)
  • Duckett, Maryellen Kennedy. "Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel." National Geographic Traveler. October 2008. (April 12, 2011)
  • Element Hotels. "Leaving home often means leaving 'green routines' behind according to new survey from Element Hotels." July 10, 2007. (April 16, 2011)
  • Herrick, Nancy A. "Sustainable Travel is More Than Ecological." Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI). April 4, 2009. (April 12, 2011)
  • Judkis, Maura. "Deceptive 'Greenwashing' Aims to Trick Ecotourists." U.S. News and World Report. May 23, 2008. (April 12, 2011)
  • Sustainable Travel International. "Ecotourism, Responsible Travel, and Sustainable Tourism Information and Resources." 2009. (April 12, 2011)
  • TerraChoice Environmental Marketing. "Organic Snake Oil?: The 5 Sins of Environmental Marketing." EcoMarketer. Issue 5, 2007. (April 16, 2011)
  • Travel Industry Association of America. "Geotourism Study: Phase I Executive Summary." 2002. (April 16, 2011)
  • World Travel and Tourism Council. "Travel and Tourism Economic Impact." 2011. (April 14, 2011)