Can you be as eco-conscious when you travel as you are at home? In an increasing number of destinations across the world, the answer is a resounding yes.
Sustainable tourism promotes the idea of leaving a place better than you found it. It’s not just bringing reusable water bottles and reading the label on your sunscreen. It aims to protect the culture, environment, and social end economic interests of the local peoples, while providing meaningful experiences for visitors.
The New York Times recently posed the question, “What If All That Flying Is Good for the Planet?” They make some compelling arguments:
The travel industry employs 1 in 10 people worldwide, and flying contributes to their livelihood.
Flying emits about 2.5% of the total amount of human-made CO2, while deforestation accounts for 20% of human-made CO2 emissions.
If tourism were reduced or eliminated, many areas around the world would be clear-cut and turned into farming, ranching, or mining land, destroying ecosystems, threatening wildlife, and contributing to air, water, and land pollution.
Many countries depend on tourism dollars to address issues like poverty and conservation.
Sustainable Tourism Destinations
In addition to changing your behavior and opting for eco-friendly transport, choosing an environmentally friendly destination can also help you travel sustainably.
A nation made up of more than 200 islands in the Pacific Ocean, Palau is known for its jungles, coral reefs, and snorkeling and is a top-rated diving destination. The locals speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese, as well as Palauan, and the American dollar is the official currency. Tourism is critical to Palau’s economy.
Why this trip is eco-friendly: Palau is the first nation in the world to require visitors to sign a pledge to respect its culture and natural beauty. The Palau Pledge reads, in part, “I vow to tread lightly, act kindly, and explore mindfully. … The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.” Palau also provides a list of dos and don’ts to follow — and will fine visitors if they do not respect the rules. In 2015, Palau declared most of its ocean a marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and oil drilling. Its coral reefs are home to numerous endangered animal life that are benefiting from this protection. Palau is also home to the Coral Reef Research Foundation.
Respect the locals by dressing modestly on trips to villages and sacred areas.
At meals, choose fish that are not reef-dwellers.
Sunscreen that damages the coral reefs will be banned starting in 2020.
Located in Central America with shores on both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, nearly 25% of Costa Rica is covered in rainforest, making it an especially beautiful — and an especially delicate — travel destination.
Why this trip is eco-friendly: Costa Rica protects about 25% of its land as national parks, reserves, and refuges. In 2009, the president announced that the country was aiming to eliminate carbon emissions by 2021. Costa Rica currently produces 98% of its power via water, wind, and geothermal sources.
Find sustainability ratings for many lodging and tourism businesses under Cost Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program.
The “Blue Flag” program rates beaches and villages and continually monitors them to ensure they are meeting standards of cleanliness, safety, and other criteria.
Choosing lodging in a more remote area can put you in the heart of the rainforest and provide opportunities to view wildlife and sign up for sustainable activities. Many of these accommodations use solar or hydro energy for their power.
Bordered by Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy, Slovenia achieved the title of Most Sustainable Country in the World in 2016. From bat caves to beaches to snowy mountain peaks, it offers opportunities to hike through different terrains and view hundreds of species of wildlife.
Why this trip is eco-friendly: In 2015, Slovenia introduced the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism (GSST) to encourage and promote eco-friendly practices across the country. These guidelines encourage practices such as banning vehicles in historically significant areas and encouraging the use of sustainable vehicles and eco-friendly building materials. Smaller than New Jersey, about 60% of this European country is forested, and it boasts more than 40 parks and reserves. There is even an initiative to manage the introduction of non-native plant species by primarily using them to create paper products.
Bee tourism is thriving and helps spread the word about the danger facing these critical pollinators.
Look for the Slow Tourism logo to engage with small businesses and eco-friendly hotels and restaurants, discover cultural traditions, and interact with the locals.
Ljubljana is the first European capital to declare it’s aiming for a zero-waste society.
Other eco-friendly destinations to consider:
Hilton Head, South Carolina
 UN World Tourism Organization
 Washington Post
 Pristine Paradise Palau
 Palau Pledge
 Lonely Planet
 National Geographic
 Responsible Travel
 Tourism Review