How Green Is It? Tips

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How can I find tourism projects driven by the needs of local people?

Build A Community

Some countries are moving away from mass tourism to community-based tourism. In the community-based tourism model, local groups first appraise the impact of various types of activity on their lifestyle and environment, then choose what they want to promote and what they want to prohibit. These projects allow visitors to live side by side with locals and experience off-the-beaten path adventures. A simple way to find projects is to type in "Community based projects" in your search and you'll get a list of projects in different countries.

With so many companies introducing carbon offset programs, how do I decide which one will do the most good?

Go For The Gold

The Gold Standard, an independently audited organization supported by 42 NGO's (including Greenpeace and The David Suzuki Foundation), honors superior offset programs. Their validation process is based on three criteria:

  1. Long term benefits: renewable energy and energy efficiency projects bring long-term benefits, particularly to poor countries;
  2. Traceable results: the projects have to be new, not just renamed or revamped existing projects;
  3. Shared decision-making: cooperation with local people in the implementation of projects is important.

Why does it seem like the onus investigate ecotourism falls on the customer? Aren't there any regulations?

Use Awards As Guidelines

There is still little consensus about what constitutes genuine ecotourism, but there are some rating scales available.

  • Certification programs provide independent, third-party assessment
  • Accreditation goes one step further by verifying the competencies of those doing the certification
  • This sounds impressive, except that, at present, these programs are voluntary. It's the tour operators themselves who can choose to apply and who send in the required information
  • Certain awards can provide shortcuts to finding responsible companies, but make sure that they're based on inspections. Some awards are granted on the basis of information provided by the companies themselves and by photos they send in. The Tourism for Tomorrow Award does include on-site inspection and offers recognition not only for best destination but also for conservation and investment in local communities.

Do swim tours harm dolphins in any way?

Take A Look, But Don't Touch

Swim-with-dolphin programs are controversial. Environmental groups agree that captive programs are stressful for dolphins, but they are divided about programs that permit tourists to swim with wild dolphins:

  • Some ecotourism groups say it's fine as long as the number of participants is restricted
  • The practice has been banned in Costa Rica because of problems with inexperienced and unethical tour operators.
  • Researchers observed that in areas where there is a high volume of swim tours, dolphins abandon their traditional habitats for calmer waters.
  • Nursing and mating patterns may be disrupted by such contact
  • It was noted that dolphins tend to stay visible longer when people remain in their boats. Until there is more consensus about the impact of this activity, it may be prudent and rewarding to keep a respectful distance.

Is it ethical to use porters when trekking in the mountains?

Carry Each Other

While trekking through wild mountains may be a low-emission adventure, it can have a high impact on human culture. If you're trekking in the Himalayas, Peru or Kilimanjaro, porters will be available to carry your luggage and equipment.

The romanticized view of porters is that they come from tough mountain stock. The reality is that they are often poor farmers from the lower valleys who are not only unaccustomed to the altitude but who are also exploited by tour operators. They are not always provided with adequate equipment, wages, insurance or medical care. Porters are sometimes left behind in blizzards while tourists are carried to safety first.

Should we stop employing trekkers? According to the International Porter Protection Group, this source of income can help porters rise above subsistence farming. A better alternative may be to question your tour provider and to spread the word about the porters' plight in order to ensure that others travel responsibly.

How can I check a ski resort's environmental record?

Score The Ski Hills

The Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, an alliance of non-profit conservation organizations, provides third-party evaluation of ski hills in the United States. Canadian hills will soon be added. Top marks go to ski hills that limit their environmental impact by limiting their expansion and by helping conserve resources and species.

Information about Canadian and European resorts can be found online. The criteria on this site include climate policy, cleaner fuels, waste reduction and recycling. No grades are assigned, just a simple "yes" or "no" to indicate which of these programs, if any, a resort implements.

When I visit the homepage of an airline, I can't always find much information about environmental programs. Is theer a way to get more detailed information without making lots of phone calls?

Scan Sustainability Reports

The Air Transport Group provides links to the sustainability reports of several major European Airlines, such as KLM and British Airways.You can also access the The International Aviation Organization's Environmental Review, which describes improvements and goals for fuel efficiency, management of noise pollution, and strategies for confronting climate change. This is where you'll find details -everything from the emissions reductions targets set by various governments to the type of paint and recycling strategies currently being used.

How can I get more up to date information on a company than their web site provides?

Hunt Through The Headlines

Organizations can earn kudos one month, then maintain those standards, improve or slack off the next month. It's up to us as customers to do a little research. A former employee of the cruise ship industry was told that the ship he worked on had an efficient recycling system.. When the cruise line's name was Googled in the "news" section, it was discovered that they had been fined recently for circumnavigating environmental regulations. Do a little research to ensure that the information about your chosen tour or transport provider is not out of date.

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Linda Handiak
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