By: Adrienne Suhm

So you want to be a sustainability warrior – but you also want to enjoy the experience of global travel. Unfortunately, travel is proven to have a variety of negative impacts on the environment, including depletion of natural resources like water and raw materials, land degradation, air and waste pollution, deforestation, and alteration of natural ecosystems through tourist activities. From luxury resorts to cruise ships, each mode of travel creates its own environmental stressors. Two to three tons of carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere from a round trip cross-country flight alone. How is it possible to balance a passion for travel with environmental responsibility?

Enter ecotourism.

This sustainable travel movement has gained momentum in recent years due to greater awareness of man-made climate change. In essence, ecotourism involves actively visiting fragile natural environments with the intention to have less of an impact than commercial tourism. Through awareness of local culture and biodiversity, support for communities and their conservation efforts, and quality education, ecotourism is an enriching experience for everyone involved. It’s also likely to give visitors a greater connection with nature than other forms of travel. If you have children, ecotourism is a powerful way to foster a sense of environmental responsibility and cultural understanding in young people.

Rapid advances in ecotourism make it a viable option for conscious travelers in many locations worldwide. In 2017, 65% of travelers reported that they intended to actively seek out green accommodations, and ecotourism is predicted to make up more than 25% of the global travel industry in the next few years at a total industry value of $470 billion. Look for these key signs in accommodations and activities: where traditional tourism can degrade the environment and limit local economies and cultures, ecotourism sites typically protect or enhance them. Search for labels like State Park, National Park, or UNESCO World Heritage Site, all of which indicate strict environmental management standards. Accommodations are likely to source local materials and harvest regional food for visitors, while facilities are often powered by renewable energy and sustainable adventure activities are usually available. Many airlines even offer the ability to pay a few extra dollars per ticket to offset carbon emissions from a flight.

In the United States, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, and California all have robust ecotourism initiatives. Alaska offers more than 100 national and state parks with a pristine mountainous landscape, while Hawaii and Colorado are known for quality eco-lodging options close to nature. California is pioneering in the urban ecotourism sector through the development of city trail networks and promotion of businesses that sell local foods and products, especially near San Francisco. The ecotourism industry is also vital for many Central and South American countries that recognize the importance of maintaining immaculate natural environments for a continuous inflow of tourists. In Costa Rica, tourism makes up almost 21% of the economy due to continuous efforts to maintain its diversity of flora and fauna. The Galapagos Islands were the first designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 97% of the thirteen major islands are protected by the Galapagos National Park Service. Belize offers a variety of eco-friendly outdoors activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking as well as infrastructure to ensure that water, air conditioning, and other utilities are environmentally responsible.

Ecotourism options can be sought in the farthest corners of the globe or right in your backyard. Whatever your budget and time constraints, consider making your next vacation a more environmentally sustainable one.