Miriam-Webster defines eco-friendly as not harmful to the environment or natural world. The term eco-friendly has a breadth of meaning when it comes to travel. Most components of travel can be more environmentally conscious. Hotels, or other accommodations, can decrease their impact on the earth by limiting energy use and conserving water. Think of LED efficient light bulbs and light timers, solar panels, low-flow toilets, etc. Modes of transportation are attempting to become more eco-friendly as well. For example, the invention of the electric car, high-speed trains, and hybrid buses help decrease carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Tour companies are able to become more environmentally-friendly in the same ways travelers, as individuals or groups, can. Going paperless, eliminating plastic, and traveling overland via public transportation instead of by air, help to reduce damaging footprints. Other strategies travelers can adopt include reusing towels in hotels, remaining on marked trails outside, respecting animals, and packing minimally. [[A quick note on that last one: the heavier a vehicle, the more it leaves an impact. Thus, the less your suitcase weighs, the less the vehicle you use to transport it will weigh as well!]]
The concept is simple: do no damage. Don’t partake in activities that cause harm to the place you are visiting. A lot of this includes the eco-friendly concepts mentioned above. We want to protect where we visit, so travel to that destination can continue. Yet, there is an important part of this that I cannot forget to include.
Sustainable travel places a focus on the people. Not us, as travelers, but the individuals who live where we visit, their culture, and their economy. There are important questions to keep in mind when you plan a trip. How will the tourism I am about to partake in, impact the local community? Will this trip help these individuals, or at the least, do no harm? Or will it affect them negatively in some way? This is where the economy comes into play.
All tourism does not automatically help the local economy (a common misconception). It may be necessary to see how travel is contributing to the financial standing of individuals who live there. Are large first-world-country operations building large hotel chains, restaurants, and other tourist hot spots in the destination you’re eyeing? And if they are, who are the employees, and how much do they make? Are they paying locals a fair wage or are they hiring foreigners who have never lived in the area?
I know this is a lot to process and even more to take into consideration when planning a trip. But, to partake in sustainable travel is to refrain from damaging a place and its community. This is important because if any part of a place were to disappear, we won’t get it back.
Lastly, I would like to point out that while all sustainable travel is eco-friendly, not all eco-friendly travel is sustainable. Reusing towels at a hotel is eco-friendly, yes. However, if it is at an American-brand hotel in the middle of an impoverished country in Asia with Europeans working as employees at this place of business, is this sustainable? The answer is no.
Long term, this tourism model is not sustainable for the local community. And if a local tour company, that hires local employees, provides services that put animals at risk, is this sustainable? The answer is also no. While it may help the economy, it is causing harm to animals and it cannot occur long term without damage.
I want my future posts (found here) on Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Travel to cover both concepts. I am guilty of indulging in my travels and not being the most sustainable/ environmentally friendly tourist at all times. However, I hope you are willing to learn along with me and do what we can to keep the pastime we all love so much for us and all the generations to come!