Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My 10 tips for greener travel

It's April, which means Earth Day. Environmentalism has gone mainstream, and everywhere you look, you see the adjective "Green" applied to everything from water bottles to SUVs. If you're not eco-friendly, you're not hip.

Fodors jumped on the "green" bandwagon, recently publishing "10 Tips for Greener Travel." I love Mother Earth as much as the next guy, but enough already with this "green" fad. So here's my take on Fodor's 10 tips for greener travel:

Beware of Green Washing. If you're traveling for an extended period and need to wash your clothes, watch out for those laundromats that advertise "green washing"—unless, of course, you're a leprechaun, and all of your clothing is already green.

Ask about the company's green philosophies. Do they recycle toilet paper? Do they test their piña coladas on laboratory animals? Do they employ workers who eat only organic foods and wear hemp clothing? Do they wash the sheets more than once a year, and if so, do they use harsh, eco-unfriendly soap? These are all important questions, so you should be sure to get satisfactory answers before flying to your destination in a greenhouse gas-spewing jet airplane.

Look into offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. The concept of carbon offsetting is brilliant: Let a company that pollutes go right on polluting, as long as they invest in practices that "offset" their carbon footprint. That makes as much sense as allowing a drug dealer to continue selling drugs, as long as he spends some of those drug profits to support a drug treatment center. So go right ahead, invest in a company that dumps iron dust into the ocean. Or spend $39 for feel-good bragging rights to call yourself "carbon-neutral." Or, better still, offset your carbon footprint by purchasing some carbon credits from ChuckieD.

Be Sensitive to Cultures and Customs. Okay, sure. I'm down with avoiding the "Ugly American" stereotype. But I don't understand what possible connection this tip has with ecology. What if I'm a visitor to consumerist U.S.A.? I'm supposed to "be sensitive" to our consumption culture and use-it-once-throw-it-away customs? How is that helping me to be "green"?

Never litter. Unless you're a smoker. Because cigarette butts apparently get an exemption from litter laws. Smokers who are otherwise law-abiding citizens toss their butts on the ground or out their car window without even thinking, and I've never heard of any of them getting a citation, so cigarette butts must not qualify as "litter." Unless you're doing a beach cleanup, when cigarette butts will be the most common item of litter that you'll pick up.

Think small. That's right, think small. Forget about global warming, "local warming" is the real problem.

Purchase local products whenever possible. This is one I have no problem with: in Honduras, I purchased a lot of local beer; in the Virgin Islands, I bought plenty of local rum; in fact, purchasing local fermented products whenever possible was an unofficial rule I followed throughout the travels of my Navy career.

Conserve resources. Stated another way, don't consume unnecessarily. From this principle comes practices like taking a canvas bag to the supermarket to avoid using plastic bags. Or using a reusable water bottle instead of adding yet another plastic water bottle to the local landfill. Or—my favorite example, from a public event I recently attended—packaging an ecology-focused fad book called "101 Green Travel Tips" in individual plastic bags (not).

Do not feed wild animals. Yes, this applies even in Cancun, where you'll commonly encounter 18-year-old bipedal mammals wearing USC ball caps and fraternity T-shirts that hoot like howler monkeys. They may look well-fed, but you still might feel compelled to feed them. Just don't do it.

If you are camping, don't leave anything behind but your footprint. Yes, you read that right. You have to "hold it." Just because the wild animals (that you aren't going to feed) have the right to poop in the woods doesn't mean you can too. "Don't leave anything behind but your footprint" means just that.

Now go hug a tree.

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