March 14, 2013

Green vacations, anyone?


April is “Virginia Green Travel Month.”

But summer vacation planning begins now for many folks, especially those with children, but vacations are not particularly green. Travelers can destroy fragile habitats. Travel by plane makes a big carbon footprint simply getting from point A to point B. Car travel isn’t much better.

I must admit that after my cousin’s invitation to share his timeshare in Hawaii last summer, my first thought was not about the environmental impact of getting there. But I do "discover green” during the vacation—such as the reef friendly sunscreen freely distributed on the Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkeling trip or the huge recycling facility discovered after a wrong turn or the golf course irrigated with reclaimed water.

Eco-tourism is popular in many Central American and Caribbean nations, and especially in Hawaii. Whale watching and dolphin watching boats are plentiful. But is that truly ecotourism? Some green claims are dubious at best, even in Costa Rica.

Geotourism, promoted by National Geographic, sustains or enhances the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of the local residents.

Finally, there are eco-vacations when your trip includes a time commitment for volunteer work in that locale. Check out www.togethergreen.org or www.outdoors.org or www.earthwatch.org to learn about some options.

Green lodging — Across Virginia, many hotels and B & Bs are aware of their impact on the environment and are incorporating green standards into their business plans. Most do little more than encouraging vacationers to use towels more than once. Some provide recycling opportunities. It may be decades before they adopt the energy-efficient European hotel practice of room keys being needed to keep lights and AC operating.

Green kudos to Econo Lodge hotels. They will be the first national economy hotel chain to promote green practices across all of their 900 properties, iimplementing the Choice Hotels Room to be Green (RTBG) program in 2013. The program is designed to reduce environmental impact and waste, meet the changing expectations of today's environmentally conscious guests and potentially lower operational expenses, (including energy and water costs).

Click on Virginia Green to see what the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and hotels offer. Or  click on “Virginia Green Lodging” at www.vatc.org/virginiagreen.