The Ecological Impact of Eco-Friendly Vacations
Every year, 900 million of us take to the roads, skies and seas in search of eco-friendly vacations fun. Vacation dilemmas abound from how many pairs of shoes to pack to how to keep off unwanted pounds. While not often considered, the environmental impact of our eco-friendly vacations can be significant.
Most eco-friendly vacations involve some form of travel. Planes, cars, boats, trains - they all rely on the burning of fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. And while we travel we generate lots of excess garbage from all the disposable drinks and snacks we purchase along the way.
Then we need somewhere to stay during our trip. Hotels consume massive amounts of energy all the while our homes continue to consume energy as well.
Though tourism is oftentimes a boost for local economies, heavy tourism can create intense pressure on local ecosystems. Excessive tourist traffic can deplete natural resources, cause soil erosion, increase pollution, destroy natural habitats, strain water systems and resources and threaten endangered species. Although eco-friendly vacations do exist, they can be expensive and hard to find in some areas.
Cruising the Seven Seas of Eco-Friendly Vacation
A cruise is often viewed as the epitome of a luxury eco-friendly vacations. Indeed, 11 million of us choose a cruise as our preferred vacation almost every year. When you're on a cruise, everything you need is on hand and you're out at sea, away from it all. No worries and no cares. Everything is provided for you. But that luxury comes at a huge environmental cost. Cruise ships produce more carbon dioxide emissions per person than any other form of transportation. The largest cruise ships emit nearly one pound of carbon dioxide per passenger mile, twice as much as jet planes.
Cruise ships generate 50 tons of garbage, 1million tons of wastewater, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of water contaminated by oil - in one week. Passengers generate nearly 8 pounds of garbage daily, compared to not quite 2 pounds by landlubbers. Major cruise operators such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Lines have all been sued for environmental damage, such as for the illegal dumping of sewage and toxic chemicals.
Flying High of Eco-Friendly Vacations
Tourism is responsible for nearly two thirds of air travel...or seven percent of worldwide carbon emissions. Air travel alone is responsible for nearly 3 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions. As our travel numbers rise to 1.6 billion within the next 10 to 12 years, we can only expect that percentage to increase. Three to four tons of carbon dioxide per person are emitted with every flight to and from the US and Europe. That is nearly half of the carbon dioxide produced by the average US household annually - from all other sources combined. To make matters worse, the release occurs at high altitudes where carbon dioxide along with nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and water vapor is released as well. The high altitude enhances the greenhouse gas affect of all of these gases, including the normally innocuous water vapor.
Eco-Friendly Vacations of Ground Travel - Cars, Trains and Buses
Cars get a bum rap as being major greenhouse gas emitters, but in truth, even long-distance car trips emit less carbon dioxide than airplane trips. You could drive 12,000 miles and still not emit as much carbon dioxide as a one-way transatlantic flight. The problem with cars and carbon dioxide emissions is their sheer numbers. There are just way too many cars on the roads. Personal vehicles account for nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide emissions in the US, resulting in more than 300 million tons of carbon emitted each year.
Public transportation such as buses and trains is up to five times more efficient than car-travel and produces three to seven times fewer emissions than flying. Public transportation can be a very eco-friendly vacations choice.
Green Lodging of Eco-Friendly Vacations
Once you've decided where to eco-friendly vacations, the next big question is where to stay? Hotels and motels are going green as well. Many are working to reduce the amount of solid waste they generate and reduce water and energy consumption. More and more hotels, motels and resorts are upgrading to energy-efficient HVAC systems, using energy-saving lights and appliances and encourage guests to re-use their towels and bedding rather than replace them every day.
Eco-Friendly Vacations of Eco-Tourism: Not as Green as it Seems
Eco-tourism is billed as a way for travelers to enjoy the beautiful, wild and fragile places on Earth with minimum impact. But oftentimes it's exactly those visitors who cause the most damage. From opening sensitive areas to tourism to all of the construction, transportation needs and energy-sucking resorts, eco-friendly vacations of tourism can cause real damage to the special place visitors are clamoring to see. Additional criticism contends that eco-tourism can have a detrimental impact on the local economy. Many times, a few large employers replace local economic diversity, but those employers may not pay competitive or fair wages or guarantee year-round employment to the local population.
Offsetting Your Impact of Eco-Friendly Vacations
Purchasing carbon offsets is one way v eco-friendly vacationers can minimize their greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon offsets may be used to offset emissions from vehicle travel or energy usage. The purchase of offsets directs funding to green projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example.
Buyer beware, however, because there is some evidence that not all carbon offsets are equal. In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began investigating where the offset funding actually goes. The FTC is responsible for regulating advertising and there has been concern that some companies may be overstating their offset eco-benefits. There is some disagreement about whether or not projects such as tree planting truly count as an offset because they do not help reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Investing in renewable energy projects would be more appropriate in that case. In the case of "neutralizing" your carbon offsets, the offset program should fund program and projects that otherwise wouldn't be funded. Many offset programs do not make clear whether or not this is where their funding goes. Not all of the programs are managed for quality by an independent third-party and for those that do, there are no consistent standards across the board.
There are two standards that are well-received and comprehensive, following strict guidelines and verification by independent third parties. They are the Gold Standard and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS).