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Earth Day is every day for a growing number of travel companies, and the rise of prospective travelers with eco-conscious attitudes can be credited with inspiring this shift.
In fact, one-third of travelers actively seek out information on environmental initiatives before making a reservation, according to a 2018 survey by Hilton hotels. With this number expected to rise, the world’s airlines, hotels, cruises, and tour companies are tuning in by transforming significant elements of their business into earth-friendly ones.
Below are just a few standout companies and destinations that have launched meaningful and impactful environmental initiatives.
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Striving to be “carbon neutral,” which is when a company balances the release of any CO2 it releases into the atmosphere with an equivalent amount being removed, is one way for businesses to lessen their environmental impact. JetBlue began offsetting carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from jet fuel for all domestic flights and investing in sustainable aviation fuel in July 2020. It’s the first major U.S. airline to take this significant and measurable step, ramping up to offset up to 17 billion pounds of CO2 emissions annually.
Norwegian Air seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 140,000 tons per year with its fuel efficiency tool that optimizes flights and reduces fuel consumption to lower emissions. Norwegian Air has reduced CO2 emissions per passenger by 30% since 2008 and has been twice bestowed “Most Fuel-Efficient Airline on Transatlantic Routes” by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
Natural Habitat Adventures specializes in guided polar bear tours and Africans safaris, and is the world’s first 100% carbon-neutral travel company. It offsets the international flights of all guests and keeps its own tours carbon-neutral, plus the World Wildlife Fund has a hand in planning itineraries and training guides.
Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and San Diego International Airport are North America’s only carbon neutral airports. They each received the highest level of global certification from Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) program.
San Diego International Airport gives passengers the option to carbon-offset their flight upon logging into the airport WiFi. A single $2 purchase offsets the carbon you release in 1,000 miles of flying. As of 2019, the program has offset more than 102,000 tons of CO2—equivalent to 652 million miles of travel.
Disposable plastic items don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break down into micro particles that can contaminate the environment, our water sources, and even our food. Fortunately, many travel companies are now trying to eliminate single-use plastics. Plastic straws are one of the bigger offenders, and you can click here for a list of hotels that have joined the plastic straw ban. Many hotels around the world are no longer offering them (unless specifically requested by a guest).
Hyatt, Marriott, IHG Hotels & Resorts, and Accor Hotels are among the major hotel chains making a commitment to ditch tiny, plastic-bottle toiletries, such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and lotion, and replace them with large-format or wall-mounted bathroom dispensers. Marriott has already completely phased this into its operations. By end of 2021, Hyatt will do so across its 875 hotels, and IHG will do so across its 5,600 properties. Accor, which manages more than 5,000 hotels globally, has pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics (from toiletries to bags to plastic key cards) across its hotels, meeting spaces, and restaurants by 2022.
Six Senses Resorts, which operates luxury resorts and spas around the world, has made a commitment to go completely plastic-free by 2022. The company, which already bans most single-use plastics, will transition to natural compostable materials and high-quality reusable materials in place of plastic where it still exists.
Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines are among the airlines that are reducing single-use plastics (e.g. straws, plastic stirrers) onboard flights and in frequent flier clubs and lounges. Alaska Airlines is also encouraging its passengers to take eco-responsibility into their own hands (literally) with its #FillBeforeYouFly initiative, one that encourages guests and employees to fill their own water bottles to reduce single-use plastic water bottle consumption.
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With global water shortages, even in many U.S. cities and states, conserving H2O is more important than ever. Hostelling International USA in 2019 became the first hostel company in the world to begin installing Hydrao Smart Showers. The showers use colored lights to provide visual cues on shower duration, encouraging guests to limit their water use. For three HI hostels that have reported data since installation in 2019, the company estimates saving more than 150,000 gallons of water thus far, well on its way to a goal of saving 1 million gallons of water annually.
Petit St. Vincent Resort boasts a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis desalination plant that processes ocean water, supplying the resort with safe and fresh water to use and drink from every tap. It also continually harvests rainwater from roofs to irrigate landscape, and processes all waste-water until it is safe for irrigation or release into the ocean.
Hurtigruten, a global expedition cruise company, unveiled the world’s first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship in 2019. The environmentally-friendly MS Roald Amundsen, which made its first voyage to Antarctica with 450 passengers, runs on low sulfur diesel fuel that is supported by battery packs. This cuts CO2 emissions by 20%.
EcoCamp Patagonia, located in Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile, is the first fully sustainable hotel south of the Amazon. Its geodesic domes are powered by green energy, thanks to environmentally-friendly engineering that includes micro-hydro turbine and photovoltaic panels.
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba is not only the Caribbean’s first certified CarbonNeutral resort, but it features a unique method on how it generates electricity: via its fitness bikes and treadmills. As guests work out, the equipment turns human energy into utility-grade electricity. A single workout can generate more than 160 watt-hours of electricity.
Svart, a 99-room hotel in Norway with a 360-degree view of the Svartisen Glacier, will open in 2022 as the world’s first “energy positive” hotel above the polar circle, meaning it will produce more energy than it uses. The entire hotel will be powered by solar panels. Energy will be stored to power lights when the region experiences a longer darkness in winter months.
Jade Mountain Resort in St. Lucia relied on strategic design and natural geography to eliminate the need for one energy-guzzling (and emitting) device: air-conditioning units. Its open-air rooms allow natural breezes to provide cooling comfort, so there’s no need for AC.
Solmar Hotels and Resorts in Cabo San Lucas leverages the Mexican sun (a.k.a. solar energy) to heat water for guest rooms and pools. The process uses photo-thermal panels atop the resort rooftops of Playa Grande Resort & Grand Spa and The Ridge at Playa Grande.
Sustainability has hit van life, as well. The Britz eVolve offers a 100% electric camper van available to rent for vacation travel in New Zealand, either from Auckland or Queenstown.
Here’s a shocking statistic: Almost 40% of all food in America is wasted—that’s about 108 billion pounds annually. To address the problem, many hotels around the world have instituted composting and donation programs, as well as other tactics. Fairmont Singapore and Swissôtel The Stamford share a rooftop aquaponics farm, which grows plants and vegetables without soil, a process that saves water, land, and manpower. The vegetables and fish grown within this farm support Singapore’s goal of producing 30% of nutritional needs locally by 2030. Fairmont Singapore also turns half-consumed food into water and compost, and shares unconsumed food with a local charity that supports families in need.
The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, boasts a unique food waste diversion program. Partially consumed food put into a food digester turns it into reusable water that goes back into the sewer system. Since August 2018, the hotel has diverted more than 15,000 pounds of food waste from landfills while creating 1,300 gallons of water.
Natural Habitat Adventures led the world’s first “Zero Waste Adventure” in Yellowstone National Park in July 2019. The 12-person trip ultimately saw nearly 60 pounds of waste recycled, re-used, refused, Terracycled, and composted. Lessons from this will be built into future trips.
Walt Disney World Resort gathers excess food prepared from its resort’s kitchens and distributes it through the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which feeds more than 1,000 local children weekly. It also donates food scraps to a company called Harvest Power, which turns used food into clean energy.
Animals and wildlife have long been the victims of irresponsible tour operators, but travelers wishing to do no harm have more options than ever. In 2017, Expedia Group announced that its house of brands, including Orbitz, will no longer sell tickets to tours and attractions where participants interact with wildlife. The company partnered with animal-protection groups to make the change.
G Adventures, an international tour company, is the first in the industry to introduce a comprehensive guide for ethical animal tourism. The company’s Animal Welfare Policy, coordinated with The Jane Goodall Institute, World Animal Protection, and The World Cetacean Alliance, ensures that all activities on its vacations never exploit wildlife.
Intrepid Travel was the first tour operator to ban elephant rides from vacation itineraries in 2014. (As an alternative, it provides opportunities to see elephants in the wild or at ethical sanctuaries.) More than 200 other businesses have followed this lead.
Viator, an online booking platform for activities, stopped selling tickets to any attraction that contributes to the captivity of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) back in 2019.
Sadly, preventing future damage to the environment isn’t enough. With that in mind, many companies are looking to regenerate and restore harmed eco systems. Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort, for example, is among a growing number of resorts around the world making efforts to protect and regenerate the reefs around them. The resort has developed 17 underwater coral structures near the property using a Bioraock technique, which is designed to boost coral regrowth and resiliency, and inspire natural marine repopulation.
Aqua-Aston Hospitality, which operates hotels and condo resorts across the Hawaiian islands, initiated a toxic sunscreen ban across its properties in 2017 to protect area coral reefs. It distributed mineral-safe sunscreen to guests at check in and promoted a sunscreen exchange program. In 2018, the company assisted in the passing of Senate Bill 2571, which places a statewide ban on sunscreens that damage coral reefs.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve in the Highlands of Scotland is working to “re-wild” its ecosystem to its former glory by reintroducing original plant and wildlife species. Scotland has lost 97 percent of its natural woodland, and this effort is part of a larger country-wide initiative to restore and regrow it.
Fernweh Fair Travel, an eco-travel organization that curates travel experiences to off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Himalayas, supports a “plant the trees” project to help locals plant trees to stop landslides and keep the environment healthy. The project is also planting special plants in the Ganges River to help the river clean itself naturally. Travelers can visit and assist with planting the seedlings.
When searching for eco-friendly travel companies, it can often be hard to discern what’s just a good PR ploy versus what’s a legitimate effort at sustainability. Fortunately, certifications from reputable organizations can help clear the air. Intrepid is the largest travel company in the world to be recognized as a Certified B Corporation. These are businesses that meet rigorous standards of verified social and environmental performance. (Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s are also Certified B Corporations.) Other travel companies that have achieved this status include OneSeed Expeditions and Bodhu Surf + Yoga Camp (Costa Rica).
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