Summer in America signifies family vacations, work conferences, students studying abroad, and a general uptick for airlines, hotels, and the rest of the travel industry. Prior to starting a career in environmental sustainability, I was an avid world traveler. I visited numerous countries and all 50 states in the good ol’ USA. Eventually though, experiencing the world and its wonders led me to want to preserve the world as we know it for future generations.

As we’re already experiencing record carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, and climate change-related catastrophes such as floods and droughts, it is imperative that the travel industry examines its practices. Luckily, there are councils, certificates, and professional societies dedicated to “greening” the travel industry – and they’re creating positive impacts. 

Did you know there are over 160 sustainable tourism certifications? From hotels to restaurants to transportation and tours, business and recreational travelers can look for logos that indicate responsible operations.  These certifications can also give travelers a better understanding of how their travel affects local communities and the environment.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council aims to increase conscientious tourism knowledge and practices among public and private stakeholders. The GSTC reviewed various sustainable tourism programs around the world and now recognizes four key aspects of the impacts of travel:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socio-economic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts (consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes)

The GSTC has also developed its own requirements. Businesses or destinations that meet those requirements are protecting and sustaining the world’s resources, while ensuring that tourism continues to thrive.

The UNWTO says that nearly 500 million tourists are estimated to travel abroad this season, between May and August 2015. In an ever-increasingly global society, international business travelers are also packing their bags more frequently than ever! In fact, according to a Carlson Wagonlit Global Insights study, international business travel spend is expected to rise by nearly 9% in 2015 across four components of travel including airline transportation, hotel bookings, ground transportation, and meeting or events!

Not to be confused, sustainable travel and ecotourism are two separate things. Sustainable travel, or “green” travel, is the overarching term to describe responsible travel practices. These may include spending dollars locally, reducing resource use, or offsetting carbon emitted during the trip. Ecotourism is travel that’s directed toward exotic natural environments and includes education and support for conservation efforts. Ecotourism began as a movement in the 1970s and is now amongst the fastest growing sectors of the industry. Luckily, there are many ways the ecotourism movement is helping with conversation and global sustainability.  The International Ecotourism Society is a network of over 750 organizations and 13,000 individuals who are passionate about responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities.

It’s easy to use disposable utensils during a day trip, drive a personal vehicle through a small country, or pursue leisure-time activities such as hiking through a forest with no trail, without giving it a second thought.  But there are more thoughtful ways in which to sightsee. Small actions could have great impacts in fragile environments like the tropical rainforest, polar climates, or anywhere in between. This is particularly true when many people repeat the small action! Keep in mind various options, such as:

  • Carpool or take group tours (make new friends)!
  • Bring along reusable utensils for meals and drinks on the go
  • Stay within boundaries designated for pedestrian or vehicle use

To help ensure the ecological longevity of the areas you trek - check out some local opportunities to give back to the environment while you’re there, such as:

  • Participate in a local river cleanup
  • Plant flowers or a tree in a favorite park visited
  • Donate to a local environmental cause
  • Invest in carbon offsets for travel footprints

The next time you’re planning a business trip or vacation getaway, why not take a view of the certificates that can guide you in making better travel and tourism decisions, and think about how you’ll personally put your best foot forward?

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