Green Living: E Magazine’s Book of Lifestyle Choices

The summer is travel season, and in keeping with the calendar we’re providing an excerpt from the eco-travel chapter of our new book, Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth, just published by Plume. The information below is just a fraction of the travel information contained in the book, which also offers “news you can use” on topics ranging from the healthy home to planet-friendly cars. Click on the link below for further information from the book, and for a handy online order form.

Green Living

Table of Contents

Chapter One — The Passionate Palate: Smart Food Choices

Chapter Two — An Ounce of Prevention: Natural Health

Chapter Three — Personal Care: Pampering Yourself and the Planet, Too

Chapter Four — Wear Your Love like Heaven: Natural Fiber Clothing

Chapter Five — Perfect Pets: Healthy Food, Chemical-Free Collars and Organic Bedding

Chapter Six — The Color of Money: Socially Responsible Investing and Other Green Ways to Build Your Nest Egg

Chapter Seven — The Healthy Home: From Cellar to Attic

Chapter Eight — Baby Basics: From Organic Feet Pajamas to Pesticide-Free Food

Chapter Nine — Kids’ Stuff: Starting Them Young, From the Nursery to the Bookshelf

Chapter Ten — Organic Gardening: Nature’s Way offers Bountiful Harvests without Pesticides

Chapter Eleven — Power For the People: Renewable Energy and Smart Conservation

Chapter Twelve — Going Green: Eco-Travel Comes of Age

Chapter Thirteen — Getting There: Planet-Friendly Cars, Trying Transit and Dusting Off That Bicycle

Chapter Fourteen — Second Time Around: The Rewards of Reuse and Recycling

An Excerpt from Chapter Twelve — Going Green: Eco-Travel Comes of Age

At 7,000-feet elevation in the Southern Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountains in Mexico you’ll encounter the magical 300,000-acre El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. This cloud forest is home to the elusive tapir and jaguar, as well as one of nature’s most beautiful birds, the resplendent quetzal.

Or journey by train to the northern reaches of India, where buses carry you 7,000 feet up a perilous road to Mussourie, a former hill station in the days of the British raj near the Nepalese border. Although there’s been some deforestation in the region, the mountain air is still relatively clear, and the hills (dotted with silver oaks, horse chestnut trees, long-needle pines and rhododendrons) also abound with monkeys and rare birds. On clear days you can see K2, the second highest mountain in the world.

This waterfall in tourist-friendly Costa Rica is a popular destination for eco-travelers.© Brian C. Howard

The lure of such incredible beauty, flora and fauna attracts ecotourists by the thousands to these still-unspoiled corners, and there’s no shortage of tour operators to ease your way.

Recent studies indicate that a full four to seven percent of all tourism worldwide now operates under a green label. By 1992, according to one survey, eight million U.S. travelers had taken at least one ecotourist holiday, and by 1994, 77 percent of American travelers had taken a trip involving nature and the outdoors. In some areas, like the Asia-Pacific region, ecotourism accounts for 20 percent of all travel. In South Africa, where most visitors travel to nature reserves and game parks, the figure is even higher. The Kenya Wildlife Service estimates that 80 percent of visitors come to see wildlife. And The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) says that 20 to 40 percent of all American tourists can be classified as “wildlife-related.”

Travel and tourism are one of the world’s biggest industries, generating more than $4.4 trillion in economic activity annually. The travel industry represents more than 11 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and it employs 8.2 percent of the world’s workforce—some 207 million people. For 83 percent of countries worldwide, tourism is one of the top five sources of foreign currency. In the Caribbean, tourism provides half of the total gross domestic product.

Current Events/Legislative/Political:

Without a generally accepted set of guidelines, hotel operators who practice business-as-usual are free to ride on the goodwill created by genuine ecotourism. Will your trip be arranged by a fast-buck artist who maximizes his own profits while exploiting the local community, or will you go with a dedicated, conservation-minded tour operator such as Boulder-based Emerald Planet? The tragic fact is that you’re more likely to hear about the high-volume commercial services, because they advertise widely.

Two thousand and two was celebrated as the International Year of Ecotourism, and it was an opportunity to begin to define green travel. According to TIES, the concept can be summed up in a single sentence: “Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.” But in reality, the term “ecotourism” has been applied to a wide range of travel options, some far more “green” than others. A beachfront hotel tower built of imported materials with absentee owners and no local employees is not an eco-resort, even if it does offer its guests the option of not washing their towels.

According to the United Nations, successful ecotourism needs to include all of these elements:

"Its main motivation is “the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas”;

"It contains “educational and interpretation features”;

"It is organized “for small groups by specialized and small, locally owned businesses”;

"It minimizes negative impacts “upon the natural and socio-cultural environment”;

"It supports the protection of natural areas by 1) generating income for host communities; 2) providing alternative employment and income opportunities; 3) increasing awareness of the need for conservation of natural and cultural assets.

Tourism offers huge—and in many cases, indispensable—benefits to local economies, but it also causes unforeseen consequences. According to Sue Wheat, editor of the British organization Tourism Concern’s quarterly magazine, In Focus, “Evidence of the downside of tourism—culturally, environmentally and economically—is now such that tourism has become a dirty word among many communities, environmental groups and human rights campaigners.”

Although there are now many shining lights of holistic ecotourism,

Tourism Concern cites such negative examples as “ecological hotels” around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia that dump untreated wastewater into the lake and “eco-tourism” operations in Botswana’s Central Kalahari desert that have pushed the remaining few hundred San people off the land they’ve inhabited for centuries. The Botswanan government has stated that tourists will not want to see “primitive” people.

Martha Honey, president of TIES, says the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica are good examples of countries that have taken a positive approach to ecotourism. “Costa Rica got the right stakeholders together, developed good guidelines and certified 50 hotels,” she says. “Now they’re working on certifying tour operators and guides. You need a strong national park system and a good infrastructure to serve as a backbone to sustainable travel.”

E Contributor Starre Vartan enjoys taking a "zip line" through Costa Rica's rainforest canopy.© Brian C. Howard

Honey identifies three emerging trends. “There is authentic ecotourism, ‘ecotourism lite’ and greenwashing,” she says. “Authentic ecotourism incorporates seven or eight of the principles. Ecotourism lite refers to businesses that make only a few cosmetic and cost-saving changes, like not laundering the sheets every day. And greenwashing occurs when big resorts label themselves as ecotourism destinations but reject core principles.”

Green Products:

Obviously, it would be ideal on one level if we could all just stay home and leave the polluting airplanes on the ground and the forest paths untrampled. But that’s ignoring the considerable value in exposing people to nature in all its complex diversity, to other cultures and to other lifestyles, not to mention the economic boon that tourism in general and ecotourism in particular provides for many subsistence-level economies.

It’s impossible to boil down the best ecotourism destinations into a short list—there are far too many wonderful places for that—but here’s a listing of just a few of the ecotourism operations that are making outstanding efforts to walk the talk. These places are intent on leaving a small footprint and ensuring that protected areas will remain protected.

Global hot spots for travel include:

"Lindblad Expeditions. Lars-Eric Lindblad opened up such then-exotic destinations as Antarctica, the Galapagos and the Amazon to tourism beginning in 1958. His son, Sven-Olof, founded Lindblad Expeditions, which added a green tinge to the adventure touring. The shipboard tours allow visitors to listen to the songs of whales on hydrophones or watch live undersea video from a remotely operated camera. Away from the ship, tourists get close to nature in Zodiac landing craft, and are guided by naturalists and experts in local culture. “We seek to travel in an environmentally responsible way,” says Lindblad, “leaving the places we visit as we found them, and working with local governments and individuals to preserve them for others.” For many operators, that’s just boilerplate, but Lindblad practices what it preaches. 720 5th Avenue, 6th floor, New York, NY 10019, (800)EXPEDITION,

"Tropical Nature Travel, South America. The U.S. arm of the Tropical Nature system of conservation organizations in Peru (InkaNatura, Selva Sur and Peru Verde), Brazil (Bio-Brasil Foundation) and Ecuador (Eco-Ecuador), Tropical Nature Travel conducts birding, cultural and natural history tours to its own Amazon rainforest lodges. In a trip to Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve, for instance, guests stay in screened tents. There are hot showers and flush toilets, but it’s not exactly luxury touring. Instead of indulging themselves, conservation-minded visitors look for the 10 species of local monkeys and take in the sights at a parrot and macaw lick. (The birds dine on cliffside clay.). P.O. Box 5276, Gainesville, FL, 32627-5276, (888)287-7186,

"Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, USA. Victor Emanuel’s company, known as VENT, specializes in birding tours, with 100 to 140 destinations annually. Founded in 1974 when birding tours were in their infancy, VENT’s early guides included nature writer Peter Matthiessen and bird authority Roger Tory Peterson. VENT arranges tours for such environmental groups as The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and the National Audubon Society. The company has worked to protect Mexico’s El Triunfo Cloud Forest Reserve, and it donates profits to local green groups. 2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003, Austin, TX 78746, (800)328-8368,

"Sierra Club Outings Department. The Sierra Club specializes in membership-based wilderness trips, which are nonprofit and reasonably priced. A recent featured trip is a week-long, rim-to-rim family backpack around the Grand Canyon ($875 for adults). Kids over 12 are invited for $775, but they can’t be complete couch potatoes. If that doesn’t appeal, consider five days of rafting down the Colorado River’s last undammed tributary, the Yampa, with the opportunity to see bighorn sheep and eagles ($795 for adults). The Club also conducts special group trips and nature tours for inner-city kids, and it operates a network of lodges and huts, including the Clair Tappaan Lodge at the Donner Pass (503-426-3632) and other places in California. 85 Second Avenue, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA 94105, (415)977-5522,

"Turtle Island, Fiji. How close to paradise can you get? Turtle Island, purchased by American businessperson Richard Evanson in 1972, was at first only a way for one man to get away from it all. In 1980, it began its transformation into an exclusive eco-resort (rates start at $1,090 per couple per day), with room for 28 guests, 160 staff, and an approximate beach-to-visitor ratio of one to two. According to investor Andrew Fairley, Turtle Island is working to raise the standard of living of local people on the 500-acre island, in part by using them as building work crews and staff. It is also helping to publicize locally owned tourist facilities in the region. Cataracts and diabetes are rampant among the native population, and Turtle Island brings in teams of international doctors to stay free while treating patients. Turtle Island also works with Coral Cay Conservation, which organized the Fiji Reef Conservation Project, and has undertaken multi-year efforts to create reef reserves on Fiji. Another eminently worthy operation is Rivers Fiji, which operates kayak-based tours on the main island, employing local people as guides and paying a users’ fee to native land owners. Rivers Fiji, c/o Travel Outdoors, P.O. Box 581, Angels Camp, CA 95222, (800)446-2411,; Turtle Island, 10906 NE 39th Street, Quad 205, Suite A-1, Vancouver, WA 98682-6789, (877)2-TURTLE,

"Maho Bay Camps, St. John, Virgin Islands. Hardly an upstart, Maho Bay is instead a pioneer in small-scale, tent-based ecotourism. As with Tropical Nature Travel, 16-foot square canvas cottages adjoin facilities with modern plumbing and a state-of-the-art graywater recycling system. Many of the 114 tents ($75 a night in the low season, $108 in the high season) offer sweeping views of a jewel-like Caribbean cove, which boasts kayaking,

snorkeling and diving. Vegetarian food is available in the outdoor restaurant. Slightly more upscale accommodations are just a short distance away at Harmony Studios ($110/$185), which is built from recycled materials and gets its electricity from a passive solar installation. P.O. Box 310, Cruz Bay, Saint John, VI 00830, (800)392-9004,

What You Can Do:

Here are some basic guidelines for going green, as developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists:In nature spots:

"Leave only footprints (no littering).

"Take only photographs (no “souvenirs” from the wild).

"Stay on trails.

"Don’t disturb wildlife or natural habitats.

"Don’t introduce foreign plants or animals.

"Don’t pollute water bodies with soap or detergents.

In all places:

"Don’t buy things made from endangered animals (like products containing ivory or tortoise shell).

"Don’t waste water.

"Turn off lights and air-conditioning when you leave your room.

"When possible, walk—it’s the best way to see the sights anyway. When you can’t, use the most environmental methods of transportation you can.

"Patronize hotels, airlines and tour operators that employ environmental practices, such as energy conservation and recycling.