To travel is to learn, to see, and to appreciate. And, as the photos of trash-clogged Bali beaches and fish impaled by straws have shown, to throw away. Travel is far from the only culprit, but our global vagabonding certainly leaves its mark. Eight percent of global climate emissions stem from travel, with flying being among the biggest pollutants.
A number of little things add up to make matters worse. Single-use cups, plastic water bottles, and packaging from take-out food often head straight to the landfill. The cheaply produced souvenirs that you don’t actually need find their way to the thrift store six months later. And let’s not forget that seemingly endless stream of pesky plastic straws dumped into the ocean that’s drawn so much attention of late.
“Disposable” and “travel” have been synonymous for so long that leaving a hotel room without a mound of waste bulging from the trash can seems like a major accomplishment in and of itself. But with increased awareness and outrage comes change, and you may notice things being done differently on your next trip. These travel-centric brands are striking back and putting sustainability efforts at the center of their business practices.
Hilton is bailing on plastic straws, pledging to remove them from all of their hotels by the end of the year. The hotel brand is also taking plastic bottles out of event and conference spaces. Edition Hotels pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic by Earth Day 2019 — a bold initiative and the most forward-thinking of any brand associated with Marriott. A number of other hospitality brands have made similar, if not quite as extensive, pledges, including AccorHotels and Carnival Cruise Lines, where guests must now request plastic straws for all drinks that aren’t frozen.
The effort to ditch plastic has also hit the skies. Alaska Airlines announced on May 21 that it would remove plastic straws from service on its flights as well as all airport lounges this summer, making the Seattle-based airline the first to do so and taking its environmental initiatives, which already include recycling many on-board service products, a step further.
Getting serious about carbon offsets
The transportation sector accounts for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Ride-sharing service Lyft announced in April that it will make donations to offset the carbon pollution from the rides they provide, a huge step that will hopefully push Uber and other companies offering similar services to take action.
Tour operators are getting in on the game too. In early 2018, andBeyond, an experiential travel company which hosts tours in Asia, South America, and Africa, launched its Travel With Purpose trips, which guide travelers through a destination with a focus on conservation and sustainable tourism. Intrepid Travel is officially a carbon-neutral travel brand, meaning that if you book an international tour with them you can rest easy knowing that offsets are already in place throughout the trip-planning process. Before booking your next tour-based trip, check out this list from Sustainable Tourism to be sure you’re going with the right brand.
Best Western and Marriott hotels have installed electric vehicle charging stations at hotels throughout the United States. Along with a rising number of additional EV charging stations, it’s now possible to tour the entire country in an electric vehicle, a concept that was unthinkable just a short time ago.
Starting with sustainable sourcing
A number of clothing, luggage, and other travel-focused product brands are incorporating green practices. You can now dress yourself head-to-toe in comfortable travel gear built from sustainable roots, a massive improvement from the days of look-at-me airplane fashion and outdoor gear stuffed with foams and plastics destined for a year or two of use and then thousands of years rotting in the ground.
Patagonia is a long-standing leader in this regard. Sustainability has been at the core of its efforts throughout the company’s history. The brand has used recycled polyester for over 20 years and is a leading advocate for conservation efforts around the globe. The rain-proof Torrentshell jacket is just one example; it’s made from recycled materials and ideal for non-winter adventure travel. The company’s catalog offers something for just about every weather condition and destination imaginable.
AmourVert makes everything from dresses to women’s t-shirts and jackets with a supply chain that, as it claims, leaves as little of an environmental impact as possible. The company also plants a tree every time it sells a t-shirt, so you can feel doubly good about your decision to buy from there.
LEMS Boots is a solid option for sustainable travel footwear. Its Boulder Boot is made from natural rubbers and nylon, and the company even offers a vegan option. Plus, the footwear actually folds up and fits into your carry-on, saving you space as well.
Where you can make a difference
First off, you can do your part to travel green by supporting the efforts of these brands and others holding similar values. Beyond that, here are a few easy steps you can implement right away:
1. Bring your own water bottle when you travel. There is absolutely no reason or excuse to not have a water bottle with you on the road. Get yourself a Hydroflask and keep your coffee hot and your water cold for hours, eliminating to-go cups from your life in the process. (While you may need to buy water in countries where the tap water is not safe to drink, you’ll still avoid buying unnecessary plastic bottles on your way there).
2. Say no to handouts that come in single-serve plastic. Do you really need those pretzels, peanuts, or that tiny chocolate bar?
3. Pack a to-go food container. Or, at the very least, ask for a non-styrofoam container when taking restaurant food with you.
4. When flying, donate a small fee (typically around $5-10 for a cross-country domestic flight) to offset your contribution to the flight’s carbon pollution. This can often be done through the airline’s website, or through Atmosphair. You can do the same for driving, ride-sharing, and other transit options through Terrapass. Learn more about how to cut your footprint in hotels and when you fly.