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How to travel responsibly as a ‘green tourist’

Think being a “green tourist” means camping in the wilderness? Not necessarily. There are many simple and affordable ways you can travel responsibly, with as little impact to the environment as possible.

Ecotourism—or green travel—is becoming increasingly popular amid growing concern about our fragile ecosystems, which provide habitats for unique species of plants and animals. Nearly 1 billion people travel the world every year. With talk of global warming, pollution, e-waste, packed landfills and rising carbon emissions, it’s no surprise that a growing number of travelers are looking for eco-friendly alternatives to minimize their impact on Earth’s natural and cultural treasures.

“In the travel industry, ‘green’ has become more than a buzzword,” says Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, which advocates the development and use of clean, renewable, local sources of energy. “Hotels are installing energy efficiency systems; restaurants are incorporating local, organically grown produce; and airlines are experimenting with biofuels. With little effort and expense, visitors, too, can do their part and enjoy a ‘clean’ getaway.”

Going green doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Following are easy ways you can be eco-conscious without compromising your idea of a relaxing holiday.

Be Akamai When Packing

Instead of spending big money on specialty travel products, look at things around your home you can use instead. For instance, turn old pillowcases into bags for dirty laundry, store jewelry in egg carton trays, and use clean yogurt cups to hold your scarves and ties. Bring your own grooming products, so you don’t have to use the small, prepackaged items hotels provide. If the bathroom is equipped with bulk dispensers of soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion, use them. Both options will reduce the amount of waste created by disposable toiletries.

Offset Carbon Emissions

Planes, cars and air-conditioned rooms all emit carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. To compensate, you can buy “carbon offsets” that fund clean and renewable energy projects such as wind farms; reforestation efforts; hydroelectric dams; and biomass processing, which produces electricity, compost and fuels from garbage. For example, a roundtrip flight between Las Vegas and Hawaii emits about a ton of carbon dioxide per passenger. It would cost each passenger as little as $9 to offset that ton through projects supported by organizations such as The Conservation Fund, Native Energy and TerraPass.

Conserve Water and Electricity

The primary source of drinking water in Hawaii is groundwater. With the state’s growing population, high number of visitors and limited freshwater resources, conserving water is critical. Take short showers; according to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, every minute you trim from your shower saves three to six gallons of water. Keeping the faucet off while you brush your teeth helps, too. Reuse sheets and towels, which can save between 11 percent and 17 percent on the hot water and sewer costs involved in laundering. Conserve energy by turning off the air-conditioning, television and lights when you leave your hotel room.

Sheraton Kauai Resort guests enjoy a bike ride on the south shore of the island; a cocktail in a compostable cup made of corn; the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market offers live entertainment, cooking demonstrations and a wide variety of locally grown products.
Bikers: Starwood Hotels Resorts; drink: David Croxford; Market: Annie Suite
Walk, Bike or Take Public Transportation

Transportation is the area where most travelers have the biggest environmental impact. If possible, walk, bike or take the bus to your destination. Even TheBus, Honolulu’s public bus system (www.thebus.org) is going green—operating 80 hybrid buses, recycling everything from paper to paint thinner, and using water-based paints and parts cleaners. Take advantage of TheBus’ 1-Day Pass, which is valid for unlimited rides all day for $5.50. Call (808) 848-4500 for more information. Or take Honolulu’s bike-sharing program, Biki. Just look for the racks of turquoise bikes at various locations around the city. Also, dozens of companies statewide offer biking tours and bike rentals (ask your concierge for details). Not only will you minimize your environmental impact, you’ll burn calories and see the Islands up close.

Buy Local

Opt for island-grown or -made products instead of those flown or shipped in from elsewhere. Farmers’ markets provide a tantalizing slice of local life; three of the best are held weekly on Oahu. The Saturday KCC Farmers’ Market is on the campus of Kapiolani Community College, just 10 minutes by car from Waikiki. On Thursday, the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market draws big crowds to the scenic North Shore. In addition to a vast array of local goods—including produce, meat, seafood, coffee, baked goods, dairy products, snacks and flowers—it offers live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings and special events.

Remember to Recycle

When you check in, ask front-desk personnel where you can recycle your glass, plastic and metal trash. In Waikiki, recycling containers are set up along Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues, the main thoroughfares, and at Jefferson Elementary School (324 Kapahulu Avenue) and Waikiki Elementary School (3710 Leahi Avenue). Among the Oahu visitor attractions that provide recycling receptacles are the Honolulu Zoo, Polynesian Cultural Center, Battleship Missouri Memorial, Sea Life Park, Ala Moana Beach Park and Foster Botanical Garden.

Kaheawa Wind, a wind farm atop the West Maui Mountains: David Croxford; array of fruit at KCC’s Farmers’ Market: Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation; bike rider on Lanikai Beach, Oahu: David Croxford; colorful residents of a coral reef: istockphoto.com.
Dine Responsibly

Patronize restaurants that use locally grown ingredients. Take it a step further and find eateries that use bio-compostable containers and utensils. Town in Kaimuki packs take-out orders with corn-based cups and cutlery and containers made from bagasse, a by-product of the sugarcane industry.

Give Back through Voluntourism

Consider turning your vacation into a way to give back to the place you’re visiting. Dozens of local groups welcome your help with projects ranging from clearing trash from beaches and restoring ancient Hawaiian fishponds to removing invasive plant species and replanting native vegetation. Preserving Paradise: Opportunities in Volunteering for Hawaii’s Environment by Kirsten Whatley lists volunteer opportunities with more than 60 environmental organizations statewide. The 164-page book is available at major bookstores in Hawaii and at Amazon. com. A good resource to find sites to volunteer is at conservationconnections.org.

Support Eco-Friendly Tour Companies

Book activities with companies that are environmentally responsible. Look for tours with small group sizes, strong ties to the community, reputations for being eco-conscious, and practices that don’t overuse or disrupt natural sites. Members of the Hawaii Ecotourism Association are good choices. Keep your outdoor gear free of invasive plants and diseases, which could harm Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem. Pick off the se and leaves and wash the mud from the treads of your hiking boots. Remove the algae from your snorkeling gear. Thoroughly wipe your rented mountain bike. You don’t want to unwittingly introduce non-native pests into a natural habitat.

From left: Snorkeling near Sheraton Maui Resort Spa; Kai Market offers ocean views, a casual ambience and delicious dishes made primarily with locally grown ingredients; being a “green tourist” helps keep Hawaii clean and beautiful for all to enjoy.
Photos courtesy: Starwood Hotels Resorts
Respect the Reefs

Coral polyps are tiny organisms related to jellyfish and sea anemones. When they are resting or threatened, they retreat into their calcium carbonate (limestone) “skeletons,” which form the framework of reefs. Reefs are rich in undersea life. One-fourth of Hawaii’s 680 fish species are found nowhere else in the world, and many of them depend on reefs to survive, as do creatures such as eels, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars. So don’t damage their environment. Use biodegradable sunscreen, which breaks down naturally in the water and doesn’t leave oil slicks and harmful chemicals that can bleach coral reefs and kill marine animals. Enjoy your time in the ocean, but don’t litter; don’t feed the fish human food; don’t disturb the reefs’ inhabitants; and don’t touch, step on or break the coral.

Take Nothing but Photos and Leave Nothing but Footprints

When shopping for souvenirs, choose locally made products instead of those that have been flown or shipped from overseas. Don’t buy any products made from endangered species (e.g., tortoise shell, ivory or feathers from rare birds). Carry out your trash if you’re exploring remote places where there are no rubbish cans. If you see litter floating in the ocean, pick it up. In short, try to leave a place better than when you arrived there. That’s the rule of (a green) thumb.