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HOW GREEN IS MY VACATION?

By Michael Kaye
San José, Costa Rica,  August 1997

Eco-labeling: A common sense method whereby through "eco-labeling" and easy to understand concepts "like co2 units per passenger mile," and "foot induced insect deaths per bed night," hotels and airlines provide you with the information you need to determine how your travel effects the planet.

For some years now, the travel and tourism industry has hotly debated issues regarding environmental awards, green seals of approval, and ecolabelling. Some say they are useful tools to raise consciousness. Others say they are cynical, self-serving marketing gimmicks, smoke screens behind which hide the industry's rape of the environment. Both points of view have claims to validity. Scroundrels have used the green seal of approval as stepping stones to cushy six figure salary jobs as heads of large, well-funded organizations. Idealists have made significant sacrifices to define legitimate standards and insure their just application. Green seals of approval have been used as scams to get free services and sell guidebooks in Costa Rica. On the other hand, they have also been instrumental in significantly raising the environmental standards of the entire industry in Iraq.

One thing at least is for sure, awards, green seals of approval, and ecolabels are proliferating almost as quickly as the World Wide Web. Conde Nast Traveler gives an Ecotourism Award. So does British Airlines. Smithsonian and The American Society of Travel Agents joined together to give one.

National Tourist Organizations rush to recycle so that they can arbitrate greenness with impunity while their raw sewage relentlessly wends its way to a nearby river. An Eco-Tourism Conference at Miami beach spawns Eco-Deco.

"THE BOOK OF ENVIRONMENTAL SEALS, ECOLABELS & ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS IN TOURISM, AN INTERNATIONAL OVERVIEW OF CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS." is my idea of a joke, but I swear on the grave (ashes hopefully) of Edward Abbey and all that is holy, that this time I didn't make it up.

Close to the center of the controversy World Travel & Tourism Council's Green Globe. Supported by "a global coalition of industry Chief Executive Officers" including many of the household names, Green Globe members who express commitment "to improvements in environmental practice" and are willing to fork out a yearly membership fee, ranging from $200 to $5000 according to annual "turnover*" "*UK members add VAT @ 7%." members are promised a host of benefits including, "guidance on: the development of an environmental policy; environmental training for staff; purchasing decisions; land management; specialist information covering environmental improvements and cost benefits; global recognition of environmental commitment via the GREEN GLOBE brand; a program of international environmental awards; a listing on ECoNETT, the new Travel & Tourism environmental network..." And much, much more. I think the next 100 people who sign up get to spend an all expenses paid fulfilled week in Dallas with Robert Krandell.

Emotions especially in academia are running high. There are screaming arguments at conferences. Physical violence has not been reported as yet, but it appears to be a buzzword away. Witness some quotes from an influential internet "Green Travel Forum. " Unfortunately, the Travel Industry is at best self-serving when it comes to "Eco". "Eco" is now a marketing statement rather than a true commitment, and even the most "progressive" of the "Eco-travel organizations and awards programs are merely self-serving exercises that benefit membership image. God forbid if any program were ever suggested that would cut into profits. My experience from the awards circuit is that they are political exercises devised and presented by folks who don't have a clue about the true issues. At best, they use those of us who are truly committed to gloss over their own greed."

John 'Caveman' Gray, Founder, SeaCanoe - caveman@seacanoe.com
Visiting Professor of Ecotourism, Srinakarinwirot University, Bangkok
PATA Product Development Committee
SeaCanoe: http://seacanoe.com
Regional Winners 1995: British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards
Green Globe Awards Commendation 1996
Pacific Asia Travel Association 1995 Gold Awards: Environment/Ecotourism
SeaCanoe International, Box 276, Phuket 83000 Thailand
Tel: + 66 76 212 252 Fax: + 66 76 212 172

And the reply: "For your cynicism and disdain for awards, you don't seem to have a problem including them in your 'signature."

As often happens when emotions run high, language runs loose and the lack of a common vocabulary hides common ground fueling the already raging fire. In the interest of helping find that common ground and calm the controversy in favor of reasoned debate I offer below an unbiased attempt at finding a common language through which we can find the solutions for sustainable development for an industry which is, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, "the world's largest industry - generating more than 10% of global GDP and employment," and predicted to double over the next decade.

While I make no claim to the definitions below being definitive, I hope they will provide a point of departure from which we can proceed in the important labor of defining the terms that will define the future and provide us with true "ECO-LABELING" A COMMON SENSE METHOD WHEREBY THROUGH EASY TO UNDERSTAND CONCEPTS "LIKE CO2 UNITS PER PASSENGER MILE," AND "% OF SOLID WASTE RECYCLED" HOTELS AND AIRLINES PROVIDE TRAVELER WITH THE INFORMATION WITH WHICH HE OR SHE, REGARDLESS OF RACE, RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SPECIES OR SEXUAL PREFERENCE CAN DETERMINE HOW ITS TRAVEL EFFECTS THE PLANET.

DEFINITIONS:
-Eco: A prefix used before words such as "tourism," "lodging," "rent a car," "ology," as a marketing statement rather than a true commitment. Efficacy decreasing rapidly. Search for effective replacement should be started immediately.

-Award: A self-serving political exercise used as a marketing statement that benefits membership image, devised and presented by folks who don't have a clue about the true issues. Should be included in all advertising ad signatures."

-Self Serving: Green Globe

-Profits: Financial benefits resulting from buying low and selling high beloved by God therefor subjecting all who criticize them to eternal damnation.

-Nonprofit: Same as profits, except not subject to taxation.

-Misuse of eco in advertising: A practice which causes sincere concern in the Tourist Industry, when done by others.

-Misuse of ecolabels in advertising: A dangerous practice which could do serious harm to credibility in the travel and tourism industry, if and when it is used.

-Ecolabelling: A concept like communism that promises to be very beneficial but has not been used in the travel and tourism industry so far.

-Ecolabelling in the travel and tourism industry in theory: Truth in advertising. List applicable areas of concern (all of them, not just the ones you look good in) with objective quantifiable descriptions and statistics regarding implementation.

REAL LIFE EXAMPLE:
VALEVERGA ECO-LODGE, VILLAGE OF PICHITA, MAS ALLA, LATIN AMERICA.

TRANSPORT: .0317 CO2 units emitted per passenger mile.

ENERGY: Renewable 41.4% Non-Renewable 58.6%

WASTE:

-Solid: Reused 8.2% Recycled 21.6% Remainder compacted 275lb psi. Sanitary
land fill.

-Organic: 100% donated Village of Pichita experimental sustainable hog raising project. 87% of pigs bought by Lodge. Remainder sold to members of local community at 33% discount.

-Sewage: 100% unprocessed pumped directly into Village of Pichita potable water system.*

FRESH WATER MANAGEMENT: SEE WASTE/Sewage

IMPACTS ON WILDLIFE

-Foot induced insect deaths per bed night. 37.16

BENEFITS TO LOCAL COMMUNITY:
-Employment

*Management: 100% Local

*Staff: 100% Local

*Parasites: 27 College Professors. 142 Graduate Students. 2 functionaries of National Tourism Organization soliciting bribe for Envirormental Seal of Approval. 1 burnt out overaged hippy introducing drugs, sex, and cheap thrills to the local youth.
-Percentage of purchases made locally. 24% including pigs. 6% not including pigs.

-Percentage of profits to local community:

*Cash: 7%

*Non cash: Hourly HIV testing funded free of charge for all inhabitants.

Percentage of profits: 97%

GUEST ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION:
Vegetarians, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews who refuse to eat the pigs are tortured.

TAKE HOME STORY:
It works great with food; calories, grams of fat, protein, carbohydrates, plain as day right there on the lable. What could be easier?

All it took was the consumers demanding it.
*Village of Pichita Potable Water System made possible by a grant from the European Economic Community."

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