National Geographic Traveler
All travel, All the time

October 2008
On the Road
Food and Drink
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Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel:
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48. Offset Your Travel

Using carbon offsets in lieu of true environmental stewardship is not cool. But if you travel responsibly by recycling, reusing, and taking advantage of every low-emission, energy-saving transportation option along your way, then purchasing carbon offsets is an additional step you can take to minimize your impact.

"Whether you're flying, driving, or taking a cruise, your travel will produce greenhouse gas emissions," says Mitch Rofsky, founder and chief executive officer, Better World Club. "The average domestic commercial airline travel, for example, emits more than 1,700 pounds of harmful greenhouse gases (like CO2) into our atmosphere per passenger."

Instead of skipping travel completely—which would be the only way to completely eliminate carbon emissions related to traveling—Rofsky suggests investing in carbon offsets after you return home from each trip.

He adds, "A carbon offset is an investment into a project or action with the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Offset projects come in many varieties and may include tree planting or reforestation, building retrofits (i.e., installing more efficient heating/cooling systems), or wind power projects. The common goal is to reduce fossil fuel usage, which in turn, eliminates harmful greenhouse gas emissions."

There are numerous online resources available to help you calculate your carbon emissions, explore the projects supported through offsets, and purchase offsets such as Better World Club and Sustainable Travel International.

If you're traveling with a group, many tour operators offer a carbon-offset add-on to leverage the investment dollars of travelers. For example, Natural Habitat Adventures, a Boulder, Colorado-based nature travel outfitter that runs trips from the Arctic to Africa, recently became the world's first 100 percent carbon-neutral travel company.

To offset the climate-altering effects of emissions on its land tours, Natural Habitat partners with the nonprofit Sustainable Travel International (STI). STI calculates the greenhouse gas emissions, and then NHA funds environmentally friendly energy projects worldwide to reduce emissions equal to the amount released on our trips.

STI invests in such projects as mounting solar paneling on a university in Costa Rica or installing a methane-capturing facility on a sewage plant in South Africa.

"We can't be perfect," says Ben Bressler, NHA's founder and director, "but we can make up for our indulgence."

49. Share the Wealth (of Information)

If it's paper, pass it on. When we travel, we accumulate research and reading materials—maps, guidebooks, magazines, newspapers, paperback books, brochures, and so on. Instead of abandoning any of these at the hotel, in the airport trash bin, or in the seat-back pocket on the plane, share them with fellow travelers along your journey.

Not only will you reduce the amount of paper trash dumped in landfills, you'll also lessen your own load. If you do return home with gently used books, share them with friends and family, donate them to the local library branch, or trade them for cash or credit at a used book store.

50. Make a Suggestion

Little things mean a lot when it comes to lessening our impact on the environment, so speak up and let hotel and restaurant owners know what more they could be doing.

"Guests can have a significant impact on hotels' environmental decisions and practices," says Mohammad Ghaffari, strategic planning manager for the Jumeirah Group, a Dubai-based international hotel and hospitality company. "Next time you're filling your comment card, suggest at least one simple improvement activity that a hotel can adapt such as switching lights off during the day in an unpopulated area."

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