March 16th, 2009
Spring break, viewed by many a college student as an excuse for excess, is upon us. From air travel and resorts to skiing and cruise ships, it’s all about fun. So what’s an eco-minded person, college-aged or otherwise, to do?
Choose a destination
With the economy in the doldrums, most folks are probably looking to save a bit of cash this Spring Break. If that sounds like you, you can probably save the most money by choosing somewhere close to home. This will also serve the purpose of reducing your environmental impact as well – the closer you are to where you’re going, the less carbon you will emit in getting there.
If you’re looking for a trip that might be a little further ashore, but that is a little more interesting than mai-tai’s on the beach (though that does sound REALLY good right now) consider ecotourism. What does that mean? Though some definitions vary, The Nature Conservancy has joined the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in adopting the following definition of ecotourism:
“Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
Who knew that you could accomplish so much through Spring Break? It goes to show that you have to pillage and plunder Cancun to have a good time. For more on ecotourism, check out our post, Eco-Travel Part 3: Ecotourism.
Getting there is half the battle
So once you’ve decided on your destination, you’ll have to get there. Most likely, this travel represents the greatest environmental impact for any Spring Breaker. Air travel, in particular, is harsh on the environment, so check out alternative modes of transportation – especially if you’re not straying too far from home.
Just you and a pal or two? Consider driving. But before you go, make sure that your tires are properly inflated, and that you follow the rules for driving smart. According to StarDrivers, an organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles, those rules include:
• Accelerating smoothly and not mashing the gas pedal
• Braking smoothly and not stopping and starting abruptly
• Observing traffic patterns ahead and not rushing to stop signs or traffic lights
• Coasting as often as possible rather than keeping your foot on the gas pedal
• Maintaining a responsible constant speed and not tailgating or jockeying for position
• Carefully changing lanes and not overtaking on the right on highways
• Using cruise control on flat terrain but not in hilly or mountainous areas
• Avoiding lines, idling or waiting with the car running
• Controlling highway speeds and speeding
• Maintaining your vehicle
Following these rules will reduce your fuel consumption, positively impacting both the environment and your wallet.
Going somewhere with a big group? Look into chartering a bus instead of flying. You may even be able to make it a party on wheels (depending on how much you have to tip the driver). Trains are even better, environmentally-speaking, and can provide a unique experience.
Resorts and hotels
If you’re planning on staying in a hotel or resort upon arrival, there are a few things to consider when you book your stay, since these facilities can have a huge impact on the environment. Just think of all of the electricity, water, and food that go into making your stay comfortable!
It’s worth looking for an eco-friendly resort or hotel. For starters, look for a hotel certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, a system designed and managed by the non-profit US Green Building Council. The number of LEED certified locations is on the rise, as hotels look to lure eco-aware travelers and save money on operating costs at the same time. You can also check out our green hotel directory for great hotels across the U.S.
Oh, and by the way, were you raised in a barn? Your mother’s not there to pick up after you (which is part of the point of Spring Break, after all), so make sure that you turn off the lights and TV when you leave your room and reuse those towels. It’s not just the hotel’s responsibility to save energy and water!
At the Beach
Beach vacations are probably the most popular choice for Spring Break, since everyone is ready for a little sun come spring. A few tips can reduce your enviro-impact during your stay:
• Bring reusable items instead of plastic, which can blow away and end up part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has been estimated at twice the size of Texas
• Dispose of trash properly
• Use the bathrooms, not the ocean or beach (please!)
• Leave the wildlife alone. They don’t come to your house and poke you with a stick, do they?
• Use any available bridges to avoid trampling sensitive dunes.
Become a better skier
If you’re thinking of strapping on the skis or a snowboard for a wintery adventure this Spring Break, make sure that you look at your destination’s commitment to the environment. Fortunately, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition does your homework for you (too bad they don’t do English papers). The group provides an environmental scorecard for 10 Western states, covering 83 mountains. The Coalition looks at everything from renewable energy initiatives to the preservation of undisturbed lands. This season’s Top 10 include Aspen Mountain (CO), Buttermilk (CO), and Sundance (UT), while the bottom-dwellers include Copper Mountain (CO), Sun Valley (ID), and Breckinridge (CO).
Whether a floating city often traveling to delicate eco-systems can be considered eco-friendly isn’t really debatable – there’s a negative impact on local environments here. But, at least you can rest assured that the major cruise lines follow strict regulations for disposing of…umm…waste.
But what else is there to consider? Again, if you’re going on a cruise, take personal responsibility for your actions and follow the mantra of hikers to “leave no trace.” Bring your own phosphorous-free, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, pay attention to recycling wherever possible, don’t eat endangered seafood, and don’t throw anything (or anyone!) overboard.
Whatever you do for Spring Break, have fun! Just keep the environment in mind to ensure that you’re not leaving a path of destruction in your wake.
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February 26th, 2009
Considering our country’s current economic woes, it stands to reason that most of us are cutting back on our discretionary spending - in layman’s terms, we’re buying less stuff. And though we’ve been told that buying more stuff supports our economy, it doesn’t necessarily support our environment.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to make those purchases count. Not all companies are created equal when it comes to sustainable business practices, and many people underestimate the power that they have as consumers. And, though November’s elections were certainly historic, your right to vote didn’t end there. Vote with your dollars! Supporting companies that are doing the right thing by adopting eco-friendly practices, or “buycotting”, will help ensure that those companies make it through these tough economic times.
So how do you determine which companies deserve your hard-earned dollars? How do you spot those greenwashers? It’s not always easy, but fortunately there are some resources that can help.
Turn to the Experts
Recently, a couple of studies have been released that identify specific companies as tops in their class when it comes to sustainable practices.
First up, The Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World, a list of publicly-traded companies that best manage the environmental, social and governance risk associated with sustainability. Brought to us by Corporate Knights: The Canadian Magazine for Responsible Business and Innovest Strategic Value Advisors the fifth annual list includes familiar American companies like Amazon.com, Coca Cola, Dell, Nike, and Walt Disney. (Note that these are all large, international, publicly-traded companies – no Tom’s of Maine here!)
Having a bit of info regarding these large companies’ efforts in sustainability can, and should, influence your buying decisions. Drop your laptop in the bathtub? Think Dell. Desperate for a carbonated caffeine jolt? Consider Coke.
But, when you make these purchasing decisions, just make sure that you keep the bigger picture in mind – do you really need a new computer? Updating your old one is a greener option, as is bringing water in a reusable container, washing those old sneaks, or borrowing books from the library – regardless of the sustainability efforts of Dell, Coke, Nike or Amazon. Vote with your dollars when it’s appropriate to do so, remembering that even the “greenest” of products do not actually help the environment – they just hurt it less.
Look for Green Brands
That said, you’re probably thinking, “When I think of a green beverage company, I don’t think Coca Cola, I think of Green Mountain Coffee.” Did I read your mind? Cool, huh? Actually, my source is a recent Earthsense report that takes another angle, examining consumer perceptions of popular brands.
Of 350 companies studied, 35 were singled out by consumers as tops in four categories:
- Sustainable business practices
- Product impact
- Investment likelihood, and
- Recommendation likelihood
The resulting list reads like a who’s who of companies for whom green is a big part of who they are. Topping the list were grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, both of which achieved high marks on all four measures. Other familiar brands listed as “standouts” include Earthbound Farms, Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees, Kashi, and Fresh & Easy. Google and Yahoo also made the list. You can download the entire report from GreenBiz.com.
On the flip side, check out Climate Watch’s list of “Climate Laggards” – those who are behind the curve on corporate responsibility and the environment. Who’s on it? Exxon Mobile (no surprise there), General Motors, and home-builder Standard Pacific.
Though some carbon-intensive industries are over-represented on the list, some companies (like GM) were singled out due to their total inaction, as they lag behind their competitors, are unresponsive to investor concerns, and fail to report their environmental impact to the public. Sounds like the trifecta of unsustainable business practices.
According to many analysts, the hard-hit stock market is a great place to pick up some investments on the cheap. If you’re trying to live a green lifestyle, don’t you want your investments to reflect your values? Research continues to show that companies that are strong on sustainability outperform their counterparts financially.
If you’re looking to buy stock, or just want to find out more about a particular company’s environmental performance, check out the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility’s “climate risk profiles”. Covering more than 150 companies, the profiles are particularly useful because they compare companies within a sector. For more on green investing, check out last year’s post on the topic.
Buy Used Stuff
Supporting companies that get it is important when you need something new. But what if you need something that’s just “new to you”? I’m a big proponent of thrift stores, garage sales, antique stores, libraries, Craigslist, borrowing, lending and dumpster diving (OK, so I’m not quite that hard core). If there’s a way to get it used, do it. Not only will reusing or recycling something keep it out of the landfill, but it will avoid the environmental damage done by a new product, from raw material extraction to manufacturing to shipping and finally, disposal. Plus, it’ll be easier on your wallet.
However you choose to go about finding the things that you need to get through life, just keep in mind that you have a lot of power in your bank account, even if your balance doesn’t make you feel so powerful.
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