Can the Words “Eco” & “Travel” Ever Go Together?

Travel for goodIn recent decades, travel has become cheap, thereby allowing a large portion of the population to go wherever it pleases. While, at first glance, this seems a good thing, it has contributed in many ways to the increasing homogenization of world culture, and an increasing environmental footprint–something that more then 70 world leaders are meeting to discuss at this week’s COP15 meetings.

You’ve probably heard of ecotourism, traveling with a lighter impact and more meaningful experience, but you might be surprised to know that Travelocity, one of the major online travel agencies, has been running its Travel For Good program since 2006.

The program came not from some opportunistic marketing department, but from within the staff of the company, and it is composed of several people who wanted to find ways to make travel more meaningful, and help connect a more mainstream audience with voluntourism opportunities. When Travelocity reached out to its customers, it realized that there was a lot of interest out there as well, but consumers didn’t know where to look.

Like Walmart mainstreaming sustainable consumerism, Travelocity then set about creating Travel For Good.

Wanting this to be more than something that well-to-do people could do, it also created the Change Ambassadors Grant program, where people without the means, but with the demonstrated desire and history of volunteering, can get up to $5000 towards a trip organized by one of Travelocity’s voluntourism partners.

Travel for Good has awarded more than 30 grants to date and has sent people to give back in Kenya, China, India, Cambodia, Peru, Russia, the U.S., Brazil, and more.

The company has also made finding green hotels easier, via The Green Hotel Directory, that currently has over 700 places listed, from a start of 200. (More on the directory here.)

Also branching out beyond its Travel For Good program is the carbon offsets offered it seems with all travel booked through Travelocity, via the Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program which collectively has restored 20,000 acres of forestlands in the US, 6 million trees. The company’s UK arm also offers an offset program through the well-respected Last Minute.

Is it possible to completely zero out the impact of travel? No, but with some thought, education and resources such as Travel For Good, it can be much more beneficial, in direct and less obvious, more pervasive ways, back home and in the places where people travel.

Readers, what’s your take? Can eco and travel ever truly go together? What are some innovations you’ve seen to help make it more so?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see GreenSmithConsulting.com