Last year, we talked about whether eco-fashion was really eco-friendly at all, and it sparked quite a debate. We thought this summer in the heart of travel season would be a good time to have the same debate about whether eco-travel is really eco-friendly. So, without further delay, let’s take a look at the issues.
Firstly, It Matters How You Define Eco-Travel
One of the problems with laying out this debate is that there isn’t as well-defined an idea of what eco-travel is as there is for what eco-fashion is. Does eco-travel mean that you’re only going to destinations that bill themselves as eco-resorts and take every green precaution? Does it mean that you’re camping? Does it mean that you’re not doing anything that isn’t green? Does it mean that you’re working hard to minimize your carbon footprint? Much like postconsumerism itself, there’s an entire range of what eco-travel could mean, and each of those things has different implications. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to take a middle ground and say that eco-travel is anything in which you pick a destination known for green practices and you work to minimize your carbon footprint on the way there.
Pro: Eco-Travel is Better Because…
There is a ton of carbon footprint wrapped up in travel in general. We’ve recently detailed exactly where the carbon impact in travel and vacations builds up (as well as some ways to reduce it), but in general terms it’s nearly impossible to travel without emissions and waste. While there are things that you can do on your end to minimize and control that waste, your destination, hotel, resort or transportation provider is really the one who has the most control over how much tourists and guests can harm (or reduce harm to) the environment. When you choose to travel to eco-friendly destinations and support businesses that prioritize green, you make an impact as well.
There’s also a second factor to consider. We’ve talked at Postconsumers before about the fact that you vote every time you spend a dollar. If more tourists and travelers put their money into visiting places that prioritize sustainability and preserving amazing natural habitats, then the market would adjust to support that goal. Spending money at a huge theme park sends one message to the market. Spending that money at an eco-resort sends another. Which message do you want to give the market?
Con: Eco-Travel is Still Travel
On the other hand, much like eco-fashion is still fashion, eco-travel is still travel. You’re still going to create a carbon footprint trail by getting to your destination. That means that the further you go (and for most of us the most natural and eco-rich destinations are far away), the more emissions you put into the air just so you can have a vacation. You’re also likely to practice some bad eco-habits when you’re out of your normal daily cycle (don’t worry, we’re all guilty of this). Sustainability is a local effort, and that counts in more ways than just food and local businesses. If your biggest priority is to minimize emissions, waste and your carbon footprint, then there’s really no good way to travel unless it’s hiking across the nation with only a backpack.
Why We Support Eco-Travel and Think That It’s Different From Eco-Fashion
When it comes down to it though, we think that there’s a big difference between eco-fashion and eco-travel. Eco-fashion, no matter how sustainable it is, is still supporting a consumer cycle. It’s still telling you to buy more stuff and define yourself by that stuff and the trends that surround it. We think that vacation and travel are an important part of life. Not only do they give you an essential time to regroup, reflect and relax, but they help you to experience and see the diversity of thought, existence and even nature that happens in the world. Sustainability may be local, but the world has definitely become global and an understanding of that is essential. In the case of eco-fashion, we think you have to really ask yourself if you’re purchasing something you just don’t need and justifying it by the fact that it’s more eco-friendly than a big box alternative. In the case of eco-travel, it may really be about finding ways to support the planet while engaging in an essential activity.
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Photo Credit: Justin Miller via Flickr