Sustainable travel: 10 nonprofits helping you explore responsibly

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The Reef-World Foundation

Where? Global

Focus: The Reef-World Foundation operates internationally to inspire, empower and support governments, businesses, communities and individuals to act to protect marine environments—particularly coral reefs and related ecosystems—for the benefit of local communities, visitors and future generations.

Advice for travelers: Check out Reef-World’s feature story here, where we talk with JJ Harvey, scuba diver, passionate ocean conservationist and director of The Reef-World Foundation. He tells us why coral reefs are so important, how diving affects coral reefs and what can be done to protect them.


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Active Transportation Alliance

Where? U.S. (Chicago, Illinois)

Focus: Active Transportation Alliance is a nonprofit, member-based advocacy organization that works to improve walking, bicycling and public transit to create healthy, sustainable and equitable communities.

Advice for travelers: Instead of hailing a taxi while exploring a city, consider lacing up your walking shoes and getting a public transit pass. You’ll be active, reduce carbon dioxide and see things you might otherwise miss.

Bike and scooter sharing options are made for travelers.

If you’re going to a city with bike infrastructure, try to get your hands on a bike map in advance. It’ll save you the hassle of hunting one down when you arrive.


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Oceanic Society

Where? Global

Focus: Oceanic Society works to improve ocean health by deepening the connections between people and nature to address the root cause of its decline: human behavior.

Advice for travelers: When done properly, sustainable travel can be a positive force for both people and wildlife in the places you visit. (Watch this story from Baja California for example.) But wildlife tourism has a dark side, too, as covered in the June issue of National Geographic Magazine. You can make your next trip more sustainable with the following tips from Oceanic Society’s Blue Habits program:

Choose responsible tour operators. To make sure your eco-friendly tour is the real deal, ask clarifying questions about the guidelines/best practices they follow, look for certifications and partnerships with local guides, scientists and nonprofit groups and use common sense to determine whether a tour operator is taking care to minimize the impact of their tours on the local wildlife.

Choose small-group travel. We recommend that travelers seek out small-group tours and travel experiences rather than large group or cruise ship travel. By limiting the number of people who visit a place at a time, it is easier to effectively manage impacts to the environment and minimize disturbance to wildlife.

Pack for low impact. Pack items that help you minimize your environmental footprint during your travels. For example, reduce the plastic waste you generate by bringing a reusable water bottle and/or water filter to avoid bottled water and a reusable bag to avoid plastic bags on trips to the market or airport purchases. And when traveling to coastal areas, travel with reef-safe sunscreen and biodegradable cosmetics to avoid unintentional harm to ocean environments.

For the full list of tips from Oceanic Society, visit here.


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Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

Where? U.S. (The Islands of Maui County, Hawaii)

Focus: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council brings human actions into ecological principles so that the health and abundance of Maui’s nearshore waters can be restored and sustained for future generations. Their goals are clean ocean water, healthy coral reefs and abundant native fish for Maui County.

Advice for travelers: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council encourages travelers to learn how to explore and enjoy Maui’s coral reefs while also protecting them. Their tips for reef-friendly snorkeling and diving include:

Wear sunscreen that’s free of reef-harming oxybenzone and octinoxate, or better yet, cover up with a rash guard and hat.

Remember that coral is alive and fragile. Never stand, walk on or touch coral.

Don’t feed fish or wildlife.

Stay at least 10 feet back from sea turtles and monk seals.

Pick up plastic at the beach, or better yet, participate in a beach cleanup.

They also encourage visitors to attend their free monthly presentations by local experts on coral reefs, marine wildlife, environmental issues and other topics. These meetings take place on the first Wednesday of each month at 5:30 pm at The Sphere at Maui Ocean Center. Learn more at www.mauireefs.org.


Leave No Trace

Where? U.S. (All Public Lands)

Focus: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people every year.

Advice for travelers: When visiting public lands, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics advises following their Seven Principles. These apply to remote wilderness areas, to local parks and even your own backyard. They also apply to almost every recreational activity. For example, their first principle is “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” This helps to ensure the safety of groups and individuals and prepares everyone to Leave No Trace and minimize resource damage. To learn more about the Seven Principles, how to get involved with the organization and for area-specific advice, visit LNT.org and follow them on social media!


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National Parks Conservation Association

Where? U.S.

Focus: The National Parks Conservation Association is the voice of America’s national parks, working to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for present and future generations. We celebrate the parks—and work tirelessly to defend them—whether on the ground, in the courtroom or on Capitol Hill.

Advice for travelers:

Maximize the economic benefits of the communities you visit. When visiting a national park, support local businesses as much as possible by staying at locally owned and operated lodging, eating at local restaurants and buying locally made handicrafts at a fair price. You can also check online to see if the service providers that you select have any eco-certifications or awards.

Manage your environmental footprint before, during, and after your travels to national parks. Explore fuel-efficient transportation options to get to your destination or offset the carbon emissions from your flight, practice Leave No Trace guidelines in any natural or cultural sites, recycle and compost whenever possible and use resources such as water and electricity sparingly.

Support natural and cultural heritage. Be respectful of local cultural traditions and customs, always ask for permission before taking photos of people and consider making donations to organizations that benefit the local communities you visit.


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Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association (TMI Trail)

Where? Taiwan Greenway, Taiwan

Focus: Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association (TMI Trail) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Taiwan through a network of National Greenway System around the island.

Advice for travelers:

Comply with Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.

Walk into the villages along the trails. Experience the local food, diverse ethnic and cultural characteristics through greenways.

Pay attention to the environmental sustainability issues around the trails, and take action to solve them.


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Center for Responsible Travel

Where? Global

Focus: The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) promotes responsible tourism policies and practices so that local communities may thrive and steward their biodiversity and cultural resources. CREST assists governments, businesses, nonprofits and international agencies with finding solutions to critical issues confronting tourism: the world’s largest service industry.

Advice for travelers:

Treat your destination like you’d want your home to be treated. A healthy environment is critical to the resilience and livelihood of a destination community. Use the “Leave No Trace” philosophy to ensure the place is as pristine as it was before your visit. Travelers can help reduce their waste production by carrying their own reusable water bottles and bags, straws, utensils and take-away containers. While traveling, make environmentally friendly choices such as choosing direct flights when possible, renting electric or hybrid cars, utilizing public transportation and exploring by foot or bicycle. At the end of the trip, offset carbon emissions through a Gold Standard Certified project, which utilizes U.N. protocols and the Sustainable Development Goals to assess every project.

Celebrate the place. The unique attributes of a place are what make it a joy to visit. Exploring the culture, heritage, history and environment create a sense of connection and appreciation. Not only does this create a memorable trip, but the mindset of discovery is often more sustainable. Travelers can choose to patronize businesses that source locally, reducing the climate impact of the supply chain. This may be through eating locally grown foods or purchasing locally produced handicrafts. Travelers will find that making more sustainable and locally beneficial choices is actually more enriching!

Vote with your dollars. Travelers can choose to stay at hotels that have been designed in harmony with the local surroundings, have programs that protect the natural environment and contribute to impactful community projects, utilize renewable energies and energy efficiency technologies, minimize waste, collaborate with local artists for décor and source products and employment locally. Patronizing locally owned responsible businesses (e.g. hotels, restaurants, guides, artists, etc.) puts more money in the local economy and helps to ensure tourism is a force for good.


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Green Gas

Where? U.S.

Focus: Green Gas works to accelerate climate solutions by raising money and awareness for transformative technologies at the point of sale, thereby immediately reducing the climate impact of our transportation system.

Advice for travelers:

Telecommute, carpool and reduce travel, especially air travel, whenever possible!

Use apps like Turo to rent EVs and hybrids, if you need a car in a new city.

Travel with a Green Gas Card to offset the carbon footprint of any gas purchase you can't avoid.


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Sustainable Travel International

Where? Latin America

Focus: Sustainable Travel International protects and conserves our planet's most vulnerable destinations by transforming tourism’s impact on nature and communities.

Advice for travelers: Minimize your impact on nature and wildlife in the places you visit. Some best practices include reducing the amount of waste you create by refusing disposable plastics and bringing your own reusable water bottle, using reef-safe sunscreen, respecting and minimizing disturbances to wildlife and giving back to local conservation initiatives by making a financial contribution or participating in activities such as environmental monitoring or cleanups.

Make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of carbon emissions you generate during your travels. Some of the ways that you can lessen your carbon footprint include taking more efficient modes of transportation, exploring your destination by bicycle or on foot, adopting energy-saving habits such as turning off the air-conditioning and lights when leaving your hotel room and purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for your unavoidable emissions.

Support the communities in the destinations you visit and contribute to the preservation of their cultural heritage. Some examples of how you can do this are by choosing local businesses and purchasing locally crafted souvenirs, seeking out authentic cultural experiences and showing respect to local residents and their culture.


Jaclyn McCarthy