August is the unofficial vacation month so, before you pack your bags, do the planet a favor and plan a sustainable vacation! While the idea of an eco-friendly trip might conjure up ideas of backpacking up mountains or being swarmed by mosquitoes in the jungle–I know it did for me!–you can find a sustainable trip to suit almost any need. A sustainable vacation means making green and responsible choices from hotels to food to activities. In a 2003 survey by National Geographic’s Geotourism Study, 71% of Americans believed that it was important not to damage the environment while on vacation. From the beach lounger to the 12-month-a-year skier, there is a green vacation for you!
In National Geographic Traveler’s March 2004 issue, the magazine first came out with its 115 top spots to visit based on the destination-stewardship index. This index rates places subject to pressures including development, pollution, globalization and tourism. On the 0 to 100 scale, the destinations ranked between 41 and 82, encompassing places all over the globe from fjords in Norway and Chile to the heavy touristed South Island of New Zealand. On this list, environmental quality played an important role with credit given to places like Tuscany and Vermont that value aesthetics (Vermont’s Act 250 even bans billboards in the state). While most low-scoring destinations were beaches, the rankings afforded a new awareness to places that have reduced environmental pressures. Beaches in Florida, Thailand and Spain’s Balearic Islands are now in the process of finding innovative programs to reverse their formerly destructive ways.