While there are some who say we will (or should) travel less in the coming years — and perhaps some of us will — let’s not forget that the travel industry is the second largest industry on this planet after the industrial-military complex. It’s vitally important to many communities, businesses and organizations, ours included. We operate Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, completely powered by the wind and sun.
My first post on ecotourism presented an approach to travel that sustains, enhances or restores diverse ecological systems, preserves the economic and social well-being of the local and global community, and fosters a greater understanding on the part of the traveler of nature, culture or the community visited. It’s the “triple bottom line of profits, planet and people” I write about in ECOpreneuring, applied to the travel industry.
This type of travel usually provides the ecotravelers with authentic experiences (read: not merely heads on beds) and the travelers themselves participate in the renewal, restoration or revitalization process underway by the community, business or organization. Ecotourism is a departure from the consumption and luxury focus of the mainstream tourism industry that touts all-inclusive resorts and 4-star amenities with little or no thought given to paying livable wages to employees or producing some of their own energy on site.
Since piloting a green travel program in 2007, the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, through their Travel Green Wisconsin program, has provided a framework by which already green tourism related businesses can be more easily found while those enterprises that recognize that there’s more green in going green can follow detailed certification requirements to embark on their journey to evolve, as all organizations will need to do sooner, or later, as a restorative enterprise that follows not just the laws of supply and demand, but also the laws of nature.
The Travel Green Wisconsin program is administered in partnership with the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing together business, government and citizen groups in a neutral forum to address environmental issues. Travel Green Wisconsin begins to address how can we travel in a way that doesn’t contribute to climate change, ecological degradation, or exploitation of people.
From accommodations to attractions, from convention centers and restaurants to non-profit organizations, Travel Green Wisconsin uniquely covers a wide range of more than 200 tourism-related enterprises and organizations. Next to each certified listing, you will see Travel Green Wisconsin’s official “Green Guide ” rating score, so ecotravlers can evaluate Travel Green Wisconsin participants. To be certified through Travel Green Wisconsin, all participants must achieve at least 30 points on the Travel Green Wisconsin Checklist (download this PDF file), a checklist that easily serves as a guide for any green business (or adapted for your own home). Some businesses have even reached 100 points or more. The more points a business attains, the darker green they are in their operations. The Travel Green Wisconsin program is now being replicated by other states in various ways.
The main goals of Travel Green Wisconsin include:
- Be entirely voluntary.
- Be simple and affordable so that tourism businesses are motivated to participate.
- Be adaptable and available to the full variety of business types that serve travelers.
- Make good business sense by offering identifiable cost savings to participants.
- Increase participant awareness of environmentally sustainable business practices.
- Provide a marketing advantage for program participants as well as the state.
- Lead to measurable environmental improvements.
For participants, the certification process dives into practically every aspect of their organization: communication and education (customers, employees, public); energy efficiency, conservation, and production with renewable energy sources; sustainable purchasing practices; local community benefits; transportation; air quality; water conservation and wastewater management; waste reduction, reuse and management; even wildlife conservation and management.
Travel Green Wisconsin provides a level of transparency in tourism that helps better insure that what the Wisconsin travelers seek will be there years to come — often, in revitalized and restored form. As a side note, many of the businesses featured in Travel Green Wisconsin that I’ve corresponded indicated an INCREASE in business through 2008 while the travel industry revenues as a whole have flattened or declined. For example, according to Smith Travel Research, hotel average occupancy rates (in mainstream hotels) has dropped almost 11 percent to only about 52 percent, compared to the same period a year ago.