Last week, my husband and I flew down to Florida with the kids. We were helping my father-in-law move to an assisted living facility. Along the way, I found little pockets of environmental friendliness popping up in unexpected places.
For one, we flew on Continental Airlines out of Newark, NJ. The moment we walked into the terminal, there was no way to miss the colossally huge banner promoting Eco-Skies, the airline’s green initiative. Continental has increased their recycling program, offered a carbon offset program in conjunction with Sustainable Travel International (STI), a non-profit organization that promotes environmental conservation, and they have been working on using biofuel since last year to decrease carbon emissions.
Continental was not the first airline, however, to go green. United Airlines beat Continental to the punch by offering a carbon offset program last spring. In April, 2009, the airline started the program which gives customers the chance to support renewable and sustainable programs that will enhance the environment. For a few extra dollars, you have the choice of programs for reforestation, renewable energy, and energy conservation.
While this is all fine and good, there are some who are not necessarily thrilled with the results of carbon offset programs. According to an article in The New York Times dated November 17, 2009, carbon offset programs weren’t actually helping to reduce carbon emissions. It was proposed that consumers might choose to fly more rather than less often if they thought they were being carbon neutral. This, of course, defeats the purpose of helping the environment.
“Buying offsets is a nice idea, just like giving money to a soup kitchen is a nice idea, but that doesn’t end world hunger,” Anja Kollmuss, a Stockholm Environment Institute staff scientist based at a branch at Tufts University, was quoted as saying. “Buying offsets won’t solve the problem because flying around the way we do is simply unsustainable.”
It was also pointed out that there were some companies that stopped their offset programs because they just didn’t work. In one case, mango trees that were planted in India to offset carbon emissions died only a few years later. Can’t really help the environment that way. As a result, those companies that stopped their programs chose to channel their funds into making their corporate buildings more energy efficient.
While flying is certainly more harmful to the environment than riding a bike, you can’t ride your bike to China. Or Europe. Or India. And the fact still remains, we all need to travel at least once in a while.
And when we travel, we need some place to stay. While in Florida, my family and I stayed at a Marriott hotel. Not only did they offer to a linen reuse program reducing unnecessary water usage, they listed all the items they recycle. This included plastic bottles numbers 3 through 7. My own town of Fairfield won’t even pick up that kind of recycling. Numbers 1 and 2, sure. But anything else, forget about it.
On their web site, Marriott also lists their efforts with installing low-flow showerheads and toilets and fluorescent lighting. In their over 3,000 hotels across the globe, they have initiated using pillows with filler made of recycled plastic bottles, key cards made from 50% recycled material, and biodegradable laundry bags. They also purchase millions of gallons of low-VOC paint.
But Marriott isn’t alone in their attempts to be an environmentally friendly place to stay. Here in Connecticut, we have a few inns and bed and breakfasts that promote green initatives. In a previous article on this site, we listed spots like the greenRocks Inn in Ridgefield. They serve organic food and drinks and compost, among other things.
No matter where you go these days, green is increasingly more prevalent. Maybe some of this is nominal at best or just lip service for those who wish to hear it. But, it’s still a step in the right direction. Green isn’t just green anymore. Green is mainstream. And that’s exactly what it needs to be.
Images courtesy of Reader's Digest Eco Travel Guide, Continental Airlines, Inc., and Marriott International.