The act of traveling right now oozes ecological contradiction. A trip typically consumes more precious resources than staying at home does, but can also remind a traveler of what makes the planet worth caring about in the first place. And even as the industry has taken steps to reduce its impact on the environment—by lowering per-traveler rates of carbon emissions and plastic waste, for example—the number of people traveling worldwide climbs ever higher. It could all be a wash.
For myriad reasons, though, many of the trendsetters are being proactive rather than pessimistic. “We’re living in a new time, where we have to take responsibility for our environment,” says Ben Pundole, VP of brand experience at Edition hotels, who led efforts to eliminate single-use plastic at his company’s 10 worldwide properties. That may seem like small potatoes, but Pundole says it “helped force the hand” of Edition’s parent company, Marriott International, which announced the adoption of similar measures last August.
There’s a case to be made for less travel. There’s also an argument, perhaps a more realistic one, for more conscientious travel. “Taking people and showing them the world that is disappearing right in front of us—that’s pretty much the only way we’re going to get them to understand there’s a significant problem,” says Jeremy Lindblad, global business development director for Lindblad Expeditions. The company’s clients return from polar cruises with indelible memories of calving icebergs and struggling polar bears—and that’s the point. Lindblad also chose 2019 as the year to go carbon-neutral.
Travel companies like these are the ones that deserve your business, advocates argue. “I look at whether a brand has done something once, with a flagship product, or whether that environmental do-goodness is baked into its DNA,” says Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, a nonprofit that has helped multinationals like Dell and Herman Miller reduce single-use plastic in their supply chains. “Greenland is gushing," adds Ives. "We need companies to stop thinking about how to get consumers to do something and to start doing it themselves.”
The most exciting developments in eco-travel are those that reflect not just the usual search for improved efficiency and design, but a mentality shift that is appropriate to the precarious era we live in—one that promises to make a commitment to sustainability the new normal. Consider planning your next trips with the following rundown of the latest and greatest advances in mind. They represent just a tip of the (melting) iceberg, but they’re a start.
As the push against single-use plastic intensifies, hoteliers have taken notice. Expect bulk-size toiletries to replace disposable minis at hotels large and small; IHG, owner of InterContinental and Kimpton, plans to transition fully by 2021. Hilton is an example of a hotel chain that has gone further with its green policies, by incentivizing Rewards members to turn off lights and air-conditioning when they’re out of the room, and is also ahead of the pack when it comes to monitoring energy use and hitting science-based conservation targets at the corporate level. “They’re walking the walk with these commitments, even if the size of their organization makes it challenging,” says James Thornton, CEO of Australia-based Intrepid Group, the world’s largest travel B corporation.
Aided by the New York firm AvroKo, W founder Barry Sternlicht’s urban 1 Hotels have put biophilic design front and center with vegetation walls, parklike atmospheres, and a surprisingly soigné use of salvaged materials. The award-winning brand’s fourth property opened in West Hollywood in July, and a London debut is planned for 2022. Like the enlightened competition, these hotels take seriously the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification, a trustworthy indicator of a property’s environmental priorities. But Svart, in northern Norway, aims to do those standards one better when it opens as the world’s first Powerhouse, or energy-positive, hotel in 2021—with a starkly sci-fi design courtesy of Oslo-based firm Snøhetta.
There’s no reason to leave your reusables at home. Your favorite shopping tote takes up negligible luggage space, and the added convenience of an insulated water bottle exceeds its weight. This high-concept example by George Sowden will boost your flight experience, while an attractive UV-purifying design from LARQ has the bonus of keeping you safely hydrated almost anywhere. Not ready to give up straws? Tuck a metal one in among your tidy bamboo utensil kit, for the reason that 9 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. And for that next beach trip, consider acetate sunglass frames from Dick Moby or Luxottica’s Arnette Sustainable Collection, both of which are made from non-petroleum sources. Produced from old carpets, ocean-clogging fishing nets, and other upcycled materials, Econyl is a proprietary synthetic fabric that’s gone high-fashion lately; Prada has released a collection of travel-friendly bags made from it, and has committed to replacing all virgin nylon with Econyl by 2021.
Let’s be honest: Environmentally speaking, the friendly skies are anything but. “If airlines were a country, they would be the seventh-largest emitter of carbon in the world,” Intrepid’s Thornton notes. It’s why climate activist Greta Thunberg refuses to fly on principle and a shift of norms is gaining traction in northern Europe, where flygskam (“flight shame”) has young Swedes embracing long-distance train travel. KLM is even urging customers to think twice before booking with them.
Scandinavian is the first airline to go ahead and buy carbon offsets for loyalty customers rather than merely providing a self-pay option—but the efficacy of proportional donations to air-cleaning forestation projects has been disputed, so try to ensure your payment is going somewhere credible. In America, United has at least staked out a position as the industry’s leading investor in biofuel. The bad news is that any meaningful use of low-emitting jet fuel is still years away, while the number of airline passengers is expected to double over the next two decades.
Some of the most heartening progress for airlines has been in reducing the nearly 6 million tons of trash generated by their passengers per year. Qantas, for example, plans to eliminate 75% of its in-flight waste by 2022. These efforts will call for a new approach to meal service, perhaps one inspired by the high-concept trays—made of seaweed, coffee grounds, rice husks, and other repurposed biodegradables—created by U.K. firm PriestmanGoode and on display until February 2020 at London’s Design Museum.
The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothes a year, and the ecological cost of producing textiles can be staggering. Luckily, certain makers of travel-friendly apparel are trying to be part of the solution. Sewn from deadstock fabric, Ref Jeans (from L.A.-based cult brand Reformation) save a thousand of gallons of water per pair. Misha Nonoo, designer of Meghan Markle’s “Husband Shirt,” keeps excess inventory out of landfills by manufacturing on demand.
As the boom market for cheap cashmere turns overgrazed Asian grasslands into desert, planet-minded trendsetters are opting for alpaca (from arty Danish brand Carcel, for example) as a lower-impact alternative. Wool—natural, biodegradable, and long-lived—has always been an eco-conscious choice, and is newly desirable at labels like Colovos, launched by a pair of former Helmut Lang creative directors, and Carema, which insists on single-origin sourcing for its retro-inspired ski sweaters. Allbirds, which pioneered the use of sustainable tree fiber in knit sneakers, now offers ridiculously comfortable water-resistant styles in merino wool. Headed to the Caribbean this winter? Fisch and Mara Hoffman are making some of the best-looking Econyl swimsuits out there.
Situated as they often are in places where the natural environment is itself the main draw, remote lodges are both ahead of the eco-curve in some cases and hypocritically behind it in others. Luxury outfitters Singita and AndBeyond have built their own solar micro-grids, for example, giving sun-drenched safari properties fewer excuses than ever to rely heavily on diesel generators. There’s also been action around converting safari jeeps from gas power to electric, notably at South Africa’s new Cheetah Plains Lodge. Though it’s heavy on up-front costs, the transition may have the added benefit of making the “silent safari” de rigueur.
As always, travelers can use their wallets to endorse a government’s environmental policies. Botswana and New Zealand have positioned themselves nicely in this regard, and Belizean officials have also taken bold steps—preserving coastal mangroves, banning Styrofoam and single-use plastic—to give Costa Rica a run for its money as the region’s most fully invested eco-tourism hub. Belize is home to Copal Tree and Blancaneaux, a pair of high-end jungle lodges that supply their kitchens from on-site farms and achieve an extra degree of culinary sustainability is the process.
May 2020 is the opening date for Six Senses Shaharut, a 60-room hotel and spa in Israel’s Negev Desert, where use of local limestone and a ban on nonelectric vehicles have lowered the carbon footprint of this effortlessly desert-chic new property. This follows the premium wellness brand’s 2018 opening in Fiji, where the Six Senses resort boasts the nation’s largest micro-grid and directs excess solar power to a nearby desalination plant.
OMA, the Dutch firm created by Rem Koolhaas, executed the recent expansion of Desa Potato Head in Bali, which founder Ronald Akili will continue to unveil in 2020. The 168-room hotel and multipurpose venue showcase eco-chic furniture (materials include recycled ocean plastic and textile offcuts generated by local weavers) and advance the bohemian-flavored compound’s zero-waste ethos; guests can even melt down plastic bags and bottles at the on-site Sustainism Lab, a workshop for creative repurposing of trash. Meanwhile, at Bawah Reserve, situated at the other end of the Indonesian archipelago, all waste paper is mulched, all food waste composted, crushed glass is repurposed to filter drinking water, and solar-powered boats shuttle guests between the buzzworthy resort’s six private islands.
The very notion of natural beauty is being redefined in the Maldives, where a quarter of the nation’s resorts recently pledged to stop removing seagrass—which is beneficial for both wildlife and carbon absorption—from their lagoons. Coming from a place that is often compared to paradise, aesthetic accommodations like this one should not be underestimated.
Though cruising represents just 2% of the travel industry, the sector’s waste and carbon footprint loom distressingly large. The heavy fuel oil used by these mega-vessels is among the dirtiest in the world, and most operators have resisted the expensive switch to low-sulfur alternatives. Carnival, which serves as many as half the world’s 11 million annual cruise passengers, has been fined more than once for illegal waste-dumping at sea—though to its credit, the industry giant is among those phasing out single-use plastic.
European luxury lines have not only taken the lead, but also made the eco-friendlier future of cruising seem improbably stylish. Fresh off its maiden voyage, Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen features lots of natural materials (birchwood, granite, wool) in its interiors and wall decor curated by the Queen of Norway’s foundation for young artists—and is also partly powered by organic waste matter, including dead fish. The Norwegian company has partnered with Rolls-Royce to retrofit most of its fleet to hybrid power by 2021.
When the Commandant Charcot is unveiled in 2021, the icebreaker will be the first vessel of its kind to travel under hybrid electric and liquefied natural gas, or LNG. It’s one of many developments underway for Ponant since the French cruise line’s acquisition four years ago by luxury mogul Francois Pinault. The Charcot promises enough sleekness and polish to impress an oligarch, but also a sense of romance rooted in the company’s origins as a nostalgic alternative to ’80s superyachts. A signature Ponant element, albeit one absent from the expedition-oriented Charcot, is an underwater lounge with portholes shaped like whale eyes—where, in order to encourage a meditative atmosphere, nothing stronger than beer or wine is served.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest