With April comes tax deadlines and Earth Day (celebrated on April 22), annual reminders that we all really ought to make the most of the money we’ve got and also save the planet – or failing that, at least make efforts to be a bit more environmentally friendly. Fortunately, luxury travelers have opportunities to do just that.

Green travel opportunities abound for luxury travelers.

These days, traveling sustainably does not have to entail hiking or camping or soy milk (not that there’s anything wrong with soy milk) – although it can!

What does ‘traveling sustainably’ even mean?

That word “sustainability” really began to be used frequently in the environmental context after the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development published a report in 1987 called Our Common Future. Also referred to as the Brundtland Commission report (named for Norwegian politician Gro Harlem Brundtland, who chaired the commission), the work famously stated: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In short, we should leave the planet in a better place than we found it so that our kids and grandkids and everyone ever after will also have the resources they need to live. Our generation should not use up all the oil reserves, pollute the oceans, and so on.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism

Sustainability does not just refer to saving the environment. It also incorporates the idea that people should not be exploited, either. In fact, the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed that 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Tourism’s role is being promoted in the following areas :

  • inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • social inclusiveness, employment, and poverty reduction
  • resource efficiency, environmental protection, and climate change
  • cultural values, diversity, and heritage
  • mutual understanding, peace and security

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, for one in 11 jobs, and for seven percent of worldwide exports, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

Even if some tourists are not even remotely thinking about sustainability, their travel dollars are, at the very least, feeding the global economy.

More and more, sustainable travel (and sustainable luxury travel) actually is on the mind of tourists. According to a Sustainable Travel Report released by Booking.com, 68 percent of respondents indicated they are more likely to consider choosing an accommodation knowing that it is eco-friendly. For 79 percent of respondents, sustainability considerations also impact their mode of travel.

No judgments when it comes to sustainable luxury travel

Truth be told, when we are on vacation, some of us might just not want to contemplate the eco-politics of our leisure-time ambitions.

Good news: Whether going green is your thing or not, you can take steps to make your travel more sustainable in a wide variety of ways:

1) Choose environmentally conscious destinations

Of the infinite ways of selecting a place to visit, add sustainability to your list of criteria.

Some locales – from cities to beachy sunny havens to the rain forest – have made sustainability a priority. Need some ideas? Consider booking a visit to one of the cities designated as a European Green Capital, an annual award bestowed by the European Commission to promote the environmental efforts of locales within the European Union.

Remember, urban areas can be very sustainable, too. Try visiting one of the European Green Capital cities, like Hamburg, Germany (Credit: M. Ciavardini)

Remember, urban areas can be very sustainable, too. Try visiting one of the European Green Capital cities, like Hamburg, Germany (Credit: M. Ciavardini)

A long-time industrial city closely linked to coal-mining operations – and now a city transforming into an environmentally friendly one – Essen, Germany is the European Green Capital for 2017. Other cities that have won this award include Stockholm, Sweden; Hamburg, Germany; Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain; Nantes, France; Copenhagen, Denmark; Bristol, England; and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

sustainable luxury travel

Not sure you’re ready to set foot in nature? Try easing into sustainable travel in small increments (Credit: Lori Tripoli)

2) Opt for modes of transportation that use alternative sources of energy

This can mean renting a hybrid vehicle or cruising on a boat powered in part by solar panels or wind energy. Consider booking a cruise of the Galapagos Islands on Ecoventura’s M/Y Eric, a hybrid energy tour boat with wind turbines and solar panels. If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly car for a road trip, rental car agency Hertz offers a Green Traveler Collection.

Lexus CT Hybrid (Credit: Lexus)

Lexus CT Hybrid (Credit: Lexus)

3) Patronize elements of the tourism industry recognized for their environmental track records

A cruise is a cruise is a cruise – unless it happens to involve a sustainable cruise line.

Holland America Line recently won its seventh consecutive Green Gateway Award from the Port of Seattle for its environmental efforts, including the use of biodegradable cleaners as well as logging environmental entries onboard via electronic log books, making data collection easier. Holland America ships depart for Alaska from Seattle.

sustainable luxury travel

Holland America MS Westerdam (Credit: HAL)

Do some good green deeds while you are away

You don’t need to install a sewer system in a remote village – unless you want to! Smaller, more discreet – and more comfortable – sustainability projects are offered by some resorts and communities.

You might learn about sustainable gardening in Italy through TribeWanted or seek out some volunteer opportunities while vacationing at the Cotton Tree Lodge in Belize. If you are looking for bigger projects, you might check out Sustainable Harvest International.

Monestvole, Italy (Credit: Tribewanted)

Monestvole, Italy (Credit: Tribewanted)

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • You are not just having fun and seeing the planet – you are saving it.
  • Children and grandchildren accompanying you may be especially interested in sustainable travel adventures.
  • Getting out in nature or learning about sustainability while traveling can be a life-changing event.

Take note

  • If environmentalism has never really been your calling, start small when indulging your new interest in sustainable luxury travel.
  • As with anything else, people have different – and sometimes very outspoken – views on what environmentally friendly travel is. Go with what you find comfortable.



The author was hosted on press trips at two of the destinations mentioned in this piece: Hamburg, Germany and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Hamburg Marketing sponsored the trip to Hamburg, and Ecoventura sponsored the trip to Galapagos Islands.

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How do you try to make travel more sustainable?