Posted by: ecodestination | February 13, 2010

Save Eco Destinations has MOVED!

Hi, thank you so much for reading!

From now on, please visit Save Eco Destinations at http://saveecodestinations.com!

Remember to set your RSS to the new feed: http://saveecodestinations.com/feed

(The email address is still the same.)

We hope to see you there! The blog’s still going – and growing!

Posted by: ecodestination | February 5, 2010

Join hands and take a hike, Florida!

Rainbow sunset off Miami Beach, FL

Here are two upcoming eco events for the greenies in Florida, U.S.:

Hands Across the Sand

Save the date: Saturday, February 13, rain or shine, head to your local beach (and if it’s not listed, go ahead and organize an event in your community) to hold hands with other Florida beach lovers to protest oil drilling from 1-2pm EST (get there a little early and plan for parking).

The event is called Hands Across the Sand and the idea is to push for the protection of Florida’s beaches and wildlife from oil drilling.

“This is an opportunity to show your opposition to oil drilling as close as 3 to 10 miles off our coast. This movement will be made of people of all walks of life. This movement is not about politics; it is about protection of our shoreline, our tourism, our valuable properties and our way of life. Let us share our knowledge, energies and passion for protecting our waterways and beaches from the devastating effects of oil drilling.”

Join their Facebook page for Love Tourists Not Drilling Coalition in Pinellas County, Florida, here.

Check it out on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook. You can also sign up for the newsletter here.

It has already received public support from legislators and both governmental and non-governmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the City of Sarasota, Pinellas County, and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

It’s just one hour. You know you want to! Tell your friends!

Take a Hike!

The Florida Forever Coalition is organizing public hikes across the state of Florida to celebrate 20 years of public land acquisition on Saturday, February 20 at 10am EST. You can join or put a hike together in your area by filling out this form and emailing it to info@supportfloridaforever.org.

Already organized are hikes in Central Florida, Tampa Bay, the Panhandle, and Lake Okeechobee. There are none organized in the Everglades thus far, but you can go ahead and set one up!

The coalition is made up of over 125 nonprofits, public agencies and private groups and has protected over 2.4 million acres of Florida land since 2000, according to its website.

Among its successes, Florida Forever counts the preservation of

  • 53,600 acres of springs and springsheds
  • 5,190 acres of fragile coastline
  • 300,000 acres of sustainable forest lands
  • 158,700 acres of working agricultural lands

Learn about volunteering, sending emails to your legislators, writing op-eds for Florida newspapers, and more for the cause here.

The coalition is also organizing plenty of lobby days and other events across Florida.

Enjoy!

Posted by: ecodestination | February 5, 2010

Clean coal, really?

You know how President Barack Obama recently announced in his State of the Union address that he would boost the use of biofuels and “clean coal”?

What are we, idiots?

Excuse me. There is no such thing as clean coal.

Talk about greenwashing!

And this is an issue that’s been going on for a long while – yet greenwashing has managed to keep it around and prosperous. At least some people are logical: Watch the awesome Rachel Maddow slap some sense into the idea.

Thank you, Huffingon Post

Coal produces more carbon emissions than any other energy source.

It causes significant health problems for miners. It pollutes land and waterways. Stop the greenwashing already!

“Clean coal is a dirty lie,” says environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who calls President Barack Obama and other politicians who commit taxpayer money to develop it “indentured servants” of the coal industry.

And biofuels!

It takes preposterous amounts of corn, wheat, and other plants – and land (hello, deforestation and soil erosion!) – to create bioethanol. Not to mention that with crops come fertilizers, with fertilizers come runoffs, and then huge amounts of phosphates that enter waterways and cause algal bloom (a.k.a. red tide) and other environmental calamities. So greenwashing all the way, here.

And what about food? Shouldn’t we be growing food to…eat? It’s certainly more productive given our current biofuel technologies, which are so limited that the use of biofuels causes food prices to soar.

Biofuels are not green. But there sure is a lot of greenwashing about them! (Ha-ha.)

And now algal fuel is coming under attack as being worse than bioethanol (not that it’s stopping the corporations that already invested in mass producing algal fuel). Damn. Just a few months ago I blogged about its shiny new possibilities!

A truly green possibility

Vegetable oil/Biodiesel

This magic fuel is made from vegetable oil. I know people who have gone to Burger King and other “restaurants” and asked for their gross leftover, low-quality, used oil. They got it for free, and used it alone to power their vehicles. It worked, they saved a ton of money, and avoided polluting.

Now this is a neat idea.

So where are we on this, Pres?

This, of course, is a very complex and intricate topic and I barely touched on it. My point is to note the atrocity – yes, atrocity – that is the unabashed greenwashing in President Obama’s speech. Really, clean coal? We can’t let our guard down for a minute, apparently.

What are your “favorite” biofuels, if any, and why?

Any particularly notable sources on the topic? Recommend away!

Posted by: ecodestination | February 2, 2010

On Haiti and suffering

Ooh, I stole this from somewhere - where? Sorry.

Caveat: This post isn’t on ecotourism.

I was just listening to the radio as I drove (yes, I feel guilty, but public transportation in this city is pathetic) to my friend’s house to babysit his kid (I know, what?!), and someone began to speak about hope and its importance.

She highlighted the recent catastrophe in Haiti, just like everyone has been doing lately. I think that’s great: we should be paying attention to these things and feeling compassion and, hopefully, hope that things will improve, that those affected will see the light at the end of the tunnel as quickly as possible. Hope is super positive.

But this is what I keep thinking: What about all the other natural disasters and catastrophes worldwide that are going on right now?

It’s like people only remember the events that are on the news, so when there aren’t stories about women being systematically raped in Darfur and Congo, deforestation in the Amazon, devastated refugee camps in the Balkans, and on and on and on, they seem to be forgotten.

Why do we seldom hear of people praying for those who are suffering except when a terrible event has just occurred?

This will sound terrible, but it’s as though this burst of compassion is “in” at the moment and people are just “into it” to be popular, you know what I mean? Otherwise people retreat into their privileged bubbles and shut everything out, especially things like this (they usually leave room for celebrity gossip and whatnot, for some reason… not that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t balance be better?).

The calamity in Haiti is the thing to be discussing right now, where donations are going, where organizations are focusing their efforts– and I think that is fantastic, naturally – but why are we ignoring the suffering elsewhere in the world? It’s not gone. It’s still there, “vivito y coleando” – alive and kicking.

Let’s not forget about the rampant suffering all over the world, and let’s spread love for and to them too.

Just think: an amount as small as USD 2 can constitute a microloan for an impoverished woman in a developing country.

So it doesn’t take much to affect positive change – and we don’t have to choose one cause over the other when it takes so little to help.

Be kind, be grateful, be appreciative, be generous. Spread love. All over.

Besides, what goes around, comes around. So spread love!

What are your thoughts?

Posted by: ecodestination | January 27, 2010

Green companies, get your butts in gear!

Comic by Gary Varvel

In the recent post Ecotourism in the Everglades of South Florida, Cinthia Pacheco touched on The Everglades Day Safari, which appears to be an example of a greenwashing company due to the vagueness of its eco claims and general dearth of information on its purported environmental responsibility.

Pete Corradino, a guide for the aforementioned Everglades safari and board member of the Society for Ethical Ecotourism (SEE), got in touch through this blog and wrote that his company is fully committed to preserving the Everglades. He also said that, even though SEE’s 2009 certification criteria is not yet available online, it will be in June 2010. At that time, anyone will be able to access it for self-assessment. Further, he’s offered to email me a copy.

That’s doubly fantastic, and both Cinthia and I are very grateful that he has taken the time to talk to us about the Everglades Day Safari and SEE both in the comments section of the last post and via email, where we have continued our conversation.

As I pointed out to him, it would be useful for the safari website – and for the websites of all allegedly green companies – to detail its commitment to the environment and describe its certification, if any, to show why and how the company is genuinely eco/green/environmentally responsible and rule out any greenwashing.

At this time, the safari website provides very little data on its sustainability policy; there is no description of its efforts to preserve the Everglades, no criteria listed – nothing except a few vague phrases on the home page. Corradino said he’s now looking into updating the site to include the missing information on the company’s green initiatives.

Corradino was upset that Cinthia suspected his company was guilty of greenwashing – but without the appropriate information, how is one supposed to know that a company offers a truly eco-tour/lodge/etc.?

Being denied the necessary information, it is reasonable that people will respond to eco claims with skepticism, both because the term “eco” is often a cover for greenwashing and because the Everglades (in the case of the Everglades Day Safari) have been trampled on and polluted for decades.

To cement my point, here is a quote about the unreliability of the term “eco” that I noted in the post Fight greenwashing! (Wait, can we?) Pt. 2:

‘Already the word “eco” has lost all power and meaning,’ says Guyonne James, senior projects manager at Tourism Concern, a UK charity which campaigns against exploitation. ‘In Brazil, if a bed-and-breakfast has a back garden, they’ll call it an eco-lodge. There has been such a proliferation of claims and green labels that as a tourist you really have no idea what’s going on.’

So, companies, if you want us to learn about and believe your eco claims, be ready to make your environmental standards and certification process publicly available!

It’s not fair to expect us to give you a call or visit your premises when deciding on a tour/hotel/whatnot for our next adventure just because you don’t back up your eco claims online. If you’re selling a green product, it’s your job to prove it to consumers with all the documentation you’ve got to gain credibility, and to make it easy on us so we’re more likely to choose you over other companies. (Please note, also, that this move will also improve your reputation and banish any concerns of greenwashing!)

Until then, it is better for us all to be safe – and skeptical – than sorry by finding out when it’s too late that we’ve supported a greenwashing business.

Posted by: ecodestination | January 23, 2010

Ecotourism in the Everglades of South Florida

A swamp in the Everglades

By Cinthia Pacheco

The Everglades of South Florida: an ecotourism hotspot to explore the unique mingling of subtropical wetlands, or another tourist frenzy disturbing serene wildlife?

The Everglades already have a dense history of human impact, and one is left to wonder if we can improve the situation or just make it worse by visiting this special environment – even from an ecotourism angle.

Geographically, the Everglades are an anomaly: a combination of swamps, mangrove forests, pine rockland, and other systems. This diverse environment contains a colourful array of plants and endangered animals that stretches 100 miles from Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee, around Disney World and through Florida Bay.

The strain of urban development has culminated in the draining and contamination of 50% of these wetlands.

Map from library.thinkquest.org

A peek at the history of the Everglades: in the 1950s, the land was considered for residential development. The U.S. Government started building canals and water control structures to improve flood control and drainage. The result: the natural flow of water from the ocean to the Everglades was ruined, and the water that did reach the wetlands was contaminated with chemicals, while fresh water became unable to circulate in the area.

Restoration Plans

Today, there is a number of restoration plans underway to turn around the damage. The CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers form the largest ecosystem restoration plan in global history. They work together to, among many other projects, restore water flow and rehydrate drained wetlands. The Corps are building a special pump to encourage natural water flow, as well as remove many miles of road.

On January 7, 2010 the CERP held a ceremony to reinvigorate the Everglades restoration plan.

“Over the past-century, South Florida’s explosive growth has absorbed half of the original Everglades,” Col. Al Pantano, Corps’ Jacksonville District commander stated. “Today, together, we are returning some of those lands that were prepped for development to their former, natural conditions.”

Regulations on Tourism

Amidst the myriad projects and initiatives, very little is being done about the human impact on the Everglades – including regulations on tourism.

A typical Everglades alligator

Large swarms of tourism bring noise and garbage to this delicate environment. And according to many self-proclaimed ecotourism companies, the Everglades are still considered an ecotourism hotspot.

The Everglades Day Safari defines ecotourism as ”responsible travel” – and then proudly announces its “six vehicles in the fleet” and exploration of the area by “airboat” or “pontoon boat.” These companies do not help preserve the stillness of an environment that is under threat.

Other more responsible projects have less impact.

Everglade Trail, a smaller tourist trail project, promotes individual trekking through the landscape, encouraging activities like canoeing, hiking, and biking. They also offer a CD for you to take along to listen to information and stories about the wildlife and history. This strategy is healthier for the Everglades, even if it is considered “slower” tourism.

One recent regulation set on human activity in the Everglades National Park is a Pole and Troll boating rule. In designated areas, boats are required to use push poles, paddles, or electric trolling motors to protect sea grass and wildlife.

But there is still a lot of work to be done.

David Reiner, president of Friends of the Everglades, wrote in a recent 2009 newsletter,

“In spite of our accomplishments and best efforts, the Everglades continue to degrade. Developers continue to be given permission to develop sprawl west of the Urban Development Boundary. Protections for the ecosystem which is the lifeblood of South Florida are hard won and expensive.”

Do tourists – even ecotourists – only make the matter worse? Or can public education contribute to saving these wetlands?

Studying the impact of human activity will help us better understand which restrictions must be established and how to properly enforce them.

Working hard to heal the damage done by urban sprawl is important, but we must also be attentive to our present actions. Taking responsibility in the present is a direct way to work on reviving the Everglades in the future.

Cinthia Pacheco is a Canadian-Argentine living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is a feminist who spends her leisure time writing and playing basketball. You can connect with her via email and on Twitter at @rincon200.

Posted by: ecodestination | January 15, 2010

Fight greenwashing! (Wait, can we?) Pt. 2

See this post to find out about greenwashing and Fight greenwashing! (Wait, can we?) Pt. 1 here.

There are problems with environmental organizations or groups endorsing products and companies.

For one, consider that true green companies may not be able to afford certification from international organizations to avoid being suspected of greenwashing. That’s not fair.

Another issue is that sources like the deceptive Responsible Travel, “the world’s leading travel agent for responsible holidays,” is irresponsible in only listing companies that pay them for the privilege. Ahem, conflict of interest, ahem. This is not an organization that provides eco certification – it is a commercial travel agency. But by naming itself “Responsible Travel,” it easily misleads:

‘The issue I have is that a commercial travel agent has appropriated the name “responsible travel” and by so doing gives the appearance of being an official industry portal to find those kind of trips,’ says Roger Diski, founder of Rainbow Tours, a specialist African tour operator. ‘But they charge operators to be on the site, which means that only those who are prepared to pay them commission on sales are on there. Furthermore, monitoring of standards is rudimentary; much of what is on there has no particular claim to be responsible.’ (Emphasis mine.)

How can such businesses and groups be trusted to, for one, genuinely hunt for greenwashing in the eco industry and, two, truthfully report their findings?

image by The Telegraph

Not to mention that even well-known certification organizations often fail – as you will find if you take the time to dig – to fully clear the companies they endorse of greenwashing despite their promises because it’s too costly and the logistics crazy complicated (and other reasons may apply).

Consider it: an organization/group/agency would have to send someone to the actual store/hotel/headquarters/etc. to check for a complete absence of greenwashing: whether the food grown in the premises is really organic, if the light bulbs used are energy efficient, if the walls were painted with non-toxic paint, how much PVC is used, if eco hotel employees educate guests and strongly request that they remain quiet during bird watching tours and other activities in the wild, how they dispose of their trash, where they get their drinking water from if the location is remote (a well? Is it trucked in?), and a zillion other items. It would be nearly impossible to verify.

And what exacerbates this dilemma is the lack of international, ecumenical, and consistent eco standards for what exactly comprises an “eco lodge,” a “green company,” and so on. These labels are up for grabs by all bidders, greenwashing and not, because nobody checks up on them and there are no formal punishments for the crime that is greenwashing.

It’s a dire state of affairs for the eco industry.

‘Already the word “eco” has lost all power and meaning,’ says Guyonne James, senior projects manager at Tourism Concern, a UK charity which campaigns against exploitation. ‘In Brazil, if a bed-and-breakfast has a back garden, they’ll call it an eco-lodge. There has been such a proliferation of claims and green labels that as a tourist you really have no idea what’s going on.’

We may not be Wonder Wom[e]n, but we have power.

We may not be Wonder Wom(e)n, but we have power.

So, the best thing we can do?

Keep our own eyes open and dig deep. That alone is more than most people will do, whether due to lack of time, resources, or interest. And the land is fertile for greenwashing, my friends.

So let’s just do our best, until we can do better.

Even simple questions can allow for the prompt crossing out of options on one’s list.

Baby steps are better than no steps.

In the next post, I will consider frequently cited environmental standards employed to avert greenwashing.

Stay tuned, fellow greenies!

Posted by: ecodestination | January 13, 2010

Fight greenwashing! (Wait, can we?) Pt. 1

Illustration courtesy of sinsofgreenwashing.org

You are an eco conscious individual and you want to take a trip. “Yay! So many eco-friendly options!” you joyfully think to yourself.

Wait, STOP!

Greenwashing is everywhere.

*Screams of terror*

But don’t be scared!

There is hope.

Our most powerful tool

The best thing we can do to out greenwashing is ask questions – to yourself and to the ostensibly green companies whose products and so on you are interested in. Every single question you have. Ask them until you drive people crazy (and then keep going)!

Some important issues to consider:

  • What are the company’s environmental claims?
    • Are the claims vague? (Red flag! Probable greenwashing!)
    • Are they verifiable?
    • Do the company and its products/lodging/whatnot meet certain environmental leadership standards?
    • Which environmental organization’s standards does the company meet?
    • Is the environmental organization legit, like EcoLogo or Green Seal?
    • What does the environmental organization examine – sustainability, energy efficiency, evident respect toward local communities and culture, nature conservation, etc.?
  • Can you get your hands on the company’s documented green standards and the environmental organization’s testing protocol(s)?

Unavailable documents are a red flag signaling massive greenwashing. And if you do acquire a copy of the documents, dissect them to ascertain whether the company meets the standards it purports to meet. The information should be clear, consistent, and provable.

  • If no organization screened the company for greenwashing, who was in charge of developing the environmental standards and testing protocol(s), and how did they do it?
    • Were the standards and protocols developed via an open and transparent process?
    • Are records publicly available for review? (They better be!)
  • Do the standards encompass energy efficiency, sustainability, environmental and social repercussions during the lifecycle of the product or building and running of the facility, conscientious disposal and waste water treatments, and other umbrella factors?
    • Is this demonstrable?
  • What does the verification process consist of?
    • Is it self-certification? Self- certification and random audits? Independent third-party certification? Independent third-party certification with on-site audits?
    • Is this provable?

The questions that can be asked to detect greenwashing are practically interminable.

Can you come up with more?

Posted by: ecodestination | January 10, 2010

Greenwashing

Greenwashing (a.k.a. green whitewash or green sheen) is the act of appearing, or pretending to be, sustainable or environmentally friendly to cater to environmentally conscious consumers. “Eco” hotels, “green” companies and organizations, even “organic” products can dupe us through greenwashing.

These companies may not be green at all or may be only marginally green in their efforts, all the while marketing themselves as laudably sustainable and invested in the cause, or greenwashing. Companies that greenwash often spend more funds to market themselves as eco-friendly than on actually greening their practices.

What do they gain by lying to us? Why, a wider range of consumers and thus heftier profits.

I’ve blogged about companies and whatnot that are guilty of greenwashing: so-called eco hotels that, when you look into what they are actually doing to make themselves eco-friendly, fall substantially short. As we can see, greenwashing is huge in the ecotourism industry. Another culprit is the automobile industry: how can any cars be environmentally friendly? Come on, folks – cars pollute, and that’s the end of it. All car companies can do is come up with cars that pollute less than others.

Canadian environmental marketing firm TerraChoice came up with a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” in November 2007. The study found that over 99% of 1,018 common consumer products – ranging from electronics to toiletries – randomly surveyed in North America were guilty of greenwashing by lying or misleading.

The six sins of greenwashing are:

  • The Hidden Trade-Off – E.g. “energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products and 57% of all environmental claims were guilty.
  • No Proof: E.g. “Certified organic” shampoos lacking provable certification. 454 products and 26% of environmental claims were guilty.
  • Vagueness: E.g. Products claiming to be “100% natural” when many naturally-occurring ingredients are dangerous, such as arsenic and formaldehyde. 196 products or 11% of environmental claims were guilty.
  • Irrelevance: E.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free when – ahem – CFCs were banned 20 years ago! 78 products and 4% of environmental claims were guilty.
  • Fibbing: E.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo or Energy Star. 10 products or less than 1% of environmental claims were guilty.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: E.g. Organic cigarettes, “environmentally friendly” pesticides, or “clean” cars. 17 products or 1% of environmental claims were guilty.

TerraChoice added a seventh sin in April 2009:

  • The Sin of Worshiping False Labels: When a product deceptively gives the impression through words or images that it is endorsed by a third-party.

Watch TerraChoice VP Scott Case talk about the sins of greenwashing:

In this video, TerraChoice President Scott McDougall talks about the sins of greenwashing on Canada AM:

So what the hell are we supposed to do now?

I’ll let you know in my next post!

Posted by: ecodestination | December 31, 2009

Make eco resolutions for 2010!

Eco, eco, eco (it echoes!). It’s going to be an eco-friendly new year if we make it so! And we can do it. We will do it!

If we sustain and nourish our natural environment, it will sustain and nourish us back. You can be sure of that, because Mother Nature is a badass. She just needs a little support from us!

So let’s make some eco resolutions!

If you’re traveling, even if you’re planning for summer or next winter, you can decide on your eco resolutions now and take an environmentalist stance – this will allow it to permeate the rest of your lifestyle too.

You’ll be more likely to remember to rent a car with high mileage per gallon instead of a gas guzzler like an SUV, to offset your flights, to carpool even if it’s a little inconvenient, to turn off all your appliances at night, to not leave the lights on when you leave a room, to recycle, to choose reusable containers and plates for your next party, to opt for biodegradable sunscreen next time you’re in the sun, to leave the coral reefs alone when you’re scuba diving, even to volunteer for your next vacation, to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and on and on and on.

You’ll be more likely to go on an eco vacation, travel green, live green, and generally infuse your life with the beautiful color (and concept, of course!) that is green!

I will list my eco resolutions for 2010 below for inspiration, and I’d love love love to hear yours! Post your eco resolutions on your blog, submit an article about it somewhere, remind others to make eco resolutions too, and whatever else you can think of! It’s a gentle way to encourage others to be environmentally mindful.

My resolutions:

1.  Start an organic urban farming project at home and/or with other eco-conscious folk. Yay organic food! Yay cheap produce! Yay pure deliciousness! What’s not to like?

2. Keep bullying (I mean, gently reminding) my friends into carpooling.

3. Encourage everyone to choose reusable utensils, plates, and cups when throwing a party. Even offer to procure the materials!

4. Encourage others to make eco resolutions for 2010.

5. Persistently remind people to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Always set an example.

6. Only purchase recyclable products and materials.

7. Request that management switch to biodegradable pesticides.

8. Turn off the AC and open the windows when it’s cool out and my roommate isn’t looking. (Ha!)

9. Continue washing most dishes in the sink rather than using the dishwasher, and do it more.

10. Encourage others to use baking soda, vinegar, and other natural and biodegradable products for cleaning.

There you (and I) go! Let’s make some eco resolutions for 2010.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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