“Sustainability goes beyond what we often think of as being green,” said Megan Epler Wood, managing director of the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program at Cornell University’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and principal at EplerWood International. “It’s a question of how we manage our planet, share our resources, and do so in a way that’s equitable and fair for everyone.”
In 1990, Epler Wood founded the International Ecotourism Society, the first nonprofit dedicated to using eco-tourism to encourage sustainable development. Since then, she has worked to craft tourism policies in more than 30 countries. Her 2017 book, “Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions,” details travel’s increasing burdens and hidden costs — and offers recommendations to lower its carbon effects and protect environmental, cultural and human health.
Books such as Epler Wood’s can help us make sense of our options. Case studies illuminate how management can affect destinations, negatively or positively. Conservationists’ autobiographies take readers on journeys to astonishing and imperiled locations. And how-to guides detail tangible pointers for reducing negative effects, experiencing conservation- and community-minded destinations, and discerning meaningful measures from deceptive greenwashing.
Published while the climate crisis has given us a clear-eyed vantage of tourism’s harms, these books describe the urgency and opportunity for resetting travel as more mindful, sustainable, better managed and even beneficial to local people — which, together, create a good definition for green travel.
“The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach,” by Sarah Stodola
In this page-turning travel narrative, Stodola, the founder and editor of Flung Magazine, investigates the history and allure of beach resort culture, as well as its effects on the environment and local communities. She takes readers to destinations such as the Jersey Shore and Bali, peering behind the facade of this “major global industry that has bred economic and social inequalities in many a locale, as well as contributed to the climate crisis while coming under existential threat from it — a paradise both threatening and threatened.”
“Sustainable Travel: The Essential Guide to Positive-Impact Adventures,” by Holly Tuppen
After journeying around the world without flying in the late aughts, Tuppen became a travel expert who views sustainability as essential to protecting our planet and communities. In this book, she presents an overview of sustainable travel and its relationship to the climate and biodiversity crises. “The travel industry is teetering on [a] precipice,” she writes. “It can choose the long-term sustainable path, or it can plummet down the self-destructive one.” Packed with tips for wherever your wanders take you, her book also inspires with stories of regenerative travel from around the globe.
“Horizon,” by Barry Lopez
Through six regions, including the Oregon Coast, the Galápagos Islands and the Antarctic, Lopez uses his singular literary voice and experience traveling in more than 70 countries to create an autobiography infused with wonder, urgency and concern. “Our question is no longer how to exploit the natural world for human comfort and gain, but how we can cooperate with one another to ensure we will someday have a fitting, not a dominating, place in it,” he writes. (Any of his 13 other books are similarly breathtaking, including his most recent, the posthumously published “Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays,” and “Arctic Dreams,” the National Book Award-winning classic.)
“The Sustainable Travel Handbook: Practical Advice and Inspiration for the Conscientious Traveller,” by Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet’s guide to greener travel provides readers with tips to lessen carbon emissions, cut waste and plan activities such as hiking and volunteering. Themed lists of farther-flung and familiar destinations help readers brainstorm ideas, including electric car and rail trips and more responsible wildlife watching. (If you’re looking for more armchair daydreaming, Lonely Planet’s “Sustainable Escapes” includes about 180 locations and experiences. And for those interested in eating more sustainably, its “Vegan Travel Handbook” celebrates plant-based adventures around the world.)
“Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future,” edited by Martha Honey and Kelsey Frenkiel
Responsible-travel authorities Honey and Frenkiel present more than 20 case studies that include perspectives from tourism experts including The Washington Post’s Andrea Sachs. They outline sustainable management possibilities for destinations such as historic cities, parks, World Heritage sites, beaches and coastal communities.
“A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future,” by David Attenborough with Jonnie Hughes
Since joining the BBC in 1952, explorer and conservationist Attenborough has taken hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world via dozens of documentary films, television series and books. In this testament and accompaniment to the Netflix documentary, he reflects on his astounding globe-spanning career and the ecological destruction that he’s witnessed over seven decades. He names “the true tragedy of our time: the spiralling decline of our planet’s biodiversity,” and he offers bold, much-needed hope.
“Destination Unknown: Sustainable Travel and Ethical Tourism,” edited by Carolin Lusby
By including case studies that examine cruise tourism, wildlife conservation, volunteer tourism and other topics, Lusby points out travel’s role in fostering intercultural understanding and economic development while critiquing overtourism’s effects on local environments and cultures. The book argues that the pandemic presents an opportunity for creating travel that’s more environmentally and socially responsible.
“Travel: Easy Tips for the Eco-Friendly Traveller (The Green Edit),” by Juliet Kinsman
Journalist and hotelier Kinsman offers travelers a snappy guide to making practical, effortlessly sustainable choices. Whether it’s booking less-visited destinations, choosing greener transit and accommodations, packing mindfully or respecting wildlife, Kinsman offers beginners an accessible departure point for reducing negative effects.
“Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World,” by Anu Taranath
In this award-winning book, Taranath, a professor and consultant who specializes in diversity, social change and racial equity, offers guidance for reconciling our expectations with the cultural differences we encounter while traveling. Although the book isn’t a green travel guide per se, it does provide an indispensable social justice framework that can inform our sustainability efforts and imbue our journeys with greater respect.
Williams is a writer based in Oregon. Her website is erinewilliams.com.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.