Green tourism: The Vancouverite's guide to reducing your footprint

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      You probably already do a lot to help the environment. You reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible, bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, take your favourite tumbler to your neighbourhood coffee shop, and try new plant-based recipes on Meatless Monday. Perhaps you’re even one of the 12,000 British Columbians with a clean energy vehicle, or you use one of our city’s awesome car- or bike-sharing services.

      When it comes time to plan a vacation, the thought of environmental responsibility might not seem synonymous with relaxation, but tourism—from air travel to shopping while abroad—has a huge impact on the planet. With a little bit of research, your next holiday can have a much smaller carbon footprint. Here are five handy tips to help you get started.

      Explore local


      Seeing the world is wonderful, but have you seen what we have right here in beautiful British Columbia? The more we all flock to the same remote destination, the harder it is on the environment, not to mention the local culture. Instead, try being a tourist in your hometown. Seek out attractions that promote stewardship of the natural environment: look for clues like whether they’re members of the Ocean Wise seafood program or Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste challenge.

      Some of these eco-friendly destinations even offer discounts for locals. For example, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers an annual pass for BC residents that costs the same as a single visit. Why not head over to the North Shore and take in the natural scenery just a short trip from downtown? Hop on their Free Shuttle at Canada Place, which takes 700 cars off the road per day! Bonus: you can come back and experience the Canyon Lights during the holidays at no additional cost.

      Avoid the plane

      Another fantastic reason to stay close to home for your holiday is the lack of air travel required. Not only do you get to skip the security lines, but you’re reducing your carbon emissions by roughly one tonne. A round-trip from Vancouver to Toronto generates about 20 percent of the greenhouse gasses emitted by your car in one year.

      If you do want to get out of town, choose a slow travel option such as a train, and enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Pacific Central Station has trains departing for spots all over North America and some of them even allow you to purchase drinks onboard or bring your own to consume in the sleeping cars—which certainly makes the eight-hour trip to Portland a lot more enjoyable. When you arrive at your final destination, take transit, walk, or bike. Getting around like a local is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment and see another side of a city.

      Say no to plastic

      If you aren’t already aware, there’s something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—essentially a massive amount of manmade garbage that’ll take hundreds of years to break down (if ever), all while wreaking havoc on marine life.

      To help break the cycle, bring a reusable bottle and coffee cup with you when you travel, or opt for locally purified water in glass bottles and coffee in a ceramic mug rather than a disposable container. Bring a canvas tote bag, too, so that you can make purchases at local markets and cut down on plastic bags.

      And finally, consider leaving commercially caught fish off of your plate. The majority of the waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—around 79,000 tonnes—is comprised of discarded fishing nets, which continue to catch and kill wildlife as they litter the ocean. At the end of the day, try to avoid plastic while travelling as much as you do at home.

      Leave no trace

      The Lower Mainland has some amazing hikes for every skill level. From the walk in the woods that is Quarry Rock to the sweat-inducing Stawamus Chief, we’ve got easy access to the types of outdoor adventures other cities can only dream of. When hiking or camping, don’t leave anything behind. If you brought it with you, bring it home—garbage, recycling, the whole kit and kaboodle.

      Ideally, you want to pack your food and everything else in reusable containers and avoid disposable cutlery, straws, flatware, bottles, etc. Remember to take only pictures of your surroundings, leaving the beach rocks and wildflowers behind for the next folks to enjoy.

      Do your research

      If you’re traveling abroad (or even close to home), you should be curious about the environmental impact of all your choices, including your hotel, dining options, and tour operators. National Geographic recommends asking these questions when you’re booking your trip: What are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Can you give me an example of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? Do you employ local guides on your trips? If they can’t provide good answers, find a business that can.

      We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, so why not explore the natural beauty that’s right here in our backyard? Whether you’re taking the train through the Rocky Mountains, hiking the Chief, or walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, being a tourist in your hometown is not only a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s also a lot of fun! Just don’t forget your reusable water bottle.