How to Protect Yourself from Greenwashing

Want to protect the environment without compromising your adventures? Read why #greenwashing is Public Enemy Number One.
If you’re traveling to a destination, you probably care at least a tiny bit about it, right? You make the effort to memorize some key phrases, look up where the locals hang, and try to behave while you’re there. You might even take it a step further by taking time find an eco-friendly hotel that supports the local ecology and economy. You book ahead of time, excited beyond relief. When you arrive, you notice an immaculate fountain flowing with clear water at the entrance. You get to your room to see a little “Please Save Water – Reuse Towels” sign on the door. You take it off, bring it inside, and check what the room service has to offer. Pineapples? In China? Doesn’t sound very local to me… You order it anyway, and hop in the shower only to notice at least 6 mini bottles containing everything from mouthwash to leave-in conditioner. “Pretty sure green hotels are supposed to use bulk supplies,” you think. “Oh well, dinner time.” You answer the door to notice your “Please Save Water- Reuse Towels” sign has been replaced- already! Hmm.. Seems like you are making all the effort while the hotel continues what it normally does- wastes. You realize you’ve been greenwashed! The worst part about greenwashing is it makes the job a helluva lot harder for the people who are honest in their pursuits. There really are companies out there who are connecting visitors with legitimate, eco-friendly activities and properties that protect the natural beauty of the land. There are also plenty of companies who have taken the effort to try to fool unkowning travelers, like me and you! That is why I write to you today, to help protect you for the horrors of greenwashing. Let’s continue exploring how to be a better traveler, shall we?

 

Ask a million questions.

Then ask some more. The legitimate companies will be ecstatic to explain their mission statement. If you dedicated your life to the pursuit of ecological preservation, wouldn’t you be excited too?!  The companies who are up to no good will get irritated- fast. Some typical questions you should ask are who owns the company, how was the company started, and how do they measure impact?

 

If a company claims non-profit status, make them verify it.

Ask for their tax info or search them on guidestar, one of the leaders in NPO verification. Generally, it’s illegal to say you are a NPO (non-profit organization) without actually being one. In the states, when an organization claims 501(c)3 status, they must make all tax and financial information available. If they are unable to provide or verify NPO status, you can pretty much assume they are full of shit.

 

Research any certification claims.

Remember all that time you spent looking into hotels only to find out they were full of shit? What is the point? Try to at least make it difficult for companies to greenwash by taking a few minutes to research. All you have to do is google whatever certification they have. If nothing immediately pops up, on google, you can guess that the certification is illegitimate.

 

Ask for testimonials.

Especially for long-term trips! If you plan on trying to volunteer with an organization for longer than a day, you really should consider obtaining testimonials. A legitimate company will be able to not only provide you quotes, but connect you with former volunteers/participants.

 

If there is a fee, compare with similar programs in your country of choice.

Be extremely wary of a costly volunteer trip or ecolodge! To be charged $100 USD for a proper recylcing program is reasonable, but $400 USD a night? Probably trying to cash in on the green business.

 

If something seems amiss, speak up.

This especially applies to any encounter with children or animals. If an elephant sanctuary claims to be stress-free for the animals, and the workers use bull hooks, cry foul. Scream foul. Let everyone know! Why not? People who work in conservations have to fight for very limited funds and resources- save them for those who actually give a damn. Remember, when it comes to equality, there is no such thing as complaining!

 

 

Have you ever been the victim of greenwashing? Did you speak up or not? How do you protect yourself from marketing tactics?

Ecotourism in Bali (P.S. it involves coffee!)

Ever heard of kopi #luwak? One of the most expensive coffees in the world is made in Bali- you'll never guess how! #explore

 

Maybe you’ve heard of the world-famous Kopi Luwak from Bali. Selling at $100-$600 USD per pound, you might wonder, “What could be so damn special about it?” First, you have to meet the civet. The civet is a small, furry, nocturnal mammal that roams Southeast Asia. I had the chance to hang out with a few while visiting the Luwak plantations in Bali, and I must say, they are quite feisty animals. Supposedly, they are nocturnal, but they were showing out while we were visiting.

A civet at the Luwak Plantation in #bali #explore

What does this little guy have to do with some of the best coffee in the world?

The civet eats the coffee cherry, digests it (fermenting and adding flavor), and for lack of a better word, shits it out. The beans are cleaned (thank God) and ground up into an amazing cup of strong coffee.

How Kopi Luwak is Made in #bali

In addition to the civet cat, the plantations are home to small dogs and chickens.

I’ve mentioned my passion for ecotourism/agrotourism, and had the absolute pleasure of exploring a few of these plantations where the civets live. Another reason agrotourism is so important is that you have to opportunity to see how the animals are treated. I did notice that the largest civets were in cages together, with enough room to walk in circles. Not only were there animals, fruit and herbs grew wild. One of my favorite things was the baby pineapples! This was the beginning of my blogging days, and I completely forgot to use my hand for scale… Just trust me. It’s itty bitty.

baby #pineapple in #bali

Luwak Plantations have a ton of cute animals that roam around #bali

Have you ever visited the Luwak farm in #Bali? Adorable!

Everyone we met at the farms were very knowledgeable and took us through the whole process of how the coffee is made.

Some of the places let us grind up the coffee beans and all let us roam around the lush plantation. Then, the tour guides offer you free (yes really!) tea/coffee of all different kinds like ginseng and lemongrass. While you do not have to pay for the tour, you do have to pay to try the luwak coffee. I generally prefer these types of establishments because it implies that we truly are peeking into the production of a farm, and not adding to tourist exploitation. My partner-in-crime and I went to at least two during our short trip to Bali.Girl at Luwak plantation in #bali

Different coffee and tea at the kopi luwak farm in #bali #wanderlust

I highly recommend stopping by one called Bali Pulina, located in the Denpasar area.

#bali luwak farm in Denpasar

Our boy Derrick (the driver we spent a few days rocking out to AC/DC with) knew all the spots, and I was especially delighted that this sweet lady let me snap some pics of her lighting the daily offering of rice, incense, flowers, and other precious goodies. My recommendation is to always ask while taking pictures of any religious ceremony. I noticed during the water ceremony, adults were fine with photos but children said no almost every single time.

Woman in #bali gives daily offering outside of luwak plantation

 

My favorite part about agrotourism is being able to not only support a local trade, but getting to know how it is done and by whom.

We had a great time chatting with the girls (and a few guys) that worked at the plantations. Most of the girls were our age (university age) and a few were in high school. All thought the civets were a little crazy! My partner-in-crime and I both purchased some Kopi Luwak to try, and I would most likely compare it to the coffee with chicory from New Orleans. Delicious!

exploring the luwak plantation in #bali

Luwak Plantation in #bali

 

Have you ever tried kopi luwak? Would you pay $100 for a pound of coffee?

Ecotourism, Agrotourism, Voluntourism, and Greenwashing : the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Want to be a responsible traveler but don't know how? Let's go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of sustainable tourism. #travel #explore

 

You’re 22 years old. You were born and raised in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Your father doesn’t work. The war, the one you don’t really remember, left him in shambles. Physically, mentally. You don’t talk about it when tourists ask. Your family does really well in the summer, as does the rest of the city. Cruise ships come in daily, bringing smiling faces and open wallets. But you know better. Every dollar you make, you put half away for savings. Some days it’s so crowded you can’t hardly make it to your waitressing job on time, but no one is complaining. Because when winter rolls around, there is no money. Tourist season is over. But, the sun still rises, the sun still sets. You are still there. You almost forgot what hunger felt like.

 

Let’s talk about responsible tourism. Oh yeah, shit just got real. As a traveler, you probably hear that you are lucky or privileged to get to see the world. This is true in my lil space on the internet. I’m 100% on board with the fact that someone fought for the freedoms I enjoy. But we can do more than just appreciate the gifts we are given. We can pay it forward AND still enjoy ourselves in the process! Unfortunately, I am not talking about voluntourism (we’ll get into it later), which has distracted from the legitimate way of aiding a community. I’m talking about responsible tourism or consumer activism. This is simply the realization that we all have purchasing power, and if we do not use it for good, it will probably be used for evil. Animals and children are especially likely to be exploited for funds- which is why I was so ecstatic to stumble upon a legitimate elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.

 

Wait, who the hell are you, again?  I wish I could say I’m your average diehard vegan or only wear sustainable clothes. My interest in sustainable tourism comes from three amazing professors I had while getting a minor in Travel and Tourism from Florida International University. FIU is one of those institutions that gives a damn and it shows through the types of educators they employ. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed my classes, but figured it might be better if I just spread the knowledge. If you want to know more about my background and current pursuits, feel free to email me! Before we get into all the good stuff, let’s get to some terms that might be a little confusing for a traveler.

 

The Good: Ecotourism

Instead of wiping out natural flora and replacing with comforts of tourists homes, ecotourism focuses on the natural beauty of a destination. These ventures support the protection of natural habitats and educate visitors on how to enjoy the wildlife respectfully. Ecotourism has been gaining steady ground in the hospitality business for about 30 years. It is especially prevalent is areas with an abundant, diverse wildlife system, like Belize and Costa Rica. In the past few years, ecotourism has spread as the standard in many countries, with new leaders emerging yearly. 

 

Even Better: Agrotourism

Agrotourism involves inviting visitors to an already established farm, vineyard, ranch, etc. to see the effort that goes into the local agricultural system. Why does it matter? Tourism has historically taken a destination and altered it to suit the needs of the visitor, like a McDonalds in Chiang Mai. Argotourism allows the community to continue living as they have for generations AND benefit economically from the influx of visitor. As a traveler, it’s wonderful because you have the opportunity to interact with the nationals of your destination and not only get to peek into a new profession, but try it out as well!  One of my favorite travel experiences was participating in agrotourism in Bali via Luwak farms.

 

The Bad: Voluntourism.

It started innocently enough and has snowballed out of control. For the sake of this short intro to responsible tourism, we will consider voluntourism anything under a year and without a professional assignment (does NOT include teachers with no experience). A good example would be the orphanages in Bali and Cambodia. You can’t ignore the poverty around you, barefoot children begging for some change. You’d be coldhearted right? Unfortunately, Westerns looking to volunteer have created a market for orphans in Cambodia. These children are often coerced from their homes, sold by their parents, or rented for a few hours to rake in cash for the owners of the house.  In parts of Africa, tourists are able to visit orphanages, take some pics, and move onto the next safari. Some even let unchecked volunteers play with the children. Could you imagine if a company tried to allow tourists to play with American children? People would legitimately shit themselves.

Check yourself. Are you really looking to create a change, and if so, do you realize the time it takes to sustain positive change? Three years is the minimum time I’ve been told thus far in my studies. Just because you are a native English speaker doesn’t mean you’ll be able to successfully teach a group of thirty Guatemalan children to speak English in a month when you don’t even speak a lick of Spanish. Have a little respect for education and the bonds you create/break with children.

 

The Ugly: Greenwashing.

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic that companies use, usually in travel, to promote their site as “green” without legitimate claims. This is usually accomplished by displaying flags or stickers with a “certification” that is either expired or an illegitimate company. This extra sucks because those who are actually doing a proper job of protecting the environment from tourism receive little trust in their motives.

One easy way to check this for hotels is via Tripadvisor’s Greenleaders initiative. They team up with legitimate certification schemes, like Green Globe. Green Globe’s International Standard for Sustainable Tourism was the first standard developed by and for the travel & tourism over 20 years ago. Just look for the little leaf in the corner of your tripadvisor page, or visit the leaders right here.

 

 

You don’t want me to volunteer, but you don’t want me to be a bitch. What do you want from me?

 

Let’s look at a lil somethin’ somethin’ called consumer activism.

It’s a lot more fun than it sounds! This is simply the realization that we all have purchasing power, and if we do not use it for good, it will probably be used for evil. Shopping local is one way to use your money for good. Making the effort to ensure your dollar goes to benefit the country you are visiting, not just foreign investors, will reduce developing countries dependency on outside aide and prevent extortion.

Let’s talk accommodation. I’m not against big hotel chains, necessarily. In America, they provide millions of people with jobs (the wage thing is another rant for another time). However, in many places, hotels will import workers instead of using locals. Or they will pay unfair wages in addition to unsteady or irregular hours. Or, they will prevent women from holding managerial positions. While studying sustainable tourism at Florida International University, my professor introduced us to the lovely Green Globe certification. Not only does this certification hold high standards for green behaviors, but also ranks participants based on the amount of locals, including women, that are hired by the hotel. Green Globe certified hotels are also to use fair-trade and locally delivered goods.

But what happens when I travel somewhere that Green Globe has not touched yet? This is where my airbnb love affair began. Not only are you (hopefully) supporting a local family by directly paying them for accommodation, but you are generally given a much more realistic experience of a neighborhood and thus a community. Responsible tourism via consumer activism is like helping the environment- we can all do something if we’re aware. Maybe you’ve heard that hotels throw away hundreds of millions of soaps and shampoo bottles a day. You could vow to only stay at hotels that follow the “clean the world” campaign. Even better, you could only stay at airbnb.

 

 

 

Over the next few months, I’ll go into more detail on how to be a responsible traveler, like standards of ethical photography (oh yeah, it matters). Don’t worry! Being a responsible traveler doesn’t keep you from having any fun. Do you really think I’d promote anything that doesn’t involve loving life? Since I’ve been more aware of how I spend my time and money while traveling, I’ve had much more intimate encounters and experiences. My hope is that through sharing my experiences and knowledge on responsible travel, my readers (I’m talking to you, sweet thing) will have a more genuine exploring experience.

 

Have you ever had an agrotourism experience? How do you protect yourself from greenwashing?

An Ethical Alternative to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

looking for an ethical elephant experience in #Thailand ? Try the Elephant Retirement Park in Chaing Mai || a tipsy gypsy life || #ethical #elephant #experience

There is an extremely responsible and ethical alternative to riding elephants in Thailand. No, I’m not referring to elephant nature park. Although they are a legitimate sanctuary, they aren’t the only one. Since last April, the Elephant Retirement Park has been housing and caring for former work elephants. Located about an hour from Chiang Mai, the operation is much smaller, only housing 6 elephants currently. There is absolutely no riding on the elephants. They don’t use bull hooks, which many people insist are necessary to make these majestic creatures “obey.” We were shown this is simply not the case.

 an ethical alternative to #Elephant Nature Park || a tipsy gypsy life
There was even a mother and her 4 month old calf.

Trying to find an ethical alternative to Elephant Nature Park? look no further || a firsthhand experience in #Thailand #elephant || a tipsy gypsy lofe

Looking for an ethical alternative to Elephant nature park? look no further || a tipsy gypsy life

  1. Baby Lanna being clumsy- the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!

These two were the only ones separated from the group because the baby could get crushed and the mother is still extremely protective. However, they were very trusting of humans which is beautiful.

looking for an ethical alternative to Elephant Nature Park? look no further || a tipsy gypsy life

We walk about a mile up the road to the sanctuary itself. After hearing each elephants back-story and details of the history of elephants protected status, we were able to meet them and feed them. Elephants are extremely sensitive creatures- they can die from broken hearts just like humans. So, you must meet them and earn their trust before playing.

 

Want an ethical alternative to Elephant Nature Park? look no further || a tipsy gypsy life After the meeting and feeding, we had lunch.
Looking for an ethical alternative to Elephant Nature Park? look no further || a tipsy gypsy life
All you can eat Thai food, water, and tea/coffee.
We discussed more how to approach the beautiful creatures and avoid injury before swimming / bathing them. Then, we went out in the pouring rain and played.

We helped them cool down with mud. Had some fun, and then bathed them.

Without any hooks or harsh commands, the elephants honestly loved the attention. They weren’t made to do any tricks at all, and all the visitors were respectful.

an ethical alternative to #elephant nature park #thailand || a tipsy gypsy life

That night, Tara and I went to the owners house and had dinner. We discussed that they are doing okay but without government funding, money is tight. I don’t even think they have a donation option online, so I’m setting one up. Medicine is the main thing they are worried about.
Not only should you research the park, and potentially donate, but if you have the chance to visit as an alternative to Elephant Nature Park, you should! The small scale offers more room and attention for each elephant from the handlers. They are given water to play in, bananas, sugar cane, and so much love. I fell in love with the Elephant Retirement Park and will be returning to volunteer 😊

 
* you shouldn’t ride an elephant because it can seriously injure them. They are not designed to be ridden. If you notice, their backs have a hump, unlike horses which are curved and are able to hold riders. Elephants strength comes from pulling and pushing with their trunks and strong legs. Not the back!