“The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued.” – UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

There could be no greater time in history as a traveler to impact our future and the world than now. As the international community embraces the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the UN General Assembly last September, tourism has a significant opportunity to support three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) ranging from promoting sustainable, inclusive economic growth to conserving and sustaining the use of the oceans, seas and marine resources.

There has been more talk than ever about sustainable travel but what exactly does sustainable travel mean?

“In its simplest definition, sustainable travel can be defined as travel that positively impacts the community, environment and economy of the destination visited” states Kelley Louise, Executive Director of Travel+SocialGood, a global community of changemakers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good.

As a member of Travel+SocialGood and a strong supporter of sustainable travel,  I am continually on the search for sustainable travel resources and operators. I have been highlighting sustainable travel opportunities on my blog for quite awhile to help readers discover these experiences in one quick and easy place. (Here is a list of the past 20 posts in case you missed them).  

I hope you enjoy this guest post written by Jonny Bierman, founder of Eco Escape Travel,  a community-based ecotourism content hub with the mission to provide reliable ecotourism and adventure content that aims to grow a community of responsible travelers and inspire ethical travel. A special thanks to Sue of the fabulous travel blog Travel Tales of Life for introducing me to Jonny. Here is the post.

Avatar Grove. Photo credit: Eco Escape Travel

“Every time you spend your money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.” – Anna Lappé

Pinning, planning, tagging and exploring online is how most start their next adventure abroad – in this process, the excitement of trip planning starts and for some, this is the best part. While we are vigorously adding adventures and accommodations to the list, it’s important to remember the impact that the dollars spent abroad will have.

Ecotourism is broken down into travel and adventure to natural areas that has a positive impact on the local communities and the surrounding environment. In this article, we will take you through some very simple and easy to remember tips to have in mind while planning an adventure.

What is ecotourism?

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines Ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

With this definition, it is easy to conclude that this type of travel is responsible, ethical, educational and impactful.

The four ecotourism pillars to recognize when planning

At Eco Escape Travel, we use a customized and industry-backed vetting process that works to eliminate greenwashing through breaking down ecotourism into four simple pillars.

Environmental Stewardship – Protecting the environment for those after you by implementing conservation and sustainable practices.

Ecological Connection – Immersion and engagement with land, water, flora or fauna in the environment.

Community Empowerment – Having a direct socioeconomic impact on the community by diversifying, donating, or employing locals.

Cross-cultural Connection – Having a direct interaction with the culture you are visiting. You are learning from them, whether it be textile skills, about their history, or staying with a local family in a homestay.

Sadhana Forest India. Photo Credit: Eco Escape Travel

Eco Escape Travel was founded on positive eco-travel storytelling. Knowing there are so many incredible companies around the world doing great things in travel and adventure, we identified the need for these stories to be told. All that to say, the content on Eco Escape Travel exists to help in a positive trip planning process. So let’s dive into a few examples:

The gear you travel with

Having a positive impact on travel starts before you even depart – many of us enjoy the luxuries of our smartphones and other electronics while abroad and require a portable battery while we’re away. Try purchasing a WakaWaka Power+ portable battery – not only does it charge itself through solar or regular power, but the company donates a solar charger to a family in need for every one purchased. Another reputable company for ethical gear is Cotopaxi – their ‘Gear for good’ motto is backed by their ethical practices. They offer a wide variety of outdoor apparel that is perfect for adventuring.


GivingWay Volunteer Experiences

With arguably the largest inventory of ethical volunteer experiences abroad, GivingWay is a company that can be used to plan a trip with added purpose. Using their global network, GivingWay helps travelers add in a few days of volunteer work as part of your wider trip, or plan your entire trip around a GivingWay experience. No matter what you choose, rest assured you’re using a moral company that is backed by a credible advisory board including people like the Editor at Large for National Geographic Travel, the founder of CouchSurfing, and many other experienced and trustworthy professionals.

Support local stewardship

A little research goes a long way – all around the world there are local organizations banding together to protect and conserve areas of forest, ocean, and other landscapes. The unprotected Avatar Grove on Vancouver Island, Canada is a perfect example of this – the Ancient Forest Alliance constructed beautiful cedar board walks through this old-growth rainforest to not only protect the tree roots from erosion by visitors, but to also bring more visitors into this area to hike and enjoy it. The model works like this: better accessibility to this remote forest brings more awareness to the region. More awareness creates more advocates. More advocates creates more pressure on governments to enforce a park or nature reserve designation. Additionally, more ecological connections from visitors creates more environmental awareness and hopefully, those people bring a bit of stewardship home with them to implement in their own communities. Projects like this are made possible through funding and donations from other local organizations – in this case, the local Vancouver Island clothing brand Sitka Clothing played a big part in the boardwalk construction funding in this special place.

Padding the pockets of the right people

When choosing accommodation and adventures, it’s important to ask the questions of community and profit – are you staying at a resort owned by shareholders in the United States, or are you staying at a lodge that is owned by locals, ethically employed locals, and supports the local economy. Many budget and luxury accommodations have a huge community involvement and believe in bettering the local economies. This could be through a donation process to a local school or conservation project, it could be through employee education, and it can be through sustainable environmental practices with the lodge and community – in Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Nicaragua’s case, it’s all of the above.

Positive change in travel begins with travelers themselves – through community, ecology, stewardship, and cultural connections, we can improve the well-being of the locals we visit and the environments we explore. Ecotourism a not a trend – it is a form of travel that everyone needs to be conscious of and implementing a bit of it in every trip will go a very long way.

About Jonny

Grounded in the Canadian Rockies, Jonny Bierman is an ecotourism and sustainable travel content creator who has made a career in travel media. Jonny is the founder of the first community-based ecotourism content hub Eco Escape Travel and hopes to grow this platform into the go-to place for sustainable travel content. When he’s not building his dream in media and ecotourism content development, he spends all of his spare time on skis, in a kayak, hiking mountains, or riding his bikes. You can also find Jonny on InstagramFacebook and LinkedIn


  1. A very important way to look at travel, the environment and where a small decision by one can collaboratively achieve something so important. Wishing you well.

  2. You’ve always been such an advocate for sustainable travel Nicole and this is another wonderful example. Keep up the good work.

  3. Marvelous post! You’ve really helped clarify a term that always seemed benevolent to me, but also nebulous. Love the Anna Lappé quote, too — being intentional is where it all begins, isn’t it?

    1. Thank you! Yes sometimes it is hard to grasp what sustainable responsible travel means. It is amazing the impact we can have. It is also sad when I’ve seen and even experienced not such good practices as well. It is all a learning experience

  4. Hello Nicole,
    A wonderful post. I enjoying getting lost in the links too. One led to another to another…
    Some amazing initiatives taking place all over the world…
    Thank you 💐✨

  5. Nicole so wonderful to see Jonny sharing more about traveling responsibly and ecotourism here on your site. A delight to introduce you to him via our blog and many thanks for linking to us. That solar powered battery charger looks amazing.

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