4 Ethical Travel Organizations, From the New York Times Travel Show

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Millennials favor experiences over material possessions. More of us choose to spend our money and time on traveling in our 20s rather than saving up for a house. But as we travel more, we should also care about our travel footprint and impact. Travel companies are following suit, as we recently learned at the New York Times Travel Show's Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel seminar.

While the travel industry is taking great leaps to make travel sustainable, experts warn adventurers to be wary of companies who publicize the label "socially conscious."

"Greenwashing" techniques, for example, are marketing tactics that mislead consumers about sustainability efforts. Hotels sometimes promote reusing bed linen (which is more cost-effective for their business anyway), but fail to mention their harmful cleaning products.

It’s easy to fall for a brand that advertises itself as ethical, but you can always try to verify by researching and asking the company questions directly. Try to look for travel companies that will reinvest in their local community. If you have no clue where to start, the seminar's panelists introduced a few initiatives that provide a transparent approach to sustainability.

Let's take a look and learn how to better identify responsible travel companies.

Center for Responsible Travel (CREST)

What began as a project between Stanford’s Institute of Policy Studies and The International Ecotourism Society, CREST is now an independent non-profit with a heart-felt vision: to transform the way the world travels.

CREST advocates using tourism as a way to reduce poverty, foster cross-cultural communication, educate about indigenous culture, and preserve biodiversity. You can view a list of their current projects,like sustainable development in Cuba.

Also, CREST provides a list of ways to be a responsible traveler, like the dos and dont's of travel giving and how to choose a responsible tour operator.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council provides certifications to hotels, tour operators and destinations. You can review what criteria they look for when they certify companies, so you can find a provider who aligns with your ethics. They also offer resources and training for travelers.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance aims to conserve forests, agriculture, and wildlife with training programs and sustainability certifications. The non-profit organization has developed a model to supports local communities and eco-friendly businesses - and on a greater scale, forest conservation. They provide a list of certified products on their website, showcasing brands that are environmentally sustainable.

There's also a list of “Green Vacations” within Latin America, where you can get details on certified hotels and tour operators before you book your vacation.

International Expeditions

International Expeditions is a responsible tour operator that has trips for every type of traveler. From solo expeditions to safaris and small ship adventures, they work with local organizations and guides to inject money into the region. Their tours give travelers a richer experience with experts in nature and ecotourism. Through their conservation initiatives, they give back to communities through clean water, healthcare, and education in Peru, Kenya, and the Galapagos.

Last but not least, the panelists at the NYT seminar emphasized the connection between ecotourism and travel - and really, how they’re two of the same. This responsibility doesn’t fall in the hands of big tour companies, although they do play a lead role. It starts with each and every one of us, in the actions we choose, that compound over time.

You are the change. And we can make better, informed decisions together.

And, these responsible travel companies certainly help plant the seed for crafting future trips, leaving only marks in your passport.