My wife and I recently took a trip to Virginia Beach. I wanted to visit a research center there. I spent a lot of time at the center, including attending a 3-hour conference session. So really—a main reason for the trip was not leisure. I do admit, however, that my wife and I couldn't go there over a long weekend without squeezing in some time for the ocean.

Travel and tourism is one of America's largest industries, responsible for more than $1 trillion in the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, one out of every nine jobs in the United States depends on travel and tourism. The U.S. travel and tourism industry is made up of airlines, bus and rental car companies, cruise lines, hotels and other lodging facilities, attractions, and a myriad of other diverse travel and tourism-related businesses. As you can imagine, this industry consumes enormous amounts of energy. Consequently, I do have twinges of guilt when I travel, knowing that my trips are consuming large amounts of energy.

How do I mitigate this environmental impact? Well, for one thing, my wife and I drove to Virginia Beach in our Prius hybrid. I'm anxiously awaiting the imminent arrival of plug-in hybrids and all-battery electrics, so that we can plug in at home and juice up with our purchased 100% residential wind electricity. For the time being, however, we'll make do with our Prius. Many governments, businesses, and individuals are buying carbon offsets. I could purchase carbon offsets to offset the negative impact of the gasoline our hybrid uses, but I haven't gone that far yet (John feels twinge of guilt).

Now for the hotel. To minimize our environmental and energy impact, I looked for a "green" lodging facility. My first stop was the Web site of the Virginia Green Lodging program.

Virginia Green Lodging is a self-certifying program where facilities must verify that they are at least practicing the Virginia Green Lodging "core activities":

  • Optional Linen Service: sheets and towels are not automatically changed every day.
  • Recycling: guests must have the opportunity to recycle during their stay.
  • Water Conservation: a plan should be in place for minimizing water use.
  • Energy Conservation: a plan should be in place to address energy conservation & efficiency opportunities.
  • Green Events, Conferences, and Meetings: facilities should be able to accommodate groups who want "green" events.

All Virginia Green Lodging facilities must have the above items in place at a minimum. Now, I'm the first to admit that these "core activities" are quite lax, and do little good if the traveler does not use the opportunity that the hotel offers to conserve. And these are "self-certifying facilities," not third-party certified, so there's room for abuse. But it's a start. It's making both the hotel owners/staff, and the travelers, aware of the issue. And some of the participating facilities go far beyond these "core activities." Facilities may contain other "green" attributes they've undertaken—and these are included in the facility's profile on the Virginia Green Lodging Web site. There are currently more than 375 "green" lodgings in the program, and fortunately for us, more than 30 are in or around Virginia Beach.

Green lodging and green travel programs are popping up everywhere. In my next blog, I'll explain my experience with the green inn where we stayed in Virginia Beach, and I'll be covering other green lodging and travel programs in the future. Let us hear about which ones you use, and your take on these programs.

John Lippert is an employee of Energy Enterprise Solutions, a contractor for EERE. He assists with technical reviews of content on the Consumer Guide Web site.