Earth Day has grown from a single day into an almost sickening obsession of spending money by living green, and morphed into the natural extension of sustainable travel and eco-tourism. I prefer to call it like it is: a blatant attempt by marketers like myself to squeeze out every last bit of attention, traffic, and revenue from the trend that makes us all feel better about living in a consumerist society.
Don't get me wrong -- I believe in eco-friendly products, renewable resources, protecting environmental features, thoroughly enjoy visiting pristine landscapes, and communing with nature when I travel. But it's hard not to get a little bit cynical when you know that plenty of marketers are milking this for all its worth and, in some cases, stretching the facts just a bit to turn anything resembling a profit in an already sagging economy.
And because this eco-traffic driving trend is such a good hook for social media magicians, with its increasing volume of searches and ROI in ever-expanding keyword lists for PPC campaign managers, this online world trend won't disappear any time soon.
So, that said, let's look at some search-driven sites making eco-friendly tourism and sustainable travel a reality. But the real proof is in the energy (a.k.a., traffic and revenue) each of these niche travel sites can create for themselves.
Of course the economic challenges they're all facing are very real, but now is the time that they all have to capitalize on the appeal driving searches for eco-tourism. Maybe they'll even do a little good in the world at the same time, which helps us all be a little less cynical.
No money for travel? Not a problem. "Voluntourism" is one of the most popular trends for those searching for sustainable travel options. By visiting more depressed locations or those affected by severe natural disasters, you can spend a portion of your vacation helping to build homes for families or create a communal.
Earthwatch has partnered with meta search giant Travelocity to create Travel for Good, a portal to help inspire travelers to make a difference on their next trek. They've even provided information on how to apply for grants to pay for your next trip.
Sustainable Travel International
This site is a bit rough around the edges when it comes to travel search technology. This is essentially an association that certifies properties, tour operations, and responsible travel businesses.
Although Sustainable Travel International doesn't necessarily certify all members who apply (they admit there may be valid reasons), they do include notations about each listing's eco-certification status. You may also compare this site and its guidelines to the Green Hotels Association.
A service from JPMorgan, this program allows business (and leisure) travelers to buy off their psycho-ecological guilt by calculating the carbon emissions and purchasing (i.e., donating) carbon offset credits.
For example, a roundtrip flight from Heathrow to LAX via JFK emits 5.44 metric tons of CO2. For $72.68, you can purchase enough credits in carbon offsets to help along JP Morgan's projects that compromise their energy efficiency and renewables portfolio, funding emission reductions across the developing world. And you'll get a nice warm fuzzy feeling reading more specifics on where the money goes.
There are plenty of carbon offset calculator programs -- and you're free to create your own for social linkbait -- but be aware there's also plenty that have given up the cause. Must be all that computing energy it wastes.
I profiled Whole Travel during its beta launch (the site is still in beta status) in "Travel Search Goes Green," and it was seemingly off to a strong start. But after dropping off a little, they haven't quite yet recovered. Time will tell if April's attention on green travel will help them along.
Built as a Google custom search engine, this very 2.0 driven site extends well beyond travel, as it they encourage you to "search the green Web." Many other categories within its tag cloud jump out at you upon arrival.
The other thing SEOs will notice right off the bat: Green Maven has a PageRank of 7, but needs to flow that a little bit better to the sites it profiles within its Web directory (yes, those still exist!). This would be a good one if it could get off the ground, but this site needs a little more growth than the 15,000 visitors per month, according to Compete.com. Follow them on Twitter @greenmaven.