Eco friendly travel in France

© T. Joly
Like all economic sectors, tourism has an impact on the environment. However, it’s possible to reduce these effects by choosing carefully lodgings, means of transportation and activities.

[ Information ]

- La Clef Verte
- Gîtes Panda
- Ecogites
- Hôtels au Naturel
- European eco-label
- Chouette Nature
- Huttopia
- Alpine Pearls
- Cybelle Planète
- Carpooling
If you care about the environment, nowadays you can easily lessen your ecological footprint when travelling. Since a few years, lodgings and tours companies committed to reduce greenhouses gas and polluting emissions are indeed popping up all over France. In addition, some of them even offer activities aiming to discover or protect nature. Having said that, it’s easy to get confused in the jungle of labels supposed to guarantee eco-friendly holidays as there are more than eighty of them !!!

Gîte Panda © WWF France
 Trustworthy eco-labels
Moreover, adding to the confusion, many travel companies promise to compensate carbon emissions, to finance reforestation projects and so on. But, be careful, if some commitments are real and genuine, others are mere greenwashing practices by companies that give themselves an eco friendly image by spending more on marketing and advertisement than by effectively acting for the environment.
However, there are several trustworthy eco-labels and all of them guarantee that the lodgings listed on their website are equipped to limit water and energy consumption, reduce waste production and sort it, use environmentally friendly household cleaning products and work to raise employees and guests awareness of environmental issues.

Green Key labeled hotel © Green Key
 Local food
Let’s name the European Eco Label, the Hôtels au Naturel, located in Regional Natural Parks and the Clef Verte (Green Key ) that also requests that at least 25% of the food is locally grown and that some activities on offer focus on nature. Up to now, it has been awarded to 652 French lodgings : 289 campsites, 265 hotels, 72 B&B and guesthouses, 8 youth hostels and 19 holiday residences. Besides, other labels even have higher standards. So far awarded to 135 gites and bed and breakfast by Gites de France, the Ecogite appellation also guarantee that they have been built using techniques known for having a low environmental impact with mostly materials from renewable resources. In addition, these Ecogites rely as much as possible on renewable energies and electric heating is prohibited.

Ecogite © Gîtes de France
 Situated near hiking trails
Fervent defender of nature, the WWF a launched the Gites Panda label whose granting conditions are very strict. Nowadays close to 300, these gites must be located in a natural park, affiliated to Gites de France, work in a concrete manner to preserve natural species, provide sheltered areas for animals, grow ancient plants, be involved in energy saving, waste sorting and composting, be situated near hiking trails and accessible by collective means of transportation.
Other initiatives are also worth to be mentioned even if they are more hesitant. Since 2000, Cap France holiday villages chain awards the Chouette Nature label to its members that are committed to environment protection, serve local meals, marmalades and honeys as well as seasonal fruits, offer ecology introductions and organize activities to discover the heritage, the landscapes, the craftsmen and the farmers of their region.

© T.Joly
 Zero carbon stays
For camping enthusiasts, Huttopia promotes similar values. Most activities are related to nature discovery, campsites are established in exceptional natural sites respecting the fauna and the flora, only use eco-friendly products and all huts and constructions are built with untreated French wood and can be taken apart.
At the same time more and more regions, towns and villages turn to sustainable tourism. For instance, the Somme department concluded a partnership agreement with the Green Key and every year it offers Zero Carbon stays. As to the village of Les Gets, in Haute-Savoie, it joined the Alpine Pearls association that groups mountain resorts promoting local food and diversity that are accessible by public transports and where it’s possible to go around by foot, snowshoe or bicycle.

© T.Joly
 Eco-volunteer projects
If you wish, you can also use your vacations to contribute protecting the environment by travelling within the frame of eco-volunteer projects. The Cybelle Planète association thus offers cruises in the Mediterranean Sea to count and observe whales and dolphins. As for the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), it groups organic farmers offering accommodation and food to people who help them gardening and taking care of the animals few hours per day.
Concerning transportation, train looks of course like the most ecological option but it’s not as perfect as the SNCF tries to make you believe. A large part of the electricity comes from nuclear and coal power plants. Besides, numerous TGV railway stations are located in the middle of nowhere and make it obligatory to take bus, taxi or car to get there. So, it’s better to take trains arriving in city centres even if they are slower.

© T.Joly
 Getting around by foot or by bike
In addition, many of the regular trains and lines have been shut down to force travellers to take TGV trains that bring more profit to the SNCF. As a consequence, many towns are now only served by buses, particularly those located within a radius of 50 km from TGV stations. So, travelling by car is sometimes more convenient and not necessarily much more polluting if there are four or five passengers. So think about carpooling. Websites such as put in touch passengers and drivers having seats available. If you must fly, give priority to the airlines having modern, less polluting aircrafts and operating from the closest airport from your home to the most proximate airport to your final destination.
Lastly, eco-friendly travelling also means choosing the less polluting activities. Get around by foot or by bike, avoid renting a Segway as electricity is not only produced by dam systems, have your meals in restaurants serving local and seasonal products and, in winter, boycott outside heated terraces one.

April 12, 2011
Thierry Joly