This year, three in every four Americans have resolved to lead greener lifestyles, a commitment that branches into several (if not all) facets of everyday living. While recycling at home and biking to work are top of mind, not everyone is eco-focused when it comes to travel.
Luckily, more and more tourism operators are making the decision easier on stressed getaway planners. One such instance is Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s eco effort, Travel Green Wisconsin (http://www.travelgreenwisconsin.com/). Launched in 2006 as a Web site, the program does more than highlight the Great Lakes state’s environmental contributors, it does a nice job of categorizing, describing and rating businesses such as hotels (54 accommodations are currently listed), adventure tour operators, and restaurants. And as it turns out, there’s much more than cheese here.
To get the scoop on why Wisconsin took the green plunge, we quizzed Will Christianson, outreach coordinator for the state’s department of tourism and the gentleman to head up the sustainable travel program.
So how did the program come about? Says Christianson, “Travel Green Wisconsin was an idea that was sparked in 2004 when being sustainable and green wasn't considered mainstream as it is today.” After searching round for an existing program that could be tailored to Wisconsin tourism efforts – and coming up empty-handed – the department decided to create a program of their own.
Marketing research proved that addressing eco issues was vital. Seventy-eight percent of respondents surveyed by Wisconsin rated eco-friendly or green certified attractions and lodging as “important” or “quite important,” making it clear that Wisconsin had a case for a strong environmentally-focused movement. To create a top-tier green rating system, the Dept. of Tourism teamed up with the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative for a program that would include not just the “ten-percenters that are all ready living and working green,” but all tourism businesses that were moving toward sustainability. The end result is a scoring system that “places higher point value on practices that cost a lot of money or resources to implement, and lower point values to those that are could be easily implemented,” says Christianson.
The response? Positive. Christianson cites several program participants that have increased involvement specifically because of their affiliation with the program. He elaborates, “Conservation, sustainability, and eco-tourism have strong roots in Wisconsin that reach deep: John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Frank Lloyd Wright, [and] Gaylord Nelson are just some of the individuals in Wisconsin's history that championed eco-focused initiatives.”
An avid outdoorsman himself, Christianson rattles off some of his favorite green destinations, including the town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation and Aldo Leopold Legacy Center and Wyalusing State Park, one of the many parks that make up the state’s 1,700 miles of trails.
What should you check out? Door County Kayak Tours (pictured above) offers visitors the opportunity to paddle thousand-year old caves and glimpse Native American etched petroglyphs, while the Artha Sustainable Living Center (pictured left) hosts weekend retreats (like the solar water heating workshop) among its organic gardens. Who knew Wisconsin could be so exciting? With plenty of earth-friendly offerings and sultry summer temperatures, this could just be the place to pitch your tent during the months to come.
[Fascinating tid bit: Capitol city, Madison, Wisconsin was the first city in the U.S. to offer a curbside recycling program.]