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Sustainable tourism is conscientious travel. It means being careful with the environments you explore and respecting the communities you visit -- in this case Rome. Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are eco-tourism and ethical tourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines eco-tourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people, the Romans themselves. TIES suggests that eco-tourists follow these principles:

  • If all roads lead to Rome, why not take the green one?
  • Minimize environmental impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Support international human rights and labor agreements.

    In 2010, the mayor of Rome unveiled a master plan to turn the Eternal City into a green, low-carbon, post-petroleum capital. His attempt was to bolster the city's standing in its bid for the 2020 Olympics, but the impact of certain moves will have far-reaching consequences for "Green Rome" overall.

    The plan, one of the most ambitious ever for the city, calls for Rome to invest more than $615 million (U.S.) over the next 2 decades in new business and clean industries. This move, when carried out, will result in thousands of new jobs and also make the capital more independent of fossil fuels.

    "This is a complete plan to transform Rome," said Mayor Gianni Alemanno. "It's more than an energy plan. It is also an environmental, urban, and economic one."

    Plans call for three main areas of development:

    1. Turning the congested historic core of Rome into a greener, pedestrian-friendly space;

    2. Developing the commercial and industrial "ring" around Rome; and

    3. Improving the agriculture districts outside Rome to reduce carbon imprint.

    Rome also has a new event on its calendar every September known as Zeromission Rome, an event dedicated to promoting renewable energies in the Mediterranean area.

    Speakers from all over the world fly into Rome at this time for numerous conferences, workshops, and meetings, each dedicated to renewable energy and global warming.

    In this ever-changing world, highlights of the upcoming convention will focus on electricity from wind energy, photovoltaic technologies, solar power plants, geothermal energy, energy saving, the carbon credit market, and other 21st-century technologies to save not only Rome, but the planet itself.

    The new emphasis on Green Rome is seen in modern developments such as the new stadium of the Rome Soccer Club launched in 2009. The stadium has become energy self-sufficient thanks to the use of a photovoltaic system and to micro-generation. The designers of the stadium implemented plans that eliminate greenhouse gases at the rate of 3,000 tons a year, an amazing figure.

    Even Rome's largest public hospital, Policlinico Umberto I, has become more eco- and user-friendly by installing a solar-powered recreational pavilion that was formerly the waiting room. Today, the pavilion has been called a place where the "Alice in Wonderland mushroom meets solar-ray chomping Pac-Man."

    Eden Walks (tel. 039/338-596-1622; www.edenwalks.com) is a pioneer of eco-conscious walking tours through both historical Rome and the Vatican. It offers three "low-impact" tours of Rome. Well-trained English-speaking guides take you on tours through history. Although group tours are offered, the Eden walks also features a number of 2-hour tours (maximum 4 people), costing 200€.

    If you'd like to stay green while in Rome, you can book rooms at the Ecohotel, Via Di Bravetta 91, 00164 Roma (tel. 06-66156920; www.ecohotelroma.com). The government-rated, three-star hotel lies right outside the city center, within an easy commute by bus. It offers modern, comfortable bedrooms that the owners define as "a regenerating organic-style stay." The location is in the Valle dei Casali, a nature preserve. Verandas overlook the greenery and the garden. Breakfast is a selection of organic products. Even the cleaning products are environmentally friendly, and recycled paper is used. Free bikes are also available.

    Several types of rooms are available, all nonsmoking, airy, and simply yet comfortably decorated, containing Wi-Fi, plus an adjustable heating and cooling system. Prices are economical, ranging from 80€ to 115€ in a double.

    You can find some eco-friendly travel tips and statistics, as well as touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Travel Choice" -- at the TIES website, www.ecotourism.org. Also check out Ecotravel.com, which lets you search for sustainable touring companies in several categories (water-based, land-based, spiritually oriented, and so on).

    While much of the focus of eco-tourism is about reducing impacts on the natural environment, ethical tourism concentrates on ways to preserve and enhance local economies and communities, regardless of location. You can embrace ethical tourism by staying at a locally owned hotel in Rome or shopping at a store that employs local workers and sells locally produced goods.

    Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices, and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators in Rome.

    In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO; www.aito.co.uk) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable, including jaunts to Rome.

    It's Easy Being Green

    Here are a few simple ways you can help conserve fuel and energy when you travel to Rome:

    • Each time you take a flight or drive a car greenhouse gases release into the atmosphere. You can help neutralize this danger to the planet through "carbon offsetting" -- paying someone to invest your money in programs that reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount you've added. Before buying carbon offset credits, just make sure that you're using a reputable company, one with a proven program that invests in renewable energy. Reliable carbon offset companies include Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu).
    • Whenever possible, choose nonstop flights; they generally require less fuel than indirect flights that stop and take off again. Try to fly during the day -- some scientists estimate that nighttime flights are twice as harmful to the environment. And pack light -- each 15 pounds of luggage on a 5,000-mile flight adds up to 50 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted.
    • Where you stay during your travels can have a major environmental impact. To determine the green credentials of a property, ask about trash disposal and recycling, water conservation, and energy use; also question whether sustainable materials were used in the construction of the property. The website www.greenhotels.com recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Also consult www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com for more green accommodations ratings.
    • At hotels in Rome, request that your sheets and towels not be changed daily. (Many hotels already have programs like this in place.) Turn off the lights and air conditioner (or heater) when you leave your room.
    • Use public transport where possible -- trains, buses, and even taxis are more energy-efficient forms of transport than driving. Even better is to walk or cycle; you'll produce zero emissions and stay fit and healthy on your travels.
    • If renting a car is necessary, ask the rental agent for a hybrid, or rent the most fuel-efficient car available. You'll use less gas and save money at the tank.
    • Eat at Roman owned and operated restaurants that use produce grown in the area. This contributes to the local economy and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions by supporting restaurants where the food is not flown or trucked in across long distances.
  • Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.