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In line with its reputation as a country of extremes, Russia offers some of the best and worst that nature has to offer. Vast tracts of untouched Siberian forest and wildlife, and pollution-choked cities with little regard for recycling or emissions limits. Its attitude toward transport is similarly polar: Its trains and trolleybuses carry millions daily and have offered efficient, carbon-free travel for a century, and most Russians do not own cars. But those that do generally own the dirtiest kind: fuel-thirsty SUVs and Hummers, or Soviet-era models built when emissions were of no concern. One positive development is that the collapse in Russia's industry in the 1990s means office buildings and apartment towers took over factory grounds that used to cough pollution into downtown Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Navigating both cities with the environment in mind is challenging but possible. Nearly every site listed can be reached by public transport. Bikes are available for rent in both cities.

In Moscow, try www.veloprokat.ru. (in Russian only; 6 Shestaya Radialnaya Ulitsa; tel. 926/284-9232; metro: Tsaritsino). It's in a garage. Bikes cost 800 rubles a day. They'll also deliver your bike to you for another 600 rubles.

In St. Petersburg, try Skat Prokat, for 300 rubles a day plus deposit. (3 Glinka Ulitsa, inside the Kitsport store; tel. 812/325-7198).

None of the car rental agencies in either city currently offer hybrids.

Few hotels or restaurants pay much heed to environmental concerns. An exception is the Alexander Hotel in St. Petersburg. To be more certain about the provenance and contents of your food, try the open-air markets in either city (Izmailovsky Market in Moscow or Mikhailovsky Market in St. Petersburg are good options). The older women camped out on the edge of the markets are often selling goods from their own gardens.

Though caviar is a centerpiece of Russian cuisine, the Caspian Sea sturgeon that produce them are desperately endangered. If you are keen for a taste, favor the red caviar, or salmon roe, on many restaurant menus.

Recycling has yet to catch on in either city, as the excessive packaging we know in the West came only recently to Russia. An exception are Soviet-era machines that allow you to exchange empty aluminum cans for cash, though they are often out of order. Recycling bins around Moscow are marked with images of paper, glass, or plastic but are often filled with other debris.

The best way to stay "green" in both cities is to visit their extensive parks. Losiny Ostrov in Moscow was a former imperial hunting grounds and is the size of a city unto itself. It is believed to still host elk, wild boar, and beavers, and is an excellent place to get lost in the "wilderness" on a bike or cross-country skis.

The St. Petersburg island Krestovsky Ostrov has sporting facilities near the main entrance but thins out into lush, peaceful forest farther back. St. Petersburg's botanical gardens host some 12,000 plant species.

The Typhoon Experimental Meteorology Research Institute sets ecological standards for the country (www.typhoon.obninsk.ru/english/main.htm).

General Resources for Green Travel

In addition to the resources for Moscow and St. Petersburg listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel.

  • 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 around the world.
  • 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.
  • In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive content on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section and profiles of the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
  • In Australia, the national body which sets guidelines and standards for ecotourism is Ecotourism Australia (www.ecotourism.org.au). The Green Directory (www.thegreendirectory.com.au), Green Pages (www.thegreenpages.com.au), and Eco Directory (www.ecodirectory.com.au) offer sustainable travel tips and directories of green businesses.
  • Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
  • Greenhotels (www.greenhotels.com) recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com) offers more green accommodations ratings. The Hotel Association of Canada (www.hacgreenhotels.com) has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
  • Sustain Lane (www.sustainlane.com) lists sustainable eating and drinking choices around the U.S.; also visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably in the U.S. and Canada.
  • For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
  • Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org and www.idealist.org.

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.