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Responsible tourism is conscientious travel. China doesn't have much by way of organized eco-tourism. Indeed the country as a whole is facing staggering environmental problems as a result of its economic growth, and one can argue that the domestic travel industry contributes to the problem.

For the visitor to Shanghai, the main environmental problem you'll likely encounter is pollution. As the standard of living rises for the average Shanghainese, the number of cars on Shanghai's streets go up, too.

The local (and central) government are acutely aware of the environmental challenges facing them, and one of the development goals for Shanghai is to become China's greenest city. To that end, the 2010 World Expo, which had as its theme "Better City, Better Life," helped focus a great deal of attention on sustainable urban development. In the years leading up to the Expo, the Shanghai government took several measures to walk the talk, including rehabilitating the Suzhou River, which had been seriously polluted by 80 years of industrial use; building environmentally friendly and energy-efficient World Expo pavilions; building China's largest waste-to-energy plant; banning the use of ultra-thin plastic bags while requiring shops to charge for thicker plastic carrier bags; and encouraged recycling by introducing separate trash bins for recyclables throughout the city. Shanghai also has its first carbon-neutral hotel, URBN Hotel, and its first carbon-neutral fitness gym, One Wellness, and some of the new hotels, such as the PuLi Hotel and Spa and the Peninsula, have taken it upon themselves to install energy-saving devices in their rooms.

While it remains to be seen how much of the talk coming out of the World Expo about sustainable living will translate into actual results in the future, visitors can certainly help lessen their environmental impact with basic measures such as recycling, not getting hotel linens washed daily, and walking instead of using motorized transport. Shopping at stores that employ local workers and sell locally produced goods also help to support local economies.

General Resources for Green Travel

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.
  • Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Cool Climate (http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu) 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.
  • 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.