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The residents on Colorado's Front Range have become increasingly ecoconscious in recent years, especially in Boulder and Golden. The former has been called “the 50-yard line of the organic foods industry” and the latter is home of the National Laboratory for Renewable Energy (NREL) and its ultraefficient visitor center. Following suit, the clean energy industry has formed numerous clusters along the Front Range, with several standout solar companies and carbon-focused startups.

But while some of Colorado's green reputation is deserved, it's noteworthy that the state has one of the lowest recycling rates in the nation (in part due to its remoteness to large-scale facilities). And water is an increasingly big issue, with strong population growth straining aquifers and reservoirs in recent years. Visitors to the Rocky Mountains will also be struck by vast swaths of dead lodgepole pines, killed by pine beetles. While the trees have been harvested for a number of purposes, many observers find the fire danger (and the carbon emissions from all that deadwood) to be quite troubling. And anyone who's seen Denver's “brown cloud” knows that air quality is a serious issue.

Regardless, the tourism industry has emerged as a leader in the greening of Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs in more ways than one. Numerous hotels have adopted green policies and utilized green construction techniques and materials. A burgeoning farm-to-table movement has also taken all three cities' culinary scenes by storm, and the emphasis on healthful, local, and sustainable ingredients has never been stronger. Third, transportation options have gotten broader and greener, especially in Denver, and those looking to limit their impact have several means of doing so.

Lodgings adopting eco-friendly practices include the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast Inn in Denver, with local ingredients in its breakfasts and green cleaning supplies; the Boulder Outlook, one of the greenest motels in the country; and the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, which installed beehives on its roof to fight colony collapse disorder--as well as source honey for high tea!

Among the restaurants that have impressed me with their commitment to sustainable, local, and organic farmers are Salt, Black Cat, the Kitchen, and Colterra in and around Boulder; Denver's Root Down, housed in a recycled gas station and powered entirely by wind, as well as Fruition and the vegetarian WaterCourse Foods; and Colorado Springs' beloved Blue Star.

Denver has an impressive public transportation portfolio, with a nice network of trains and buses. Boulder has a good bus system, and a FasTracks train will connect it to Denver in about 5 years. Colorado Springs is the weakest of the three, and cut back its public transit in the face of a recent budget crisis.

In Denver--especially around the city center--it has become easy to explore without a car. I would not even recommend a rental car to those who want to spend all their time in the city limits. Why? Besides foot, train, and bus, in 2010 the city installed numerous B-Cycle kiosks (http://denver.b-cycle.com) with short-term rental bicycles available for a $5 daily fee plus fees for how long you use the bike before returning it to another kiosk. Check on the website for the kiosks' locations--they are often right in front of prominent attractions, making this a viable means of getting from point A to point B in the city. And you could do it for $5 a day, because there's no fee for rides that last less than 30 minutes.

General Resources for Responsible Travel

In addition to the resources for Denver, Boulder & Colorado Springs 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.
  • 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.