Florida's biggest attraction isn't a theme park, but rather its natural resources. Thanks to some of the state's initiatives, keeping Florida green is becoming second nature. The Florida Green Lodging program, for instance, is a voluntary initiative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that designates and recognizes lodging facilities making a commitment to conserving and protecting Florida's natural resources. As of February 19, 2010, there were 621 designated Florida Green Lodging properties. In order to be considered for membership in this very exclusive, green group, motels, hotels, and resorts must educate customers, employees, and the public on conservation; participate in waste reduction, reuse, recycling, water conservation, and energy efficiency; and provide eco-friendly transportation. The designation is valid for 3 years from the date of issue, and all properties are required to submit environmental performance data every year as well as implement at least two new environmental practices from any of the six areas of sustainable operations. For a list of these properties, go to www.dep.state.fl.us/greenlodging/lodges.htm.
Eco-tourism isn't just a trendy catchphrase when it comes to tourism in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that outdoor activities have almost a $10-billion impact on the state's economy. The Everglades is an eco-tourism hot spot where responsible tourism isn't an option but a requirement for anyone visiting or working there. In fact, in 2010, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan began a process that will return some lands previously squandered for development to their formerly pristine, natural conditions.
Similar efforts can be seen throughout the state, such as in North Florida, where the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama Beach is the nation's first Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED)-certified passenger terminal. This "green" airport encompasses 4,000 acres donated by the St. Joe Company that will be part of a landmark conservation effort to include a National Audubon Nature Center. visit www.frommers.com/planning for more tips on responsible travel.
If you don't want to do it yourself, you can observe Florida's flora and fauna on guided field expeditions -- and contribute to conservation efforts while you're at it.
The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grass-roots environmental organization in the U.S., offers eco-adventures through its Florida chapters. Recent outings have included canoeing or kayaking through the Everglades, hiking the Florida Trail in America's southernmost national forest, camping on a barrier island, and exploring the sinkhole phenomenon in North-Central Florida. You do have to be a Sierra Club member, but you can join at the time of the trip. Contact the club's national outings office at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441 (tel. 415/977-5500; www.sierraclub.org).
The Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy has protected 578,000 acres of natural lands in Florida and presently owns and manages 36 preserves. For a small fee, you can join one of its field trips or work parties that take place periodically throughout the year; fees vary from year to year and event to event, so call for more information. Participants get a chance to learn about and even participate in the preservation of the ecosystem. For details on all the preserves and adventures, contact the Nature Conservancy, Florida Chapter, 222 S. Westmonte Dr., Ste. 300, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714 (tel. 407/682-3664; fax 407/682-3077; www.nature.org).
A nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental research, the Earthwatch Institute, 3 Clocktower Place, Ste. 100 (P.O. Box 75), Maynard, MA 01754 (tel. 800/776-0188 or 978/461-0081; www.earthwatch.org), has excursions to survey dolphins and manatees around Sarasota and to monitor the well-being of the whooping cranes raised in captivity and released in the wilds of Central Florida.
Another research group, the Oceanic Society, Fort Mason Center, Building E, San Francisco, CA 94123 (tel. 800/326-7491 or 415/441-1106; fax 415/474-3395; www.oceanic-society.org), also has Florida trips among its expeditions, including manatee monitoring in the Crystal River area, north of Tampa.
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.