Responsible tourism in New Orleans may start as you leave the airport in a hybrid shuttle van or taxi. Mardi Gras revelers will probably watch biodiesel-powered floats and catch beads on biodegradable string to help the strands fall from the tree branches. Bicycle and kayak tours are terrific options, and many attractions are easily accessed by foot, streetcar, tour bus, or bike.
Caloric intake in New Orleans can (and should) be decidedly irresponsible. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are around if you look, as are Middle Eastern and Asian fallback options. Fortunately nearly every restaurant offers options or accommodates dietary preferences. Further, almost every fine and contemporary dining establishment (and many simpler ones) have long embraced the lake-, river-, Gulf-, bayou- and farm-to-table movement, sourcing from local ingredients and purveyors; some even have their own farms and gardens.
Infrastructure, fragility and regulations protecting historic construction can make green improvements difficult or prohibitive, especially in the French Quarter. Many that were damaged in the flood expended their rebuilding resources to get back on their feet, forsaking going green–an understandably missed opportunity. There are no LEED- or Green Seal-certified hotels in the city—yet, but nearly every property has instituted programs like recycling and on-demand linen replacement. Although our preferences lean away from major hotel chains, those with corporate-supported sustainability programs, like Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott and Loews are doing some of the better work in this arena. On the indie side, Hotel Monteleone leads this charge. An ironic environmental upside to Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater oil spill is increased awareness of the need to support locally-owned businesses as a means of economic rebuilding and cultural preservation. The Urban Conservancy’s Stay Local program (www.staylocal.org) has a directory of locally-owned businesses to patronize.
Voluntourism is still popular, especially with groups. Habitat for Humanity accepts volunteers for a day or a year. The respected organization has created the Musicians Village for artists who lost their homes in the flood (www.habitat-nola.org; [tel] 504/861-2077). Or try Common Ground (www.commongroundrelief.org; [tel] 504/312-1729) or the United Saints Recovery Project (www.unitedsaints.org; [tel] 504/233-8883). Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, which rehabs homes primarily for teachers, is geared towards teens and even younger kids. Sservice hours anyone? (www.yrno.com; [tel] 504/264-3344). America’s Wetland Foundation focuses on vitally important wetlands restoration and sometimes has volunteer activities (www.americaswetland.com; [tel] 504/293-2610), as does Groundwork New Orleans, which builds rain gardens and other ecological improvements (www.facebook.com/GroundworkNewOrleans; [tel] 504/208-2771).
Larger groups can also work through the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.neworleanscvb.com) or Projects with Purpose (www.projectswithpurpose.com; [tel] 504/934-1000). Allow 2 weeks to complete applications and paperwork. Volunteers may be responsible for certain expenses, equipment, and accommodations. Given the tribulations that New Orleans and Louisiana have undergone, the most important act of responsible travel may simply be going, spending, enjoying, and encouraging others to do the same.
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.