Environmentalism in Italy has always been an area of stark contrasts. Italians conserve fuel and energy like most Europeans do, they go to great lengths to limit air pollution, and their shopping habits of consuming locally grown vegetables and bringing a bag to the store would put a smile on just about any environmentalist's face. Meanwhile, local entities' recycling efforts are dubious (investigative journalism reveals that most of the recyclables and trash in Rome, for example, ended up in the same place anyway), and, incredibly, sewage treatment plants have only begun to spring up around Milan in the past decade or so. Previously, it simply was flushed into the rivers.
That aside, the tourism industry here leads the charge in protecting the resources of a country where visitor spending accounts for a whole lot of the nation's income. Northern Italy has taken several measures to ensure sustainable tourism. Many hotels in Milan and other northern Italian cities, as well as higher-end agriturismi in the countryside, have implemented green practices, like encouraging patrons to reuse towels rather than throw them immediately in the wash. Organic agriculture is widespread, especially on smaller farms around northern Italy that host visitors, so when you eat in a restaurant in this region, chances are that the food didn't travel very far to get to your table. (The insistence on bottled water, however, is one blemish on an otherwise good record.)
Towns and provinces push for more intercity cycling paths to connect tourist sites, and many cities, like Milan, have implemented a bike-sharing program, which, for a nominal fee, allows people to ride bicycles around town for short increments of time (usually 30 min.). You pick up a bike in one of the many racks around town and leave it at another. Milan has also managed to cut down on traffic by instituting a fee for cars to enter the city center during the day from Monday to Friday. Venice, on the other hand, has no car traffic, since the only means of transportation in the city is boat. This water traffic -- as well as a history of poor sewage systems that fed right into the canals -- has contributed to high levels of pollution in the city's water. However, Venice has recently taken measures to improve its water quality by installing more septic tanks and controlling sewage flow, and by improving standards of water treatment.
Public transportation is generally reliable, and trains provide an excellent way of getting around northern Italy. Buses can also take you around the countryside. However, there is no escaping the fact that most often a family with luggage will need a car to get around the remote areas of the northern Italian countryside.
Overall, as a nation that needs to import the great majority of its energy from far away, and with 60 million people living in relative proximity, Italians have always been a culture to live and consume at a sustainable rate and a very human scale.
You can do your part by reusing towels, taking public transportation whenever possible, discarding trash and recyclables in the appropriate white and blue bins around the region, and eating locally grown produce. And don't shy away from Italy's tap water; it's very good.
General Resources for Green Travel
The following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
- 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 eco-tourism 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 accommodation 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.