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 can be dubious (investigative journalism reveals that most of the recyclables and trash in Rome, for example, recently ended up in the same place anyway).
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. Rural Tuscany might very well be the capital of the green movement in Italy, and the region is regularly credited with leading the charge for sustainable tourism. Most hotels in Florence, Siena, and other Tuscan cities, as well as higher-end agriturismi in the countryside, have implemented green practices; farms in particular have begun to install natural waste water treatment systems, and guests are strongly encouraged to participate in composting and recycling programs. Organic agriculture is widespread, especially on smaller farms around Central Italy that host visitors, so when you eat in a restaurant in Tuscany, 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.)
Italians in general are also very protective of their beaches -- and their efforts have been rewarded with several Blue Flags. Each year, a Blue Flag (www.blueflag.org), a voluntary eco-label that honors high water quality and environmental management, is awarded to beaches throughout the world. Thirty-three beaches on Tuscany's coast have received Blue Flags, including our favorite on the mainland, Feniglia.
Overall, as a nation that needs to import the majority of its energy, and with 60 million people living in relatively close proximity, Italians have always been a culture to live and consume at a sustainable rate and a very human scale. Towns and provinces push for more intercity cycling paths to connect tourist sites, and public transportation is generally reliable. However, there is no escaping the fact that most often a family with luggage will need a car to get around the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.
You can do your part by reusing towels, taking public transportation whenever possible, discarding trash and recyclables in the appropriate colored bins around the region, and eating locally grown produce. And don't shy away from central Italy's tap water; it's very good. In addition to the resources for Tuscany and Umbria listed here, see www.frommers.com/planning for more tips on responsible travel.
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.