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Kayaking at Futaleufu River, Chile
Photograph: Guaxinim / ShutterstockFutaleufu River

14 sustainable travel companies you can feel good about booking with

Do some good while seeing the world when you book with these ethical and sustainable travel companies

Karen Edwards
Written by
Karen Edwards
Ted Alan Stedman

While we don’t want to labour on the negatives, you don’t need to be an expert or activist to understand that we are in a climate pinch. It seems a little contradictory to fear for the future while excitedly encouraging international travel, but we humans are an innovative bunch. Exploring the globe doesn’t need to be devastating, and being a responsible traveller doesn’t mean lectures and negativity. Whether you call it eco-travel, sustainable, ethical, regenerative or eco-travel, there is plenty to get excited about.

An increasing number of sustainable travel companies are creating itineraries that allow curious minds to see the world while keeping the impact down. The experiences are awe-inspiring, from hiking remote mountaintops to embracing the world’s most impressive national parks, allowing visitors to engage with destinations in a way that extends far beyond the superficial. If you’re looking for an ethical and environmentally driven travel company for your next adventure, look no further.


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Sustainable travel companies

1. Byway Travel

In an ambitious mission statement, UK travel platform Byway declares that its goal is to make flight-free holidays a mainstream holiday choice. Their way of doing so? By helping people discover the beauty of slow, overland travel across the British Isles and Europe. Founder and CEO Cat Jones launched the now B Corporation-certified company during the first Covid lockdown, determined to find a way to reduce flight emissions. Her explanation was simple: If we continue on the current trajectory, emissions from flying are due to triple by 2050. 

2. Gondwana Ecotours

Named after the ancient supercontinent that gradually split to become the land masses we recognize today, Gondwana Ecotours says its mission is to bring people from different continents closer together, one trip at a time. The New Orleans-based company specializes in small group and private tours that take on exhilarating experiences around the globe, such as gorilla trekking in Rwanda and eco-adventures in Patagonia and Mendoza.

A key component of Gondwana is its network of guides who live in the communities visited, adding personal knowledge, depth and authenticity to the experience while providing tourism-generated income. The company is also committed to limiting its carbon footprint through sustainable travel practices and is recognized for offsetting more than 580 tons of carbon emissions. Since 2021, its tours have been 100-percent carbon-neutral, as certified by the Cooler emissions tracking organization.


3. Intrepid Travel

Australian-owned Intrepid has always been forthright in declaring its commitment to ethical and responsible practices. In 2018, it became one of the first global travel operators to be B Corporation-certified. Since 2010, it has been operating as the world’s largest carbon-neutral company, carefully measuring and offsetting all unavoidable carbon emissions for 13 years. 

Their trips are just as impressive. From 15-day expeditions traversing the extraordinary gorges and remote villages of northern Pakistan’s Hunza Valley to nine-day itineraries centred around baby gorilla naming ceremonies in Rwanda’s spectacular Volcanoes National Park, Intrepid offer true bucket list travel adventures suited to guests of all interests and abilities. In 2020, as a part of the Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency initiative, the company published a seven-point climate commitment plan – revealing its intention to transition to 100% renewable energy use in offices by 2025 and on all trips by 2030.

4. Experience Travel Group

Operating on the belief that ‘travel should be about reciprocation’, Asia travel specialist Experience Travel Group holds responsible travel at its core, enabling guests to interact with the community and experience real cultural immersion on every trip. Another B Corporation-certified company, the team is dedicated to creating experiences that divert away from trendy hubs and big hotels. Instead, they build personalised itineraries with initiatives to give back to the community included in the package. 

On adventures in Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, for example, guests can enjoy delicious local dishes at ‘social enterprise’ restaurants that support vulnerable young people through job training and employment. In Cambodia, a trip to the Phare Circus in Siem Reap sends funds directly to a performing arts school for underprivileged children in nearby Battambang. A three-day hike along sections of Sri Lanka’s Pekoe Trail follows the old horse and cart routes that carried tea to the ports, bringing vital income to little-visited communities. 


5. Seacology

In 1990, American ethnobotanist Dr Paul Cox was conducting forest research in Samoa when village leaders told him 30,000 acres of pristine rainforest were about to be logged due to a government decree to fund a school. Cox was horrified and quickly devised a proposal to raise the needed money to conserve the forest in perpetuity. His plan worked and has come to define the Seacology model: Provide material benefits to villages that pledge to protect their natural resources.

Today, Seacology offers unique ecotourism adventures throughout the world’s islands, where travelers visit active projects, interact with local people and are part of the formula that helps conserve both habitats and communities. Seacology guests also explore intriguing island environments, from the coral reefs of Fiji to the rainforests of Borneo, while staying at well-appointed resorts and visiting important cultural sites. With all this tropical splendour, expect plenty of opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, hike and kayak.

6. Discover Corps

Discover Corps is the leader in the rapidly growing field of 'volunteer vacations' focusing on children, schools, animals and wildlife conservation. Yes, 'voluntourism' has often become a buzzword to cash in on thinly veiled claims, earning criticism and scrutiny over the years. However, Discover Corps operates with complete transparency and has become something of a gold standard for the model.

Trip itineraries are designed to connect travellers to local communities and provide a deeper understanding of the culture, issues, and ways of life in locations around the world. Many projects are in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and can range from caring for elephants in Thailand to helping to protect the animals in South Africa's Greater Kruger National Park region.


7. ROW Adventures

From its beginnings as a whitewater rafting company in the US's Pacific Northwest, ROW Adventures has evolved into an adventure travel company that advocates the transformative nature of human-powered experiences. According to ROW, connecting people with nature results in positive impacts, and the company adheres to conducting business in an inclusive and sustainable way while promoting social equity, environmental stewardship and accountability. Human-powered activities allow participants to fully observe the surroundings, whether white water rafting in Idaho's Salmon River, sea kayaking the orcas in Canada, or trekking across Machu Picchu.

ROW also recognizes that travel is a large contributor to the world’s carbon footprint and subsequently mitigates the impact by offsetting carbon-producing activities whenever possible. At the same time, trips also educate guests to be advocates for locations visited, with special recognition given to the awareness of Indigenous communities and honouring their legacies, lives and connections to the land.

8. Natural Habitat Adventures

Conservation through exploration is the credo of Natural Habitat Adventures, the official travel partner of the World Wildlife Fund. Nat Hab, as it’s called, is committed to environmentally friendly nature travel, stressing that its travellers become a force for change in addressing the planet's most pressing conservation challenges. Polar bear tours in the Canadian Arctic, African safaris and South American nature tours are examples of the company’s itineraries where tourism dollars become an influential incentive for communities to protect their natural resources.

Nat Hab also acknowledges that its 8,000 annual travellers on all seven continents expend plenty of CO2. To mitigate travel’s carbon output, the company leans into offsetting measures. From 2007 to 2019, Nat Hab offset 49,418 tons of carbon dioxide and has become the world's first 100-percent carbon-neutral travel company. They’ve also provided more than $4.5 million to support WWF’s global conservation efforts and continue to give one-percent of gross sales plus $150,000 annually in support of WWF’s global mission. 


9. Cheeseman's Ecological Safaris

Ecology safaris catering to wildlife enthusiasts looking for an in-depth nature experience is what husband-and-wife founders Doug and Gail Cheeseman envisioned when they started their namesake company in 1980. Doug, a college zoology and ecology professor, and Gail, a naturalist, turned their passion for nature into a travel company focusing on comprehensive wildlife tours all over the globe. Working with local guides and wildlife researchers, tours are designed for hardcore animal lovers who are obsessed with travel and enjoy learning about the animals they encounter.

For example, Cheeseman’s Palau National Marine Reserve diving trip in the western Pacific Ocean offers 12 days of snorkelling, paddling, sailing and diving among the awe-inspiring tropical islands in the region.

10. Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions co-founders Lars Wikander and Mike McDowell took the first group of commercial travellers to the North Pole in 1991, completing the first-ever tourism transit of the Northeast Passage. That inaugural expedition proved a game-changer and positioned the company at the forefront of polar explorations. In the three decades since, its polar travellers have visited remote parts of the Arctic and Antarctic. 

With the Earth’s polar regions threatened by climate change, Quark is committed to raising awareness of these delicate ecosystems through environmentally responsible tourism. A facet of that commitment is the company’s Polar Promise to reduce its footprint and work with other industry leaders, as well as guests, to address the complex and challenging issues facing the regions. Coordinating with a global network of scientists, community leaders and sustainability innovators, the company plans to contribute a minimum of $500,000 each year in support of key environmental initiatives and sustainable development projects.


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