Travel green on Earth Day with these eco-friendly gear outfitters

Though every day should be eco-conscious, Earth Day brings us a special reminder of what we can do to help the environment in our day-to-day lives. And for many of the Gadling readers, this means greener travel.

Most acts of travel come with an inherent negative impact on the environment, whether this is from the carbon dumped into the atmosphere during transit or the plastic used in disposable water bottles and packaging. One way that we can travel greener, however, is in how we pack and in what we wear. And to help us, a wide host of green outfitters are here to help the cause.

  • The elephant in the room, of course, is Patagonia, the environmentally conscious adventure outfitter named after the region in the dramatic southern tip of South America.. We haven’t got enough great things to say about their environment goals and accomplishments over the years, and a large part of is devoted to educating the public on these topics. Further, if you’re ever short on ideas for your next trip, a quick flip through their online or hard-copy brochure should provide enough inspiration for a lifetime.
  • Owned by the same group, Nau and Horny Toad both provide clothing in a similar eco-friendly vein. Both brands lean towards more of casual wear instead of the above tech gear, and with classy picks like the waterproof, packable riding jacket that’s 100% recycled, it’s easy to see both brands catching on.
  • Luggage is another key element that can easily be made greener. Bag companies from Freitag to Terracycle manufacture bags made out of 100% recycled goods, and some of them are pretty darn stylin’ to boot. One can even go so far as to purchase luggage completely made out of cardboard.
  • To keep your notebook safe on the road, Hello Rewind will actually transform one of your old t-shirts into a nifty laptop sleeve. Best of all, with the $49 purchase price comes a healthy donation to Hello Rewind’s charitable effort to fight sex trafficking.

Of course if you want to be eco-friendly, it’s always possible to follow the sage advice from senior-eco blogger Sean McLachlan, who proffers the following wise words:

The best way to reduce your impact on the environment is not to wash, since soap can be harmful to streams. My suggestion is to simply turn your underwear inside out after you’ve worn it for a day. Presto, you have clean underwear! At least the part touching your nether regions, which is all that matters. The following day you can turn them back again and repeat as many days as you’re hiking.

However you choose to celebrate Earth Day in your travels, keep in mind that the lessons we learn on this day are the ones that we should carry through the year. Travel safe and green!

Review: Novothink Surge solar charging case for the iPhone

What better way to introduce your iPhone to Earth Day than to outfit it with a charging case that harnesses the power of the sun to keep it powered? The Novothink Surge is the first iPhone case to be officially certified by Apple.

The case has several handy features – a built in 1350mAH li-ion battery pack, large solar panel, battery status indicator and an optional app to calculate the required amount of sun for a charge.

Using the case is as simple as can be – you slide your phone into the Surge, and let the sun do its work. The four LED indicators show battery charge status, but most importantly – they also show whether the solar panels are doing their job. Out in the bright sun, the lights turn red, which means you can actually see whether it works (or not).

The Novothink application is quite smart – you tell it how much you plan to use your phone, and whether it is in direct sunlight or overcast – and the app tells you how long it’ll need to be charged using the solar panels. For a full charge, you’ll need about 9 hours of direct sunlight, but you can get away with an hour or two if you just need to do some browsing.

Of course, you can still charge your device using your computer or USB charger, thanks to the included MiniUSB cable. Best of all – this cable also syncs your device. Openings on the front of the Surge keep your speaker and microphone working.

The Novothink Surge is available in black and white and costs $79.95. An iPod Touch version is also available (for $69.95).

Not much more to add about this product – it works exactly as promised, has a battery capable of fully recharging your device, and a solar panel with enough power to bring the internal batteries back to 100% in a day.

If you have sun, but no outlet, this is a reliable way to keep your device working. Even though the case is well built, you won’t be buying it for its looks; it makes your phone look huge, and certainly isn’t the prettiest thing out there – but at the end of the day, being able to check your email is probably more important than looking good.

You’ll find the Novothink Surge case at the Novothink web site.

For the bees – Puntacana’s unexpected practice of beekeeping

Last week, I visited Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and was delighted to discover they had a large Ecological Reserve, where they do research into ways the resort can be more environmentally friendly.

The Punta Cana Ecological Foundation has a number of unusual projects including recycling water, using worms to compost their trash and they’ve even enlisted the minds of students from Harvard to help them develop new ideas for greener properties. I toured their facility and was especially impressed (and terrified) when we arrived at the site above: the bees.

No, they didn’t just give the hives cute names; those hives house bees that were taken from the Punta Cana homes of Oscar de la Renta (I understand the bees invaded his wife’s bathroom) and Julio Iglesias (who allegedly discovered honey dripping from his ceiling). Rather than exterminate their unwanted pests, Punta Cana encourages its residents to let their hives be removed by the Ecological Foundation, who keeps them and will even gift donors with fresh honey from their very own hives.

As we wandered the area covered with plants intended just for the bees, I talked with Jake Kheel, the Environmental Director, about how the beekeeping works and why they do it. However, as I mentioned, I was terrified — so I emailed him these questions later when I got my breath back.

Gadling: So, tell us why you’ve created these homes for bees, rather than exterminating them.

%Gallery-91172%Jake Kheel: Bees are important pollinators in nature and if managed properly can be quite profitable by producing honey, pollen, royal jelly and other related products, as well as providing important pollination to local plants, vegetables, etc. We thought managing the bees to our mutual benefit made more sense than exterminating them.

G: How many do you have?

JK: We currently have 140 colonies in 5 different sites around our property. Since each colony can have around 20,000 – 40,000 worker bees alone, conservatively, we have around 2.8 million bees in our apiaries.

G: What are the colonies like? How do you keep the bees there?

JK: The bees will stay in the bee boxes as long as the queen bee is there, they can find enough food, and don’t have too many pests or predators. Our job is to make sure the bees have all their needs covered so they can do their work and produce the products we are interested in. Each colony has at least one box on the bottom level with an entrance and an exit and nine separators with wax sheets where they can make honey combs and deposit eggs and honey inside. The second and third and sometimes fourth level boxes are separated by a thin plastic sheet that the drones and queens can’t pass through. This is to make sure they don’t lay eggs in the honey we want to extract and only consume from the bottom box. We only harvest honey from the boxes that the queen and drone cannot access, to make sure they always have enough food.

G: And you sell the honey, right?

JK: We produced 370 gallons last year and sold all of it. We also have an agreement with another local producer of organic honey that supplements our production. We are currently selling the honey at the airport, at our hotels, at our shop, our Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and soon to a local tour operator.

G: Can we buy Oscar de la Renta honey?

JK: Technically, yes! We have several colonies that came from Oscar de la Renta’s and Julio Iglesias’ houses. When we extract the honey we plan to sell, all the honey is mixed together to make the process more efficient. So, technically speaking, almost all of our honey has some of Oscar’s and Julio’s honey in it!

My trip to Punta Cana was sponsored by PUNTACANA Resort & Club, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.

3 Earth Day travel discounts

With all the pressure to be green these days, travelers can benefit from Earth Day-themed discounts. Here’s a trio of deals that will help you save a little dough — and perhaps help save the planet as well.

Ride the Rails with Kimpton Hotels
Save 15 percent off the best available rate at more than 30 participating Kimpton properties if you show your Amtrak ticket stub at check-in.
Details: To qualify for the Ride the Rails discount, enter the promo code RAILS when booking. You then must ride Amtrak to your destination and show your ticket as proof that you ditched your car for the trip. Participating hotels are in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Alexandria, Arlington, and Cambridge. Starting prices vary by property.

Car-free discounts in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Save 20 percent off an adult Amtrak ticket to or from Santa Barbara County on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner or San Joaquin trains. With both the beach and a burgeoning wine country nearby, Santa Barbara is often overlooked as a travel destination. For example, the Pacific Surfliner train can take you from Los Angeles (Union Station) to Santa Barbara in about 2.5 hours; a regularly-priced coach ticket starts at $24 each way. And for anyone who has seen the movie Sideways, yes, you can sample all the pinot noir you can handle — you may end up being grateful that you didn’t drive.
Details: After registering at, you will receive a link to the Amtrak site, where you can then redeem the 20 percent discount. A three-day advance purchase is required; this deal isn’t valid for tickets purchased by phone or at any Amtrak stations. The discount is good for travel to and from the nine participating Amtrak stations in Santa Barbara County: Santa Barbara proper, Goleta, Carpinteria, Solvang (the charming Danish village), Buellton, Lompoc (not far from wineries on the edge of Santa Ynez Valley), Surf, Guadalupe, and Santa Maria.
Other Perks: If you show your Amtrak ticket stub with the current date stamp, many businesses in Santa Barbara will give you additional discounts. Examples include 20 percent off the regular rates at many hotels and inns, as well as 10 percent off several walking, kayaking, whale-watching, and wine tours. Downtown itself is very walkable, so you won’t need to rent a car.
When: Travel by Dec. 16, 2010. Some blackout dates apply.

D.I.Y. housekeeping in New York City

At the Marmara Manhattan hotel on the Upper East Side, the Green Rate discount knocks $20 off your nightly bill if you request housekeeping every three days instead of every night. A minimum stay of three nights is required to qualify for this discount.
Details: You must book directly through the hotel reservations desk. Studio suites typically start at $169 per night, or $507 for three nights. With the discount, starting rates drop to $149 per night, or a total of $447 for the required three-night stay. Every suite at the Marmara Manhattan hotel comes with a fully-equipped kitchen, which can help you save even more if you prepare simple meals.
When: Valid until the end of the year.


Where blue meets blue

The upcoming Earth Day (April 22) will be the 40th; I’ve been lobbying, quietly, that this time-round the day be labeled Ocean Day instead. In part because this is without statistical question more of an ocean planet than a continental one, and because I think right now around the world there is a tsunami wave of interest in all things “ocean,” particularly the threats to its health and its fisheries.

(To that end, my new book is called simply OCEANS, Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide. Companion book to the new Jacques Perrin/DisneyNature film of the same name (OCEANS), both are officially out on Earth Day/Ocean Day. )

Who isn’t made blissful sitting at water’s edge staring at the horizon, hypnotized by that delicate, nearly imperceptible-yet-somehow-distinct line where blue meets blue? Who among us doesn’t count those solitary, sun-washed moments – whether afloat on a boat or feet dug deep into the sand — as among the favorites of a lifetime?

Cliché? Perhaps. But if the views off land’s edges are not the most soothing, the most renewing on the planet, why do so many of us flock there to live, to work, to rejuvenate? Which raises the issue of why is it that this planet is called Earth, when seventy five percent of it is Ocean? That this is not known as Planet Ocean speaks only to the ego of man, since it has nothing to do with reality. It also raises the question of exactly how many oceans there are. Go get your atlas. Inside you’ll find five mildly distinct bodies with labels (Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern). I, like most whose writing graces these pages, believe there are no real distinctions, that this big body of water encircling the planet is just one ocean.

Put me on the edge, on or in the ocean at sunrise, sunset, under a blazing midday sun or even a small storm and I am content. For the past twenty years I’ve managed just that countless times. A wide variety of explorations have given me a unique perspective on both the health of the ocean and the lives of people who depend on it, a meandering route leading me from remote Bering Sea and Pacific islands, down the coasts of Vietnam and all of South America, around the various seas that surround Europe, parallel long sandy beaches in Gabon and India and rocky ones in Croatia, Tasmania and Kamchatka. At each stop I have spent time with the people whose days are most defined and shaped by the ocean.For all the differences each place offers – from browsing forest elephants and surfing hippos along the beaches of Gabon to eighty-mile-an-hour winds raking the Aleutian Islands, from horrifically-polluted bays off the South China Sea to centuries-old ritual celebrations still practiced on remote South Pacific atolls — similarities link them all. The same is true for ocean people. Though their cultures may differ – dress, food, religions and more – the people who live along coastlines have far more in common than they have differences. Instinctively, the very first thing each does in the morning is scan the horizon line, the seascape, checking the morning sky for what it might portend. Increasingly too, each is impacted by a handful of environmental risks now impacting the ocean, its coastlines and both its marine and human populations.

As the human population grows, headed fast towards nine billion, the planet’s coastlines grow ever more crowded. Fourteen of the planet’s seventeen largest cities are built on the edge of the ocean. Nearly half the world’s population – more than three billion – lives within an hour’s drive of a coast. The rich go for the views and refreshing salt air; the poor for jobs and big dreams; holiday-goers for a brief respite. But we humans are a rapacious species, seemingly incapable of taking good care of any place; over the past five centuries or so we’ve done a very good job of taking from the ocean without pause to consider its fragility and the damage we’ve done to it by our indifference.

How many of those billions who glimpse a sea with frequency, I wonder, stop to ask, How is this big, beautiful ocean of ours doing? While it has long seemed limitless, its resources infinite, there are myriad signs that we’ve now abused the ocean to the point of no return. The list of harms is long and includes threats from climate change (rising sea levels and acidification), various pollutions and over fishing. Eat fish? If so, you have to be concerned about the ocean; experts predict that by 2050 all of the fish species we currently survive on will be gone. Like tuna sashimi? Get it now since all of the world’s bluefin is anticipated to be gone by 2012. Forever. Fresh water supplies are endangered globally, with new reports suggesting that even in the wealthiest of nations (the U.S.) twenty million people drink polluted water every day.

There is some room for hope and optimism, with marine reserves and both national and international laws in the works that may help make a difference. Let’s hope they are enacted and enforced quickly enough that they can have an effect rather than just preceding an inevitable demise; around the globe, for example, far too often marine reserves have been set up only after the last fish was taken.

At each of my coastal stops during the past twenty years I have paused for long minutes, sometimes an hour and occasionally more, often far off the coast in the middle of the vast ocean, to ponder the horizon line, to watch the sun fall into the sea, or rise again. In each of those scenes I have found an incredible renewing energy. And it is the memories of those horizon lines – and the people I’ve met along the ocean’s edges — that keeps me going back for more.