The concept of ecotourism holds plenty of appeal. Travelers love the idea of spending their vacation--and their money--with guides and tour outfitters that help protect the environment and aid the local community. Unfortunately, there's no universal set of standards for what is, and isn't, an eco-friendly operation.
Nearly one hundred groups offer various "eco" certifications, so doing the right thing is more complicated than one would hope. The best way to find out what a company does for the earth is to call and ask questions.
Ask the tour company how it conserves resources and protects the environment. If your tour includes lunch, you shouldn't eat using plastic utensils and styrofoam plates. Pedestrians and cyclists should always stay on established trails, and vehicles should stay on roads.
One of the best things an outfitter can do is impart knowledge and awareness to participants. Snorkeling above coral reefs, hiking in rain forests, and rafting in remote rivers can be both thrilling and educational. Ask about the kinds of activities offered before you book.
You may not completely understand the answers you hear over the phone--all that eco jargon can be confusing. But if it sounds like the employee is making something up or has never heard your questions before, it's time to look for another tour.