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Virtuous Traveler: Texas Gold…and Green

Locations in this article:  Austin, TX Charlotte, NC Chicago, IL

Austin River TexasWhile some cities remain steadfast in their refusal to acknowledge the impending eco-crisis, the good news is that many U.S. cities stand as examples of grassroots environmentalism—offering up great urban eco-tourism for the green-minded traveler.

Some are obvious … others not so much.

Texas generally conjures up images of cattle and oilfields—if you didn’t know any better you might consider the entire state an environmentalist’s worst nightmare. But not if you visit or live in Austin.

While the state as a whole might fall at a dismal 34 out of 50 in Forbes magazine’s 2007 ranking of America’s Greenest States, the city of Austin is greener than you might think.

It’s green enough to earn a spot on the eco-site’s “15 Green Cities” (it squeaked in at 15, but still.) Green enough to make National Geographic’s Top Ten Green Cities for two years running.

Judges note the growth of the city’s solar manufacturing sector, which is poised to become number one in the country. And Austin is on its way to meeting 20 percent of its electricity needs through the use of renewables and efficiency by 2020. What’s more, Austin is noted for its 32 miles of bike trails and its dedication of land to parks and open spaces.

Austin HillsThe city is also dedicated to a “smart-growth initiative,” which, according to its Web site means, “the efforts of communities … to manage and direct growth in a way that minimizes damage to the environment and builds livable towns and cities.”

And let’s not forget that Austin is the birthplace of that venerable “green” grocery, Whole Foods Markets, which offers up an early-morning coffee shop at its flagship store on N. Lamar Boulevard, between 5th and 6th Streets.

Charlotte Luongo is president of Clean Air Limo, an Austin-based business with decidedly green principles. “We have a lot to offer the eco-traveler,” she enthuses. “As an Austinite, my favorite part of living in this green city is that it is literally green. You would be hard-pressed to go anywhere in this city without passing by one of its hundreds of public parks.”

To further green her point, she says, “The city has 26 greenbelts, many of which are interconnected. This means that you can walk, bike or run from one end of the city to the other without having to leave the park system.” Or, of course, you could take a “green” limo.

Luongo started Clean Air Limo after using similar services in other cities. “I decided that if I wanted a green limousine service in Austin, I better start one myself.”

She opened her (car) doors in July and says that “business has been growing much faster than expected.” So if you want a green tour of the city, who better to ask than Luongo?


Field Sky TexasLocated in downtown Austin, Habitat Suites boasts its “ecological consciousness.” Some of it is obvious, such as the hotel’s solar panels that provide 20 percent of the energy needs, but other initiatives are less so: trees planted to offer shade to rooms (lowering AC and increasing energy-efficiency), non-toxic, phosphate-free cleaners, and a proliferation of ladybugs, which foster healthy plants and reduce the need for pesticides. However, even if none of that mattered, Habitat Suites offer a great location and comfortable rooms. 500 East Highland Mall Boulevard; 800-535-4663,

Maybe learning to trapeze isn’t high on your list of “things to do before I die,” but perhaps The Crossings’ “Crazy Sexy Cancer” program led by a cancer survivor is. Clearly, The Crossings is no ordinary spa.

The Crossings aims to support “personal and organization transformation,” and it does so amidst a setting that’s deliberately been created as eco-friendly. Green building practices such as recycled building materials were used in construction and the location affords hiking trails and spectacular landscaping. 13500 FM 2769; 877-944-3003,


While Austin has any number of eateries dedicated to local and/or organic cuisines, Luongo mentions a couple of standouts:

Eastside Café is the labor of love of two former restaurant employees who bought up the homespun acreage, complete with an organic garden on-site and created a charming place that offers up everything from vegetarian creations to a succulent steak, fish to cheeseburgers. 2113 Manor Road; 512-476-5858,

Not only does Progress Coffee owe its good looks to reused or recycled materials, it also offers up fair-trade, organic coffee and tea, alongside salads, sandwiches, vegan wraps and an all-day breakfast. 500 San Marcos,; 512-493-0963,


Fruit BatsWho knew that Austin had the largest urban bat population in North America (surely Transylvania holds the global honor)? Bat lovers and curious onlookers gather under Congress Bridge at sunset from March through October to watch millions of bats wake up and take flight over Town Lake. There’s even a local bat hotline, says Luongo, which is organized by the local newspaper and offers up the evening’s scheduled bat departure. Apparently, it’s not just the same bat time, same bat channel.

Bald Eagles
A side trip to Lake Buchanan, located about 50 miles west of Austin promises winter cruisers on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise a rare glimpse of several bald eagle nests. Luongo recommends you bring binoculars, however, as the boat is very careful not to get too close.

Warm springs
“Incredible” is how Luongo describes the three-acre Barton Springs Pool, located smack in downtown Austin. “You can enjoy 68-degre water year-round and be shoulder to shoulder with state senators, movie stars (Robert Redford allegedly learned to swim there at five years of age), university professors, and practically every other Austinite.” She notes that those unimpressed with that might be thrilled to see the rare Barton Springs salamander, an endangered species.

Flat Creek Estate Winery: Yep, that’s right – Texas has a wine country and Flat Creek Estate is located outside of Austin, Texas, and offers award-winning wines at that. Flat Creek comes complete with all the rustic charm and history that you’d expect at any winery. Reserve a picnic lunch on the weekend or pop in for a wine tasting, port and chocolate or a “diva cheese plate.”

Looking for more travel information on Austin? Find it in Austin Off the Brochure.

Leslie Garrett is author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World.Visit her at

Previously By Leslie Garrett::

Carbon Offsets: Travel With a Clean Conscience?

Eco-Oakland: The City You Only Thought You Knew

Chicago: More Green Than Meets the Eye


The Good, The Green and the Downright Crazy Tours

Green Travel Gadgets

Green Honeymoons

Bye Polar: Arctic Travel

Don’t forget to check out our Responsible Travel section for more green travel ideas.