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Capital Green: Washington DC’s Eco-Tourism Cred

Red Fall Trees Washington DCWhile it may not be your first thought when someone says “eco-mecca,” Washington, DC, has enough to make an earth-friendly traveler comfortable.

From organic restaurants to PETA-approved cafés to a hybrid fleet of taxis, DC is earning its eco-cred.

Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett investigates …


Thanks to a half-dozen Kimpton-brand hotels and a Fairmont, the weary eco-traveler has plenty of green hotels from which to choose. Kimpton is notably ahead of its competitors on the eco-front, with initiatives that range from eco-friendly cleaning supplies in use at all of its hotels to the use of recycled paper and soy-based inks on all corporate correspondence. Add to that organic flowers and the donation of any unused in-room bottles of shampoo, bath gel and so on to local charities and you’ve got a greener-than-usual hotel. The tough choice is which of the six locations to choose.

Fairmont is another poster-hotel for earth-friendly accommodations. The company has pioneered many of the environmental practices now being adopted by other chains, wracking up a number of awards on the way. The Fairmont Washington, DC, is no exception, participating in the chain’s Energy Star Program, to promote energy conservation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


While DC is undoubtedly cosmopolitan in outlook, it’s “village-esque” in size, making your feet a highly prized mode of transport. Pick a centrally locally hotel, lace up your walking shoes and hit the pavement.

If your soles wear out, you can always use public transit. Subways and buses run plentifully and constantly. Many of the DC Metro buses run on compressed natural gas, emitting fewer air pollutants than conventional diesel buses. Visit for more information.

Ayako Ezaki, DC resident who works for The International Ecotourism Society, suggests travelers consider the Segway Tour. These earth-friendly tours offer the chance to take in the capital’s sights while riding a contraption that looks like a cross between a scooter and a push mower. Visit and click on Washington.

If four-wheels are more your style, you can always car share. Membership gives you the option of reserving a car online, using it for as long as needed (usually based on an hourly rate), then returning it once you’re done. You can find a Flexcar location at 140 Q Street NE.

And, a newcomer to the taxi business opened on February 8, operating the nation’s first all-hybrid taxicab fleet. EnviroCAB promises Priuses, Camrys, Highlanders and Escapes—all decked out in white and green. Find out more at


Washington DCYou won’t want to miss the city’s many museums (whatever your interest, there’s a museum dedicated to it in DC!), not to mention the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial … but once your head is stuffed with facts, you may want to shake it off by hiking through Rock Creek Park or Great Falls Park—both great options, according to Ezaki, for running, biking or hiking without having to travel too far from the city.

You can also explore the city by bike. The Web site offers detailed information on city-area bike trails, routes and group events. If you’re feeling strong, you can tackle the C&O Towpath, which follows the 184.5-mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal from DC to Cumberland, MD. Serious enthusiasts can even bike the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, covering 330 miles from Washington DC to Pittsburgh!

If you’re nuts for shopping, learn how to do it the smart way. The Center for a New American Dream has produced a convenient guide to shopping greener in DC. Download the guide here:


If the weather’s fine and you want to picnic at any of the city’s parks (there are many), start with a visit to Yes! Organic Market. Small but mighty, this chain has four locations in DC and is the spot to pick up organic and natural treats for health-loving foodies.

Sticky Fingers Bakery is nirvana for vegans offering up dairy and egg-free delicacies that—wait for it!— are actually good for you. You can also get chili dogs, nachos and other goodies. 1370 Park Road, NW; 202-299-9700,

Java Green is another organic “eco-café” except that this one has been endorsed by PETA (no easy feat!). From its reliance on wind power, its support of fair-trade and organic principles and its popular menu items, Java Green has the vote of Veggie DCers. 1020 19th Street NW; 202 775-8899,

Restaurant Nora is the country’s first certified organic restaurant and so popular with the DC crowd that you’ll need to book several days in advance. The former 19th-century grocery store spot offers several elegant dining areas, including a wine library with its own wine cellar, a garden room and the parlor. The restaurant up creative New American cuisine, so whether it’s homemade cheese, free-range chickens or a glass of wine from small producers around the world, you’re eating with a clear conscience. 2132 Florida Avenue NW; 202-462-5143,

Looking for more travel information for Washington, DC? Don’t miss the Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to Washington, DC.

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::

Austin: Texas Gold and Green

Carbon Offsets: Travel With a Clean Conscience?

Eco-Oakland: The City You Only Thought You Knew

Chicago: More Green Than Meets the Eye


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