Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but carbon footprints?

"The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels."It's difficult not to consider Henry David Thoreau puttering about Walden when pondering this whole "Green Travel" thing. Sure, the surface of the Earth is soft and impressible; and so with the surface of one's back after months of bosses' feet. Who doesn't need a vacation? While the tramping of tramps escaping the workaday world – if for but two precious weeks a year – is certainly a soul rejuvenator, it wears down the poor old Earth. How much do we screw the planet when we take that plane to see that safari? How many washcloths do we need for a three-night stay? Could we have done without that upgrade to an SUV? Why doesn't our temporary seaside villa take advantage of all this blazing sunlight? And as we tramp across the dunes, the tide may take our footprint with it, but the damage is done."Green travel," "ecotourism," "voluntourism," "responsible travel," even "carbon offset" – all of these terms are enjoying a limelight in 2007. Thank Al Gore. Thank Katrina. Thank the polar bears. And thank the efforts of diligent rabble-rousers in the hospitality industry (did we mention the reluctant hospitality industry?) who have evolved their field with radical concepts like towel-reuse programs, organic cleansers and pest control, and solar everything.The terms themselves are up for grabs and subject to much debate. As author and major player on the green travel scene Ron Mader says, "Sorry, but green jet skis in Cancún is not ecotourism." More precisely: "Conservationists shudder when tourism leaders brand amusement parks as ecotourism destinations. Likewise, when environmentalists devise complicated circuits or vacation packages that tour operators can't book, the operators see ecotourism as nothing more than utopian whimsy."And arguing over definitions is an exercise in frustrating relativism.What's not relative, and what cannot be dismissed, is the fact that the dookie is hitting the fan right now, and we've got to change our ways, pronto. So if that means a full-immersion retreat to Earthship Biotecture (no, I'm not making that up, see below) or delivering food to neighbors in need in New Orleans or simply enjoying a romantic weekend on 5,000-thread-count sheets with organic breakfast in bed at a luxury mansion that employed green-building standards in their renovation, good on ya.The Austin Chronicle Green Guide online is a work in progress. We've amassed more than 250 viable resources from Austin, from Texas, and from all across the globe for you to click on your path to total greendom.The print component to our Green Guide, "The Summer Fun Green Travel Guide," focuses entirely on travel information: helpful Web sites, B&Bs, electric-car sales and rentals, ecotour experiences, carbon calculators, and much more. We hope you'll consider consulting it as you plan your next trip or vacation.

Many thanks to Kill-a-Watt Challenge maven and Community Listings Editor Nora Ankrum, assistants Richard Whittaker and Abe Louise Young, and writers Andy Denham and Meghan Ruth Speakerman.

To have your business or concern listed in the Green Guide, send all pertinent info to green@austinchronicle.com or follow the link in the guide itself, at austinchronicle.com/green.