The hard truth of green luxury travel

Green” has become yet another upscale offer for hotels and resorts around the world. The concept allows a premium to be charged – and justifiably so, given the increased expenses that come with minimizing environmental impact. Guests get to feel good when they indulge, and the hotel makes a few extra bucks. Everyone wins, right?

Well, it isn’t that simple. Any environmentally friendly measures publicized by a resort may be inherently “green.” A bag made from recycled material, for example, may result in a lower carbon footprint. However, this probably won’t compensate for wasteful behavior elsewhere on the property. Luxury is wasteful by design, and travelers seeking green resorts need to think past the trappings of conscience publicized by the resort.

Think about any hotel room – from mid-range through the absurdly upscale. The toilet paper is replaced when only a third of the roll has been used. Soap used once or twice is swapped for a fresh bar. You can opt to use the same towel two days in a row – likewise sheets – but it isn’t the norm. It’s a choice you get to make. So, who gives a shit if the lettuce is grown locally?


Well, that’s a tad unfair. Every measure does count. So, a hotel that only buys produce from local growers or fish from sustainable sources is making a difference. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reconcile these behaviors with what you see when you walk into your guestroom for the first time.

The lights are on.

The air conditioner is running.

The television is turned to the hotel’s proprietary station.

The radio next to the bed is playing slow, carefully selected music.

And so on.

When it comes to the confluence of luxury and green, the priority will always be given to the former. Any measure that detracts from the guest experience will not be adopted – which becomes increasingly true as the standards of the hotel or resort increase. And, this is probably what you want. After all, when you choose a destination based on service, comfort and style, you’re looking for service, comfort and style. You elected not to sleep in a tent in the middle of the desert for a reason!

Since a luxury property won’t cut back on some of the basics, there are a few things you can do to trim your carbon footprint when you check into an upscale establishment. First, use only the lights that you need, open the curtains and turn off the devices that don’t matter to you (e.g., the television tuned to the hotel’s ads). Turn the lights off when you leave the room. Do the basics … the stuff you would do back home.

Since you can’t erase your impact completely, buy your way out of it. You can purchase carbon offsets (from Terapass, for example). These are financial devices that basically compensate for the carbon emissions for which you’re responsible. Let’s say you drive your car 10 miles. You’ve created some emissions, and there’s nothing you can do about that. But, you can buy energy that’s created through sustainable sources (via the offset). That means that green power has been created and sent to the grid … and eventually is consumed. You used fossil fuels but balanced it out by supplying someone else with energy from an eco-friendly source.

Consider making a positive impact. “Voluntourism” is gaining momentum. You don’t have to take a vacation strictly to volunteer somewhere. Instead, set aside part of your trip to make a difference. The Ritz-Carlton’s “Giveback Getaway” program, for example, allows you to set aside as little as a few hours to help an organization near the resort (for me, it was helping on a panther refuge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida).

The eco-friendly lingo may deceive you at some resorts, but you can overcome the marketing hype and take control of your carbon footprint. From the small to the profound, there are steps you can take while traveling to make a difference. If you don’t care – hey, that’s your choice. Just be realistic about the green offering and the impact it has.