Before You Book: Eco-Friendly Hotel Or Just Greenwashing?

can of green paint and brush

velo_city, Flickr

We’ve all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they’re doing their part to save the environment. Don’t want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang ‘em up, and the housekeeper will know that you’re a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.

Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I’ve seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don’t have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, “eco-friendly,” or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.

My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I’m overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn’t thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn’t unique to hotels, but it’s prevalent.

African man holding fish

safari_partners, Flickr


We’re living in an era of climate change. Lowering our individual and collective carbon footprint should be something we do, to the best of our abilities, on a daily basis. Hotels are hip to the fact that an increasing number of travelers have an elevated eco-awareness, and they want to capitalize on that.

In the absence of a word-of-mouth or written recommendation, it can be difficult to ascertain a hotel’s eco-integrity (although certain chains are well-known for their green policies; a 2012 Reuters report cites chains like Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Taj Resorts, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott).

Sites like Green Traveler Guides, however, (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) exist as unofficial industry watchdogs, reviewing properties and assessing their green policies. If you’re looking for a hotel or resort that’s genuinely green, sites like GTG feature properties that are both green and great, as well as provide tips on how to be a more eco-minded traveler. Other resources include sites like Green Lodging News.

hotel with exterior living wall

Rev_Stan, Flickr

For a quick study, here’s a checklist of what to look for when researching hotels:

  • If the only mentions refer to buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-lodge,” or “environment,” caveat emptor. There’s no law that prohibits the use of green jargon; it’s up to you as a consumer to do your homework.
  • Is there a bona-fide recycling (bonus points for composting) program?
  • Does the property employ locals/incorporate and support local culture and community? How?
  • Is the property built and furnished with natural and/or reclaimed or renewable materials wherever possible?
  • Are there green options for guests, such as bike rentals and local culture-based activities?
  • Does the property have green certification from a legit international or domestic organization or program?
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • Does the property use alternative fuel or electric carts for guest transit on-site and off?
  • Are bathroom amenities and cleaning agents chemical-free? Bonus points your in-room goodies are locally made.
  • If there’s on-site dining, is the food seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible (which reduces fossil fuel output as well as promotes local food security)? Do family farmers, ranchers and fisherman supply ingredients? Is there a chemical-free on-site rooftop or other garden from which the restaurant sources product?
  • Does the property have a “living roof” or walls?
  • Is the property using alternative resources for operations? Examples include solar or wind power, geothermal heating and reclaimed water systems.

9 Out Of 10 Passengers Would Like To See Reclining Airplane Seats Banned

There was that time the person in front of me reclined their seat suddenly and deeply, sending the red wine I’d just purchased all over my face and clothing. Then there was that other time someone in front of me did the same thing, causing my laptop to slide off of my tray and, luckily, onto my lap where I was able to soften the blow a bit. Reclining airplane seats aren’t doing anyone any favors – other than the people who insist on reclining their seats all the way on every flight. And that’s probably at least part of the reason why nine out of ten flight passengers say they would like to see reclining airplane seats completely banned, according to the Telegraph.

The poll cited in the article was conducted by Skyscanner and the results also revealed that young women (though a bit younger than I am) are the most likely to be considerate when reclining their seat. Maybe I fit that bill. I never recline my seat without taking a look at the person behind me and noting whether or not they have especially long legs and can’t afford to lose the legroom or if they are working on their laptop. And I usually ask permission regardless.

What do you think? Should we just do away with the whole inconveniencing feature used sadistically against innocent passengers?How to Get the Best Airline Seats

Vegetarian Food On Flights: Doesn’t It Just Make Sense?


It’s certainly not impossible to travel as a vegetarian, but it’s not always easy. Not only do I not eat meat, but I usually try my best to refrain from animal products of any sort. Navigating this kind of diet abroad can be tricky, but airlines could do their part to make it easier. On one of my most recent flights, my husband was literally mocked for wanting meat-free food, even if that just meant a piece of bread. All maliciousness aside, what always gets me upset about the pitiful selection of vegetarian food on flights is the pure logistics of it from an airline’s standpoint.From a purely business perspective, it seems like a no-brainer that airlines would serve vegetarian options. Everyone eats vegetables (or should). Not everyone eats meat. In fact, some of the latest estimates say that there are more than 400 million vegetarians worldwide. While both meat and vegetables can rot or become otherwise tainted, the risks of contamination are higher with meat, especially when stored for long-term use, not to mention that the meat that does have a long shelf life isn’t usually the popular choice — give me canned beans over canned Spam any day. Meat is also expensive!

I realize that passengers can usually request food that meets their personal dietary restrictions for flights in advance. What I don’t realize is why plant-based food should be a special request. It seems to me that increasing the availability of vegetarian food on flights wouldn’t just satisfy the millions of vegetarians who travel as well as many non-vegetarians who are more than happy to eat plants, but it would be good for the bottom line, too.

Travel Tip: Vegetarian Food That May Not Be Vegetarian

Fuel Costs Aren’t Making Airlines Eco-Friendly

As discussed in an article in The Economist today, airlines should theoretically be becoming more and more “green.” Fuel costs are normally the largest single cost for airlines and rising fuel costs aren’t good for the airline or the customer. One might assume that airlines would pursue fuel efficiency with their bottom line in mind, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not with the most profitable domestic Airline (2009-2011), Allegiant Air. Allegiant was found to actually be the least fuel efficient airline for the year of 2010 in a report recently released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
While it is certainly counter-intuitive that the most profitable airline can also be the least fuel efficient, there are other factors that play into the sometimes ambiguous cost/profit setup of airlines.

Still, The Economist asks the question that I have to echo: “If the bottom line cannot force airlines to be more fuel efficient, what can?” One of the many possible answers to that question is fleet, since almost one-third of the efficiency gap between airlines can be attributed to differences in fleet. Here’s to hoping for the employment of greener planes down the road.

[Thanks, The Economist]

High Fuel Costs End Carriers' Longest Routes

Flying With Your Dog: New Class Makes Canines Better Airline Passengers

Some people are naturally better travelers than others; so it is with pets. But whereas humans can temper their anxiety or irritation at the airport bar or by downing an Ambien, dogs don’t have that option (although, to be accurate, your vet will prescribe a travel sedative for your pet if need be).

Now, there’s a class available for canine air passengers that’s aimed to keep them calm when going through airport security and in-flight. According to MSN, Talaat Captain, the president and CEO of the world’s largest “aviation-themed film studio,” Air Hollywood, was inspired to create the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School. Given a dog’s acute sense of sight, hearing and smell, it’s no surprise that blaring announcements, crowds, hovering strangers in uniform and turbulence can make for a stressful experience.

For $349, Air Hollywood puts pets and owners through a real-time simulated airport and flight experience (using an airport set and fake fuselage) in order to prep and desensitize both parties to the process. The certification class is focused on in-cabin travel, rather than cargo: Depending upon the airline, dogs under 20 pounds may be allowed to fly stashed under the seat in carrier; service dogs fly free and lie at their owners feet.

If your pup is panicky when taking to the skies, perhaps the above video will help convince you that heading back to school is a good idea.