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.

Liquids Surrendered At Airport Security: Is There An Afterlife?

water bottlesEver looked at the mountain of liquids (or, in my case, that luscious, unopened jar of dulce de leche, and countless yogurts) accumulated at airport security and wondered where they end up? Yeah, me too. I’ve always hoped they go to charity and the water bottles recycled, because I have a bit of an idealist streak beneath my jaded exterior.

Our friend Andy Bender over at Forbes helped get to the bottom of this tricky question, and the answers are somewhat surprising. Rather than being palmed by greasy-haired or hungry TSA agents (cause for immediate termination), large airports divvy up the booty by category and dispose of it accordingly, although smaller volume airports may just lump it as trash.

If you lie awake nights pondering the fate of your spendy conditioner or lotion, here’s the breakdown:

  • Liquids are sorted by type (sunscreen, shampoo, alcohol, contact lens solution, etc.) and emptied into hazmat barrels, which are then collected by waste management companies. They’re disposed of according to environmental regulations (Forbes reports that “water-based solutions are sent to a waste water treatment facility or waste energy recovery facility aka trash-to-stream plant.”
  • Alcohol ends up being treated at fuel-blending facilities because it’s flammable.
  • Large quantities of bottles are “chipped” and recycled, but not smaller volumes, which go to the landfill.

For more information on current regulations taking liquids in carry-on, click here. And here’s a tip: by carrying a refillable water bottle, you help reduce the 1.5 million barrels of oil required for U.S. plastic water bottle production each year.

%Gallery-160195%

[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Five Things You Can Do On Earth Day To Save Natural Resources

earthEarth Day is upon us, and even if you’re not planning to celebrate our planet’s making it through another year (what global warming?), there are still some simple measures you can take to show your gratitude. Love your Mother, you know?

Whether you’re on the road or at home, the following are smart rules to implement every day of the year:

  • Do laundry at night, after peak electricity usage hours and only wash full loads.
  • Use a travel mug when you purchase your morning coffee and carry a reusble water bottle.
  • Stash reusable shopping bags in your car, purse or backpack and desk.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing dishes or shaving.
  • Switch to e-tickets, e-pay, and other paperless forms of commerce; add your name to no junk mail and catalog lists.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kevin dooley]

How to Save Water and Save Money

Holiday gifts for food (and drink)-loving travelers

gifts for food loversHoliday shopping is easy if the people on your list like to eat and/or imbibe. If they’re into travel–be it armchair or the real deal–the options are endless This year, think beyond the predictable bottle of wine or pricey “artisan” cookies and give reusable, portable, eco-friendly gifts or small-batch edibles that are the taste equivalent of a trip abroad.

As for where to get these items, look at farmers and flea markets, street fairs, specialty food shops, wineries/distilleries, and boutiques. One of my favorite spots to shop: foreign supermarkets.

For the green at heart

An inflatable wine bag is ideal for wine and spirit-loving travelers. They’re multi-use and work equally well for olive oil, vinegar, or other fluid specialty products.

A logo tote bag (preferably made from recycled materials) from a specialty food shop, winery, etc. is great for practical recipients. A co-worker recently brought me a signature navy blue number from Neal’s Yard Dairy, a famous cheese shop in London. In two months, it’s traveled to South America and across the U.S., doing time as a souvenir satchel, laundry and grocery bag, and all-purpose carry-on. When I don’t need it, i just roll it up and stash it in my duffel bag or day pack. Love it.

Gift a wine key (opener) salad tongs or bowl, chopsticks, or other kitchen utensils made from local, sustainable materials such as wood, antler, bone, bamboo, or shell. Do a quick online search or ask (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: phrasebooks) about the origins of said object. If you have any qualms about the eco-aspect, don’t buy it and let the shopkeeper know why.

[Photo credit: Flickr user noramunro]gifts for food loversDrink coasters are always appreciated. I’ve picked up woven palm versions in Indonesia, as well as purchased colorful Portuguese azuelos tiles for this use. If the country or region you’re visiting is famous for its leather, woodwork, ceramics, or even recycled metal handicrafts, you’ll probably find a nice, inexpensive set of coasters. Again, be sure they’re made from sustainable materials.

Vintage kitchenware–even if it’s not functional–can be a great gift, especially if your intended is a collector. Salt-and-pepper shakers, wine openers, cheese knives, a set of Melamine bowls: hit up antique stores or street fairs, because you’re sure to find treasures at affordable prices.

For the adventurer

A pocketknife or plastic folding knife from a famous cheese shop or winery is indispensable to hikers, campers, foragers, and DIYer’s who enjoy a good picnic while on the road. Just make sure your loved ones aren’t the type who don’t check their bags when they fly. A mini-cutting board of wood/bamboo or slate is also a nice gift.

Know someone who’s into mountaineering or other high-altitude pursuits? Coca leaf tea (or for a less effective but more entertaining option, caramels or hand candy) really works, and it’s legal.

For the locavore

If you have a friend of the “Eat local/Support family farms” variety, a gift from your travels can still fit the mold. Whenever and wherever I travel, I make a point of purchasing local, handcrafted foodstuffs: jam or other preserves, honey, cheese, candy. What I buy depends upon where I am and whether or not I have to abide (cough, cough) by customs regulations or have access to refrigeration.
gifts for food lovers
If customs and temperature aren’t an issue, consider a gift of cheese, charcuterie, or even some spectacular produce (A would-be suitor once presented me with a tiny disc of goat cheese and one perfect peach before I departed on a flight; I wasn’t into the guy but loved the thoughtfulness of his gift).

If you you’re looking for a shelf-stable product, some suggestions: leatherwood, manuka, or tupelo honey (from Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Florida Panhandle, respectively); sea salt (I love the red alaea salt from Hawaii); Argentinean dulce de leche; drinking chocolate; real maple syrup; dried chiles or posole from New Mexico; palm sugar from Indonesia; spices from India or Morocco; Spanish saffron or paella rice–look for Calasparra or Bomba from Valencia; Provencal chestnut cream; Italian tomato paste or canned sardines (canned tuna from overseas is very often not from a sustainable fishery); barbecue or hot sauce; heirloom dried beans; stoneground grits…

I particularly like to buy items grown/produced by farmer co-ops but unless they’re manufactured for export or are a dried good, beware. A jar of manjar (the Chilean version of dulce de leche) I purchased from a tiny bakery wasn’t sealed properly, and was contaminated with mold when opened. Botulism or other foodborne illness is not a thoughtful gift (although I suppose it’s better to give than receive…), so make sure you’re getting professionally packaged goods.

[Photo credits: wine opener, Flickr user corktiques; honey, Laurel Miller]

On a tight budget this year? Make your own edible gifts based upon your recipient’s interests, favorite holiday spot, or ethnic heritage. Check out the below clip for an easy holiday recipe; bonus points if you know where Moravia is.

Moravian Spice Cookie Wafers

Green your summer travel

Green your summer travelEnvironmentalists have had some good news lately. Organizations like Brighter Planet are finding new ways to focus attention on our carbon footprints, the amount of CO2 and other damaging greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere. It has all become much more personal, bringing the issue home to us in many ways. With the summer travel season in full swing, whether you are traveling by train, plane or automobile, our vacation is likely to increase our carbon footprint. Climate Action Reserve, a nonprofit that registers and issues carbon offsets, offers five easy and affordable ways to reduce the impact of your summer travel on the planet.

“Once you discover how easy it is to calculate and reduce your carbon footprint this summer, you may find yourself using these tips all year round” says Gary Gero, president of the Climate Action Reserve.

1. One if by air: Calculating the carbon footprint of your trip is the first step to reducing its impact on the environment. If you are traveling by air, you need to factor in the plane and engine type, cargo load, passenger weight and fuel usage. The good news is that many major airlines will do this for you and also offer to offset your flight’s emissions as an add-on to the ticket price. If your airline doesn’t have a carbon offset program, there are easy online calculators to do it yourself, like TRX Travel Analytics.

2. Two if by land: If you’re opting for a road trip instead, you not only need to factor the trip’s total mileage but also your vehicle’s year, make and model when calculating emissions. TerraPass offers an easy-to-use vehicle emissions calculator for that. Then you can balance out your trip’s emissions by purchasing carbon offsets. For a list of reputable offset retailers, visit CRT Marketplace.

3. Low carbon sightseeing: In order to minimize your carbon footprint as much as possible, consider sightseeing by bicycle, public transportation or on foot. And when driving between sites, smart driving practices – like driving at the speed limit and turning down the air conditioner – can increase your car’s fuel efficiency and lower emissions. There are numerous tips on how to use less gas, be a greener driver and save money at DriveSmarterChallenge.org.

4. Greening your hotel stay: Another way to reduce your carbon footprint while on vacation is to choose a hotel that offers its guests green options designed to save energy and reduce emissions, like reusing towels, fewer housekeeping services, soap and shampoo dispensers, guestroom recycling baskets and reduced food-related waste.

5. Keep it local: Vacations and road trips can mean more meals out. Look for seasonal, local options on restaurant menus. Transporting food over long distances requires large quantities of fossil fuels and generates significant carbon emissions. Eating locally grown foods has the added benefit of supporting the local economy and helping family farmers stay in business.

Big companies too, along with non-profit organizations are putting a lot of effort into actually doing something to insure a healthy environment for future generations. Cruise lines are “plugging in” to cleaner shore-side power rather than running their polluting engines in port. Even the United Nations has jumped in, declaring 2011 as the “Year of the Forests” as it encourages nations to take sustainable actions, protecting the planet’s woodlands.

If they can do it, can’t we?

For more information on environmental issues and what you can do to make a positive impact visit the Climate Action Reserve web site and Gadling’s extensive library of articles on this and other related topics.

Flickr photo by

Related Stories



Polluting Level of Air Travel