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.

Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa Opens September 1 On Easter Island

Easter IslandEaster Island is getting a new, 75-room luxury boutique hotel, located just a five-minute walk from the only town of Hanga Roa.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa officially opens on September 1, with a soft opening August 31, for which guests will receive 30 percent off nightly and package stays if they book now.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa is being deemed an integral tourism property based on sustainability, located in the most remote inhabited island in the world, 2,181 miles from mainland Chile.

Each detail of the hotel’s architectural design and functionality is on the cutting edge of green technology due to the ecologically and culturally sensitive environs. Energy-saving measures, water filtration and reuse systems, waste recycling programs and the use of organic and locally sourced food products at the property’s two restaurants are some of the green methods used by the hotel.

The Hangaroa’s 500-square-foot Kainga double rooms and 800-square-foot Ma’Unga suites are made of volcanic rock, clay and wood, including washbasins and freestanding tubs. The hotel’s lounge spaces, reading room and lobby are designed to resemble a traditional casa bote, a traditional Rapa Nui house that appears as an upside-down canoe. Manavai Spa utilizes holistic as well as high-tech treatments that incorporate ancestral techniques of the Rapa Nui.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa philosophy is to bring the community into the project. More than 75 percent of the hotel’s staff members are local and ethnic Rapa Nui, and the Hangaroa has developed a series of educational and professional training programs that also seek to maintain and conjoin the Rapa Nui’s beliefs, rites and traditions. The Hangaroa will also donate funds to local educational programs and environmental causes every year.

As part of the Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa’s desire to give back to the local community, the hotel subcontracts acclaimed local tour company Mahinatur to provide cultural experiences for guests, such as visits to the Rano Raraku quarry, the Ahu Tongariki with 15 standing moais and the Rano Kau volcanic crater.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Ndecam]

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Tahiti greens up its tourism

Tahiti ain’t cheap. And, at least in the past several decades, it’s also had a reputation for crappy food, cheesy resorts, a seriously sketchy scene in Papeete, and a general lack of sustainable tourism. But that’s all changing.

CNN reports that small-scale, eco-oriented tourism is thriving in Tahiti, especially in the mountainous interior, and on the peninsula of Tahiti Iti. An influx of B & B’s, guesthouses and bungalows have cropped up, making a visit to the island paradise more affordable to budget travelers (after you cough up the plane ticket, but Air Tahiti Nui offers promotional prices and family discounts). The less-populous inland has loads of hiking trails, waterfalls, and remote beaches accessible only by foot, and outfitters such as Tahiti Evasion offer guided hikes for non-DIY’ers. On the luxury end, some properties, like Bora Bora’s InterContinental Resort, are reducing their carbon footprint by using high-tech cooling systems that use pumped-in, deep-sea water, instead of A/C units.

Additionally, great public transit and a thriving local food scene make it easier for culturally-inclined travelers to get a true taste of Tahiti. Roulottes, small food trucks found along Papeete’s waterfront, offers local ingredients and traditional dishes, while the central market, Marche Papeete, sells all manner of locally-grown produce. On rural Moorea, check out family farms, and slip into the relaxed, local way of life.

[Via Mother Nature Network]

[Photo credit: Flickr user D.[SansPretentionAucune]]