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.

Learn About Sustainability Around The World With Recyclebank’s Passport For The Planet

recyclebank passport for the planetIf you can’t take an actual round-the-world voyage, a virtual one is your next best bet. Recyclebank recently launched an application that allows users to virtually travel around the planet in order to learn about global sustainability practices, while earning points toward rewards and prizes.

Here’s how it works. Until May 7, users can log onto Recyclebank’s Passport for the Planet website and navigate through four regions to learn about local sustainability practices and how those practices can be applied in other communities. Each week, new regions will be unlocked and new information offered. Along the way, users will be able to earn Recyclebank Points, redeemable for offers and discounts, as well as enter to win prizes including a stay at Plantation, an eco-resort just outside Tampa, Florida.

The hope, said Recyclebank CEO Jonathan Hsu in a release, is that by playing this game, individuals will be inspired to make a global impact through their local choices.

“Be it biking to work, recycling your cereal carton or taking shorter showers – collectively, we all can make a difference and we hope that Passport for the Planet will help inspire and motivate our members to make more green choices that will continue far beyond Earth Month,” Hsu said.

Infographic: The Future Of Hotels Is Green

green hotels infographicIt was only a matter of time before someone made a snazzy infographic on the wastefulness of the hotel industry. This one comes from blog Hotel.info, with information sourced from the U.S. Green Building Council, American Hotel & Lodging Association, NFL, U.S. Energy Information Association, Energy Star, Environmental Protection Agency, Siemens and Forbes.com.

The graphic features plenty of interesting information nuggets and analogies, like:

  • Hotels create 1.9 billion pounds of waste each year, enough to fill 37 million suitcases.
  • They also use 84.7 billion kwh of energy per year, enough to power 64.5 million television sets.
  • If one person took a shower non-stop for 277 years, it would be equivalent to the amount of water used by hotels each year.
  • Hotels also produce 60 million tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to that generated by 10.6 million cars and 12 coal-fired power plants.

Shocking, eh? For a look at what would happen if both hotels and guests adopted greener policies, click on “Read More” for the full graphic.

[via Hotel.info]

Travelers Want To Be More Eco-Friendly, Says TripAdvisor Survey, But Hotels Need To Do More

eco-friendly travelAccording to a new survey from TripAdvisor, 71 percent of travelers say they plan to make more “eco-friendly” travel decisions in the next 12 months, compared to 65 percent in the past 12 months. But with varying opinions on what constitutes eco-friendly anything these days, what does that mean?

As per the release, the top “eco-friendly” efforts practiced by individuals participating in the survey are as follows:

  • 88 percent turn off lights when leaving their hotel room
  • 80 percent participate in their hotel’s linen or towel re-use program
  • 57 percent use recycling in the hotel

From the data, it looks like most of the travelers surveyed avail of small opportunities to make eco-friendly decisions when the opportunities are presented to them, usually in their hotels. But what opportunities are the hotels offering?

  • 58 percent offer linen or towel re-use programs
  • 37 percent have an adjustable thermostat in the room
  • 32 percent offer water-efficient low-flow toilets and showerheads

They are small moves, but compared to what hotels could be doing, they don’t amount to very much. To boot, 60 percent of travelers say they rarely feel informed about whether hotels are truly eco-friendly or just claiming to be. It seems to fall, then, on hotels and tourism operators to truly incorporate greener practices, publicize them and offer ways for guests to get on board. It seems that many travelers want to be more eco-friendly – they just need that extra push when they’re in vacation mode.Going on an Eco Tourism Trip

[Flickr image via cogdogblog]

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]

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