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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InterContinental Hotels Group launches EVEN, a wellness-focused hotel brand

even hotelsInterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) today announced the US launch of EVEN™ Hotels, its new, wellness-focused hotel brand.

What is a “wellness hotel”?
Over a span of 18 months, IHG closely analyzed emerging trends, conducted studies and talked to over 4,000 customers. The research showed a demand shift to a holistic wellness travel experience, and confirmed an unmet need among customers – staying healthy while they travel.

Keep in mind, these won’t be destination spas or luxury resorts. The operating model for EVEN Hotels will be similar to limited service hotels.


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What will guests find?
Guest rooms will be designed for in-room workouts with multi-functional room amenities (e.g. coat rack that doubles as pull-up bars); a best-in-class gym with equipment and group exercise activities; a “Wellness Wall” resource for fitness tips, walking distances, and equipment rentals; and personalized guest services offering advice on fitness options.

Rooms will feature tech amenities such as high speed Wi-Fi, multimedia ports, easy access to outlets, and ample desk space. Additionally, there will be social areas in the bar and lobby. Rooms will also feature green and allergy-friendly amenities, including: hypoallergenic linens, powerful showerheads, natural lighting, LED dimmers, and antibacterial wipes.
Nutritionally designed menus will offer a particular focus on natural, fresh, fit, and energizing meals. In an open-air café and bar, guests can enjoy complimentary coffee, mini-smoothies, and flavored, filtered water with glass bottles available to fill up and take back to their rooms.

The company is so confident in the brand that they have planned an aggressive $150 million growth plan over the next three years and expects to sign contracts for 100 EVEN Hotels within the next five years.

Look for the first locations to be announced soon and the first hotel to open in early 2013.

Eco-tourism gets edible with the Ritz Carlton, Charlotte’s, giant green gingerbread house

giant gingerbread house The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, in North Carolina, is taking their eco-friendly hospitality to a whole new level. From Thanksgiving Day through December 28, 2011, the hotel will showcase a life-sized “edible eco-manor”, designed by architects and made by pastry chefs using all-natural and organic ingredients. The structure will be 12 feet high by 14 feet wide by 10 feet deep and will also feature LED lights and a green “moss” eco-roof.

So what goes into making a giant eco-friendly gingerbread house?

  • 350 pounds of organic white, brown and confectioner’s sugar
  • 70 pounds of organic egg whites
  • 300 pounds of organic bread flour
  • 100 organic eggs
  • 24 pounds of molasses
  • Four pounds of salt
  • Four pounds of baking soda
  • 120 pounds of shortening
  • 24 ounces of cinnamon
  • Two gallons of organic milk
  • Eight ounces each of nutmeg, allspice and cloves
  • Nine ounces of ginger

This unique exhibit complements The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s, already eco-friendly programming. The property is LEED-certified, meaning that the hotel’s construction and design follows the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines. Some sustainable practices of the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, include building materials that use 30% less energy than most hotels, reduced water usage by 35%, a green, vegetated rooftop, recycling more than 80% of construction waste, and having bicycles as available transportation for guests, among other initiatives.

For more information on the hotel’s green programming, click here.

10 best eco-friendly hostels in the world

portland hawthorne hoste websiteWhile you can usually expect an inexpensive stay at a hostel, not all of these accommodations are alike when it comes to being sustainable and green. For your next trip, why not stay somewhere that will not only give you a social experience on a budget, but will also be good for the planet? Check out this list of the 10 best eco-friendly hostels around the world.

Portland Hawthorne Hostel
Portland, Oregon

The Portland Hawthorne Hostel offers a clean, safe accommodation in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon. The hostel has free breakfast, cheap bike rentals, and is a short walk from Mount Tabor and Luarelhurst parks. Not only that, but this hostel does its part in being eco-friendly. One of their biggest draws is their ecoroof, a “green living roof of vegetation and soil”. The project is low-maintenance and self-sustaining and is being encouraged by the city due to its ability to soak up stormwater and return it to a natural water cycle (water that is not soaked up usually becomes full of sewage and dirt and negatively affects aquatic habitats). Along with the ecoroof, the hostel makes use of green cleaning products, recycling and composting, and gives guests arriving by bicycle a discount of $5 per night.auberge alternative eco-friendly hostel Auberge Alternative du Vieux-Montréal
Montreal, Canada

The Auberge Alternative is a boutique hostel for budget travelers. Old-warm charm resides here as the accommodation is actually an 1875 warehouse that was restored and enhanced. Art-lovers will also enjoy it here, as there is a gallery and studio that hosts artists from all over the world. Mix Auberge Alternative’s flair for art and design with their passion for green living, and you have one amazing accommodation. The hostel boasts free fair-trade coffees and teas, an organic and sustainable breakfast buffet, and usage of products made by small, locally run businesses. Moreover, you will not find a single vending machine, soda machine, or TV.

Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain

Located in the traditional Horta District, this hostel is surrounded by greenery and away from the pollution and crowds of the city (but, still only fifteen minutes away by metro). There are many amenities and services included in your stay, including free Wi-Fi, free lockers, free linens, and free luggage storage. It is also one of the more social hostels with a shared kitchen and events, such as BBQ’s and dinners, on the terrace. What’s really great about Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona, however, is its approach to a reduced environmental impact. They use renewable energy, with shower water being heated by solar panels on the roof. Moreover, they make use of recycling facilities, draught tap water, soap dispensers, biodegradable cleaning products, low consumption light bulbs, and only having air-conditioning in the common areas (don’t worry, the rooms were built to be well ventilated).

The Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel
Grampians, Australia

Located in the heart of the Grampians National Park, the Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel provides adventure activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and abseling, as well as the chance to experience the beauty of nature. The hostel also aims to be as green as possible and succeeds in many ways. Not only is the accommodation powered by solar electricity, it also does its part by using solar hot water, recycling, and collecting rainwater to reduce water consumption. Free-range eggs and organically grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs are also offered to guests.

Reykjavík City Hostel
Reykjavík, Iceland

Not only is Reykjavík City Hostel eco-friendly itself, it is also located next to a big geothermal swimming pool, beautiful waterfalls, explosive geysers, and other natural wonders for an even greener experience. Moreover, the hostel practices extensive recycling services, energy monitoring, and erosion control, offers a breakfast of local and organic fare, and sells fair-trade beverages at their cafe. While enjoying free Wi-Fi, a BBQ terrace, lounges, game rooms, and comfortable beds, guests can also take part in educational programs that will offer knowledge on sustainability and green living.

Eco Hostel Palermo
Buenos Aires, Argentina

This green hostel is situated in the trendy Palermo Soho of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along with free linens, Wi-Fi in every room, a fully equipped kitchen, and 24-hour reception, guests can expect a stay that is friendly to the planet. The Eco Hostel Palermo makes use of solar powered panels, solar collectors, an organic garden, low enery light bulbs, insulated windows, cross-ventilation chambers, and eco-friendly computers with less plastic and low carbon emition. Moreover, almost all of the decoration and furnishing of the hostel is made with recycled and reused materials.

Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge
Konso, Ethiopia

Staying at the Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge, guests will get a feel for the simple life (the accommodation is also a farm) while being surrounded by dusty hills and lush greenery. It is a great budget accommodation if you’re looking to have a culturally-immersed experience as you will be staying in wooden thatched huts with authentic decor and eating locally prepared foods. Not only that, but your stay here will make you feel good about the environment, as it is run on solar power including solar showers and composting toilets.

The Green Hostel
Montevideo, Uruguay

This eco-friendly hostel has a lot to offer in terms of both amenities and sustainability. The Green Hostel features tours, bike rentals, 24-hour reception, a kitchen, a bar, internet, free breakfast and linens, lockers, luggage storage, and laundry services. Not only that, but they clearly have a committment to the environment, with furniture made of reused materials, hot water generated by solar panels, energy efficient light bulbs, a recycling program, and promotion of using bicycles as a way to explore the city.

ecolodges and hostels Gyreum Ecolodge
Sligo, Ireland

Located in the North-West of Ireland, the name Gyreum literally means “round building” in Latin. You will understand why once you see the temple-like roof of the seemingly invisible Gyreum Ecolodge poking from the Earth. The hostel is an Installation Incubator, a place where people can come together to “incubate” new ideas. It is also an ecolodge, using a wind turbine to power geothermal heating, solar panels to heat water, and a traditional toilet that is connected to outside compost. Moreover, rainwater is collected and used for showers and toilets and an organic vegetable garden can be enjoyed by guests.

Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge
Camiguin Island, Philippines

The Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge is more than just a hostel, it is a place for travelers, artists, and environmentalists to come together to create positive change. With options of home-stays and dorms, there is also an art gallery on site (the accommodation is run by local artists), as well as a sculpture garden, library cafe, theater, and an open classroom. Along with trying to educate about ecology through art by, for example, decorating with pieces made of recycled products, guests are also invited to attend conservation and biodiversity workshops and seminars. Surrounded by farms and trees, the accommodation is located far away from highways and pollution. An array of ecotours are offered, as well as recycling and energy saving programs.