We've all seen the reminders on the hotel bathroom mirror to hang up our towels if we're alright with using them again, in the green interests of water conservation. Sometimes these signs are accompanied by a little picture of a smiling planet or solemn oaths that this is part of the establishment's commitment to environmentalist policies. Sadly, these notes are rarely a sign of a true green ethos on the part of the hotel - that takes a bit more than not washing every towel every day.
As more and more travellers start to prioritise being eco-conscious, hotels are taking notice. There is no one true way of becoming a true eco-friendly hotel, and so there is a huge amount of variety in the methods and ambition of green initiatives among hotels. So how are you supposed to know who is making an actual, consistent effort and who is just painting their rooms green? Here are some tips on what to look for:
- Let others judge for you
Luckily, there is a plethora of certificates, accreditations, and rating systems that testify of the hotel's true practices. Keeping an eye out for these can give you a quick idea of how eco-friendly your chosen resort has proven to be. TripAdvisor runs the GreenLeaders programme, which awards a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum status to any hotel that apply for consideration, signified by a green leaf. In Europe, the EU Ecolabel is widely used. The Nordic countries have their own version with the Nordic Ecolabel "The Swan". There's also the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which recognises excellent examples of built-in eco-improvement practices.
Aside from certificates, there are also sites that allow you to browse between hotels that show a commitment to protecting the planet. The criteria they use for including hotels in their listings vary. Secret Escapes highlights hotels and holiday packages as eco-friendly if they have certain green accreditations or credentials, serve organic and locally-grown food from its own kitchen garden, or if offer train travel instead of flights for a pre-planned itinerary. It showcases holidays that are in line with the wider approach to sustainability that guides the travel decisions of any eco-conscious traveller. Plus, they offer discounts of up to 70%, proving that green travel doesn't have to be more expensive!
A hotel restaurant's menu can be a good sign of its environmental practices. UK hotels alone waste just shy of 80,000 kilos of food a year, according to Green Hotelier - a hotel's restaurant makes a huge contribution to its overall impact on the planet. Look for menus that promise locally sourced, seasonal, and organic ingredients. Often, chefs opt for this for the flavour enhancement alone, but a restaurant that gets its vegetables and fish from around the corner instead of a truck that's gone halfway around the world reduces its carbon footprint by quite a bit. Plus, it shows a commitment to supporting the local economy.
Which brings us to our next point...
Being conscious of the environment is not just about looking at statistics for global sources of emissions, but being connected and mindful of what's actually around you. A hotel run by locals is much more likely to score higher in eco-friendliness than the huge multinational hotel brands. There are lots of opportunities for hotels to stay actively connected to their local community. Not-for-profit hotels that re-invest in local businesses, people and education have become more and more common, especially in developing countries. If you're going on a safari trip, look for lodges that run animal conservation projects. Hotels that actively contribute to their local environment and community are also much more likely to bring you as a guest a more interesting, authentic experience.
Truth be told, those signs on the bathroom mirror may very well actually be a sign of a true green commitment on the part of the hotel. Running a hotel means trying to control the minutiae of daily tasks that all add up to the hotel's overall carbon footprint. Check if they're using energy-efficient light bulbs, use food-waste composting, in-room recycling, or run a linen-reuse programme. Larger-scale efforts will often be clearly advertised in newly-built hotels. The more ambitious of these can include solar heating or water recycling.
It takes a bit of extra research and savvy to weed out the hotels simply pretending to ride on the green wave to attract more customers from the ones making a genuine commitment, but there are plenty of resources around to help you make a green choice for your next holiday.