Being eco-friendly is all the rage these days, but what, exactly, does that mean if you travel? Certainly there are many ways to minimize your eco-footprint in all stages of the travel process, but choosing earth-friendly accommodations is one of the biggest choices you’ll need to make if you want to enjoy an environmentally conscious holiday.
Keep in mind that hotels that are eco-friendly aren’t always easy to spot from the outside. This is because many environmental concerns are managed behind-the-scenes so that guests can have care-free stays, regardless of the carbon footprint. Nonetheless, there are a few telltale signs for how green your hotel is simply by a few design features and service policies that have been put into place.
Many hotels claim to be eco-friendly to get your business because they know that environmental consciousness is an increasing concern with today’s consumers, but this façade (known as greenwashing) often only confuses people. As an eco-conscious consumer, the most important thing you can do is choosing a property that has made a commitment to go green, supporting that property by paying the (possibly) higher price that may be affiliated with it and sharing your findings with others. Only then will all hotels feel the need to take steps to help preserve the environment.
So what should you be looking for in a true eco-friendly hotel? Here are a few signs that your accommodations really are going green:
No straws allowed. The average person takes a straw, swirls it around her drink, uses it for all of 20 minutes and then disposes of it. What a waste, especially considering the fact that straws can not be recycled. Eco-friendly hotels realize this and do not hand out straws freely. In fact, some truly eco-friendly accommodations don’t even allow straws on the property because there is no good way to dispose of them.
Sensory-managed rooms. When no one is in the room, the air conditioning, electronics and lights are off. When someone enters a room, sensors realize this and lights and air conditioning can work once again. Similarly, some hotels require the key card to be entered into a slot in the room to manage the lights and air conditioning, which means they can’t be left on when you leave the room. Similarly, some balcony doors must be securely closed or locked in order for the air conditioning to be on.
Bottled water is kept to a minimum. Water should be safe to drink or run through a sanitation system on the property to ensure plastic bottles are not needed. Instead of plastic and Styrofoam cups in the guest rooms there are glasses and ceramic mugs for drinking. Filtered water may be available in glass bottles and drinking fountains can be found in fitness and public areas, but plastic water bottles should be hard to find.
Bath amenities are managed appropriately. I recently stayed at a hotel where, after two days of use, my bar of soap was replaced by an entirely new bar. I would never dream of doing this at home, so why should it be done at hotels? Those little plastic bottles of shampoo and body wash, and individually wrapped bars of soap are a huge hit on the environment if you’re only dipping in once or twice per stay. Some hotels have started providing these kinds of amenities in dispensers located in the shower and on the bathroom counter, and others are active participants in soap recycling programs. Inquire into what your hotel is doing with leftover bathroom products.
Spraying is kept to a minimum. Management at some all-inclusive resorts knows that people don’t want to deal with sand fleas, mosquitoes or other creepy crawlies so vegetation is cut back and the beach and public areas are sprayed to keep critters away. This might make for a nice outing to the beach, but trying to “manage” the vegetation in this way is not good for the environment. The best hotels will work within the natural landscape and setting.
An opt-out program is available. Look for a hotel that offers green cleaning options. Many hotels now have placards that can be placed on the bed or counters to indicate you don’t need sheets and towels cleaned. If no such placards exist, leave a note for the housekeeper with your cleaning preferences. If all else fails, use your do-not-disturb sign to deter unnecessary waste and cleaning in your hotel room.
Eco-policies are clearly stated. Properties that practice environmentally sound policies are generally proud to tell their customers. Don’t be afraid to call ahead and find out where the hotel stands on certain eco-issues. Does the chef have his own garden? What percentage of the property is green space? How does the property give back to the local community? Many hotels are also starting to list their green certifications and policies online as well.