Hotels that reduce their environmental impact

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Choosing a luxury hotel for your well-earned holiday is no easy task and selecting one which follows sustainable practices can be even more challenging. What do you look for? How do you determine “greenwashing” from true sustainability? What impact does the hotel have on the natural environment, local community, and wildlife? With all these questions in mind, here are a few tips on what to look for when searching for environmentally responsible accommodations around the world.

Environmental Impact & Accreditations

The events of 2020 have given hoteliers around the world pause for thought. Whether a multi-national luxury chain or a small and friendly boutique establishment, all hotels now have an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the environment. So, how do you choose a hotel which adheres to sustainable values? Firstly, you can look to see if the hotel has been awarded LEED certification. This stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”. It means the hotel has passed a rigorous 100-point scoring system which awards either platinum, gold, silver or bronze accreditations.

The scoring considers the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, innovation in operations and indoor environmental quality. You can also check out websites which list “green” hotels such as the Rainforest Alliance and TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders. In the coming years, many new and existing hoteliers will strive to achieve sustainable certification, by engaging forward-thinking architects, staff and undertaking green energy initiatives to improve their standing in the travel industry and local community. A move in the right direction shows guests they care about the environment and also means you can holiday in your favourite location with peace of mind!

Conserving Energy and Water

According to Hotel Energy Solutions, a UNWTO-initiated project in collaboration with the United Nations, hotels account for 2% of the 5% global CO2 emitted by the tourism sector and although SME’s are said to be less proactive when it comes to environmental issues than larger hotel chains, the tide is turning. In some ways it can be easier for smaller hotel groups to implement positive changes around sustainability, than say a 1000 room hotel at full capacity. Around the world, small and medium size hotels are adopting their own innovative ideas to help conserve energy and water. In rural locations they practice indigenous landscaping, looking to the past to find solutions to present water issues.

By collecting rainwater, using their own wells and creating cleverly tiered irrigation systems, they can nourish crops, plants, fruit and vegetables with ease, ensuring there is water (and food) available throughout the year, even during drier seasons. Another way hotels reduce consumption is by using water saving shower heads, faucets and lowering the amount of times they wash and change guest towels and bedsheets. When it comes to energy expenditure, many hotels are beginning to utilise solar panels to provide heating and hot water and a few in the USA and Europe now rely solely on wind power to keep their businesses operating smoothly. In larger establishments consumption is also be reduced by placing energy saving lightbulbs in guest rooms and monitoring or replacing air-conditioning and heating units so that they can be remotely controlled when neither are required.

Recycling and Waste Initiatives

Given the damage plastic can do to marine life and our oceans, lots of hotels now operate a zero plastic rule. However, those which still allow plastic bottles find creative ways to recycle them, with one hotel in Patagonia transforming them into beautiful glassware for use in the hotel bar! Hotel staff keen to reduce waste use fruit and vegetable leftovers to compost and fertilise organic gardens and they give meat, poultry and fish waste to local farms for animal feed. 

Some responsible hoteliers fill recyclable containers with organic or ethically-sourced shampoos, shower gels and moisturising creams so you don’t have to bring your own and one pioneering green hotel chain in Costa Rica uses freshly picked banana leaves from the rainforest in which to wrap soap for their guests, thus eliminating the need for wasteful packaging. Many hotels also use biodegradable products for cleaning and laundry, so as not to pollute the water and cause harm to amphibious life. When searching for a hotel with green credentials, look to see how they recycle and reduce waste in their descriptions. Most want to make a difference and will state their policies clearly for guests and some larger hotels will also have a dedicated member of staff for sustainability listed in their marketing materials.

Food & Local Community Support

It’s a well-known fact, the shorter the distance from a food source to the plate, the better the quality of the dish. Hoteliers promoting sustainability take this into account, with many growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs in organic gardens and greenhouses on-site. In city hotels, this isn’t always possible, in these cases, chefs work with local farmers, fishermen and market stall vendors to gain the freshest, seasonal produce and ingredients for their menus.

This is just one way they support local tradespeople. There are other ways to assist communities too, such as commissioning regional architects, employing local carpenters, interior decorators and staff. Some hotel groups even donate to educational facilities, conservation efforts and businesses in locales in which their hotels reside. These are all things to look out for when you’re researching your next holiday accommodation. If you find a hotel which ticks some or most of the boxes, you’ll be supporting sustainability in the travel industry and you’re sure to enjoy your stay so much more!

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