I'm suspicious of hotels with lyrical bathroom cards imploring me to "save the world" by reusing the towels. There's no mention of the reduced cleaning bills they're really pursuing – or the fact the room's lights, air conditioning and Muzak-burbling TV have been on for hours awaiting my arrival.
Cynicism aside – at least the towel policy cuts needless laundry – there are ways to see beyond the greenwashing adopted by many properties. I touched base with two experts for tips on sifting the truth from the enviro-spin.
"First, check if they have official accreditation," says Melbourne-based, green-travel blogger Linda McCormick (ecotravellerguide.com). Don't stop there. Schemes such as Green Key are widespread, but "truly ecoconscious or carbon neutral hotels also have sections on their websites dedicated to their green practices. If not, ask: you'd be surprised how many can't produce these."
McCormick adds that while ecolodges routinely proclaim their green credentials, they should also be scrutinized on "whether they benefit local people, have a nature-based location and offer interpretive or environmental learning programs." The International Ecotourism Society's website is a good introduction to the issues.
If you're too lazy to find your prefect green retreat, though, McCormick recommends Daintree Eco Lodge in Queensland, Australia (daintree-ecolodge.com.au); Luna Lodge in Carate, Costa Rica (lunalodge.com) and the Lodge at Chaa Creek in Belize (chaacreek.com).
How can you green your regular hotel stay? Alongside McCormick's suggestions to switch off that ever-churning air con, take short showers and extinguish unnecessary lighting, I often unplug TVs, mini-fridges and clock radios that I won't be using.
I also eschew in-room bottled water (not just for its extortionate price), pile newspapers outside wastebins in hopes they'll be recycled and close curtains when leaving for the day to stop my room becoming a furnace requiring an icy air-con remedy.
Coupled with towel reusing, I use the same soap for showers and handwashing – then wrap it and take it home. Bring your own toiletries and you can also avoid those mini bottles otherwise known as landfill fodder. Finally, I permanently display Do Not Disturb signs to discourage sheet and towel swaps – plus overenthusiastic attempts to replace soaps and reset thermostats.
These self-greening mini-steps are handy, of course, but London-based ecotravel writer Catherine Mack (ethicaltraveller.co.uk) advocates vigilance when assessing whether hotels are pulling their weight.
"Some stick green certifications on their websites but don't follow through with good practices – and some of these certification schemes are just money-makers in themselves," she says. "I rate schemes with third-party audits, like Nature's Best in Sweden, Fair Trade Tourism South Africa and, of course, Rainforest Alliance."
She also encourages proactive research and asking lots of questions. "Part of being a green hotelier is to educate every member of staff. So if the receptionist can't tell you what you need to know, you probably should book elsewhere. Sadly, most hotels won't go green until they see travellers really want it."
Seeking advice from fellow trekkers and ecobloggers via social media can help, she says, adding that TripAdvisor's fledgling GreenLeaders Program might also be useful. Perusing past winners of the World Responsible Tourism Awards or Tourism for Tomorrow Awards also provides an easy ecostay wishlist.
If you're dead set on taking a cruise or heading to an all-inclusive resort, Mack suggests booking the sustainable alternatives offered by travel companies such as Responsible Vacation (responsiblevacation.com).
McCormick also suggests booking with companies such as G Adventures (gadventures.com) and Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), plus smaller outfits such as Explorer's Passage (explorerspassage.com) and Sacred Rides (sacredrides.com). But she also suggests adopting a new mindset.
"As long you as put some effort into researching where you're going and attempting to be mindful of what you're doing, you'll find being green comes naturally. In fact, there's a tendency to get hooked. Eventually, you won't want to travel any other way."
OUR READERS WRITE
- How cool if they stocked the fridge with wheatgrass and fresh produce then equipped the room with a blender! Also eco-beds. At this point in time, any new hotel that is built should be green – otherwise they’re archaic! @ChristineLeakey
- Check to see if the hotel is LEED certified.
- Hotels need to go further than just putting a note on the towels. They should also offer bicycles, maps and bus routes. @Matt_and_Caro
- Consider the ways a hotel supports its local community through cultural, educational and charity programs – a hallmark of social sustainability. @DearAnnTravels
- Especially in poorer countries, consider going without air conditioning and look for hotels that treat their own water instead of bottled. But to be really green, it’s about travellers’ choices too: shower less and don’t be wasteful. @kattancock
- Upstream supply-chain purchasing. Women in authority. Waste management – specifically food and grey water. Green Globe-certified is a good place to look. Green isn’t just eco: it’s a balance of social, too. @awrsmith
- Let housecleaning know you don’t need your room cleaned every day. And bring your own toiletries. @themguy
- MGM resorts in Vegas are Green Key rated – i.e. they recycle the rubbish that is thrown in the bins in their properties. @Chiqee
- Hotels should put luxury, all-natural, effective beauty products in their bathrooms – starting with soaps and lotions by Toronto’s Leaves of Trees. @candicebest
- Stay at a Fairmont Hotel. Their “green stay” program saves paper – and they’ll plant a tree in your name! @AlbertaBoy2013
- I really like hotel chains like Fairmont and Kimpton that include separate recycle containers in guest rooms. @KarineAlden
- Check for Green Key certification: www.greenkeyglobal.com @CRMinibustours
- Take a look at www.greenglobe.travel. Worked with them years back. Part of the World Travel and Tourism Council. @nextleg
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Twitter: