• Richard Hammond

How to tell if a hotel is green

Updated: Feb 3

Given the climate emergency the world is now facing, a rapidly increasing number of accommodation owners are going to great lengths to reduce the impact of their business on the environment, maximise the conservation of local biodiversity and play a contributing role in safeguarding the culture and livelihoods of their local communities.

Unfortunately there are also lots of unscrupulous businesses that are jumping on the 'eco' bandwagon and it can be difficult to tell the green from the greenwash. We hope this guide will help steer you in the direction of the genuine places that are indeed going the extra mile.

Here are six questions to find out how green your hotel is:

Energy: Do they reduce their draw on energy? For example, do they have solar thermal for hot water, photo-voltaic panels and/or wind turbines for generating electricity, and/or ground-source heat pumps? How well insulated is the building? Are their appliances, such as fridges and kettles, A-rated or better? Do they set targets for how much less energy they use over time?

Waste: Do they minimise the amount of waste they send to landfill? For example, do they provide recycling bins for guests? Are they separated into plastic, paper, card, aluminium and glass? Indeed, are they free of single-use plastic? Do they have bulk dispenses instead of miniatures for toiletries, bathroom soaps and shampoo? 

Water: Do they reduce their consumption of water? For example, do they have water savers in cisterns, flow restrictors in showerheads and taps? How do they reduce the amount of washing? Do they use environmentally friendly cleaning products? Do they harvest rainwater for use in toilets and/or garden? Do they meter and monitor their supply? Do they have a natural swimming pool?

Food: How much of the food they serve is sourced locally? Do they provide local and/or seasonal and/or organic food? Do they offer vegan and/or vegetarian food? It's worth checking what they mean by 'local'... do they give figures in metres or miles? It's often a good indication as to how genuine their local procurement is if they give the actual names of the local businesses that they source their products from.

Low carbon travel: Do they actively encourage guests to arrive on foot, by bike and by public transport? For example, do they provide information for guests on how to arrive by bike and/or public transport? Do they offer a discount for guests arriving on foot, by bike or by public transport? Do they provide electric charges for electric cars? Do they provide bikes/electric bikes for you to use during your stay?

Wildlife: Do they actively encourage the conservation of biodiversity?

For instance, are their gardens wildlife-friendly, attracting bees, butterflies and other indicator species? Do they promote local efforts to conserve wildlife, such as local wildlife charities?

Are they certified green?

Certification schemes can help you decipher if a hotel is genuinely green because (the good schemes) will have visited and audited the hotel to see what they are doing both in front of house and back of house. There are over 150 eco labels - some specialise in particular areas, such as environmental energy, siting and design, biodiversity conservation, fair trade and human rights of workers conditions, while others focus on the whole gamut of environmental and social responsibility. The UK, there's the Green Tourism Business Scheme, Green Key, and EU Ecolabel, while overseas examples include LEED, Earth Check, Green Key (Global) and Fair Trade Tourism (Africa). B Corp is a certification scheme for businesses in general (not just the travel industry) and has a holistic view of the impact the business has on people and planet requiring those that gain it's stringent certification to balance profit with purpose. The outdoor adventure specialists TYF was the first business in the UK to gain B Corp status.

It's worth remembering that even though a hotel may not look like it is doing much for the environment, it may be doing some of the important large-scale changes behind the scenes. But if you spot something that looks particularly amiss while visiting a hotel that is claiming to be green (for instance, the absence of recycling facilities or the over-use of energy and water), it is worth pointing out what you have seen in the feedback form following your stay... these forms are an important signal to the hotel that visitors are increasingly interested in how green they actually are.

Reclining deck chairs by natural swimming pool
The chemical-free natural swimming pool at Orion B&B, South of France