How to tell if a hotel is green
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 lots of unscrupulous businesses that are jumping on the 'eco' bandwagon and it can be difficult to tell the green from the greenwash.
Here are a few pointers to steer you in the direction of those hotels where the owners are going the extra mile to you sleep green.
As a first port of call, check the hotel’s website to see if they address these questions; there may be a formal document set out as a ‘green policy’ – the best hotels include this information embedded throughout all their messaging, not just tucked away in one section. For instance, in the ‘Rooms’ section, they’ll mention their recycling facilities; in the food section, they show you where and how to buy local, seasonal food; and on the ‘How to find us’ page, they will show how to travel there by public transport and won’t just assume you’ll fly or drive. Some may have a Green Guest charter that provides information on how you can be a greener visitor while staying at their property. They may also include logos of eco label certification schemes that have inspected their green credentials (see Eco labels and certification schemes). Bear in mind it often costs businesses quite a lot of time and money to go through the certification process, so many genuinely green places, especially small hotels, may not have the funds or the inclination to do this, so don’t judge a business purely on whether or not they have an eco label.
Does the building fit into the local landscape? Is the siting and design of the building unobtrusive and sympathetic to the colours and aesthetics around it? Have they cleared trees, redirected water sources, or eliminated any other biodiverse habitat in order to build it? Keep an eye out for its Energy Performance Certificate, which shows: a) the overall energy efficiency of the building and b) the overall environmental impact of the building in terms of CO2 emissions. They are rated A–G, with the higher rating (A) the most efficient for energy and the least environmental impact.
Has the hotel been designed in an environmentally sensitive fashion? Hoteliers are increasingly using the concept of biophilia to make their buildings’ architecture and design be more in tune with nature, using natural lighting and ventilation, natural materials, including wood and stone, and natural landscaping in the form of living roofs and wildlife friendly outdoor spaces. You may also see examples of Slow Design aesthetics, which draws on the approach of the Slow Food Movement, slowing resource consumption and extending the value and life of products.
Are they furnished with eco interiors? Do they use second-hand and/or upcycled furniture? Is the bedding and linen organic cotton? Is there natural air-conditioning? If they do have air conditioning, do they provide clear instructions on how to reduce your draw on energy and encourage you to turn it off when you leave the room?
The use of chemicals
Have they reduced or eliminated the use of less volatile compounds (VOCs) throughout the building? Have they used natural, mineral, breathable paints and oils; do they use chemical-free alternatives to phosphates; do they use natural control methods for their garden instead of herbicides and pesticides? Do they use a chlorine-free agent for cleaning the swimming pool or have a natural swimming pool? Ecolabelled products with third party certifications, such as the EU Ecolabel, Nature Plus, NF, The Nordic Swan Ecolabel, and the Blue Angel can help determine if the cleaning chemical is eco-friendly.
The sources of energy Do they utilize solar gain and/or alternatives to fossil fuels for their heating and electricity supplies?
Do they have ground-source heat pumps/geothermal, biomass boilers or solar thermal panels for heating, and/or photo-voltaic panels or wind turbines for generating electricity? If not, is their electricity supply from a utility provider that sources its electricity from renewable sources? Do they have wood burners using wood from sustainable sources or from their own land?
The use of energy
How do they reduce their draw on energy? 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? Do they use low-energy lightbulbs, have motion sensors for lighting in corridors and/or toilet/shower blocks and encourage you to turn off standby button.
The amount of waste produced
How do they minimize the amount of waste they send to landfill? Do they encourage you to follow the three Rs: ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’? Do they encourage you to bring refillable water bottles/coffee cups and reusable bags for shopping? Do they provide recycling bins for guests, and if so, are they separated into: plastic; paper and magazines; card; aluminium; and glass? Are they free of single-use plastic, such as straws and cups? Do they have bulk dispensers instead of miniatures for toiletries, bathroom soaps and shampoo? Do they provide organic toiletries, use green suppliers, such as Who Gives a Crap, and support zero waste campaigns such as Guardians of Grub? Do they provide separate bins for food compost, such as vegetables peelings?
The conservation of water How do they reduce their consumption of water? Do they meter and monitor their water supply? Do they have low-flow water savers in cisterns, flow restrictors in showerheads and taps? How do they reduce the amount of washing (do they encourage you to reuse towels and sheets to save laundry)? Do they harvest rainwater for use in toilets and/or the garden? Do they recycle their grey water (water used in sinks, dishwashers, showers and bath), which can be cleaned and plumbed back into toilets, washing machines and outside taps? Water conservation is particularly important in hotter Mediterranean countries where large-scale tourism development has been a
major contribution to the degradation and destruction of water ecosystems with river
courses being fragmented, groundwater levels sinking and wetlands drying out.
The use of local food How much of the food they provide and/or serve is sourced locally? Do they provide local and/or
seasonal and/or organic food? This both supports the local economy and reduces food miles. 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 or counties? It’s often a good indication as to how genuine their local
procurement is if they give the actual names of the local businesses (and their geographical location) that they source their products from. Do they provide information on the timings and location of nearby farmers’ markets, as well information on local farm shops, village stores, pubs and cafés, particularly those specializing in local, homegrown or freshly caught produce.
The use of low carbon travel
Do they actively encourage guests to arrive on foot, by bike and by public transport? Do they provide information for guests on how to arrive by bike and/or public transport and provide transfers from the nearest railway station/bus stop? Even better, do they offer a discount for guests arriving on foot, by bike or by public transport? Do they provide high-speed chargers for electric cars (check that the electricity is from a renewable energy source) and information on local charging networks? Do they provide standard and/or electric bikes for you to use?
Are they are responsible employer?
How many of the owners/employees are local? Are the owners local and if so, do they own or have shares or some sort of ownership in the business, or are they merely managing the business (and providing profits) for someone far away? Do they employ people from the local community, and do they train them? Do they provide information about their social and cultural impacts?
The conservation of wildlife
Do they actively encourage the conservation of biodiversity? Are their gardens wildlife-friendly, attracting bees, butterflies and other indicator species (without using insecticides or artificial fertilizers)? Do they plant native flora? Do they weed by hand, rather than using weedkillers? Do they reduce light pollution at night? Do they contribute financially or otherwise to local wildlife charities or community groups?
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. However, if you feel a hotel’s green claims are dubious; for instance, the absence of any recycling facilities whatsoever or the blatant over-use of energy and water, it is worth pointing out what you have seen in the feedback form, on social media or on review sites following your stay. These kinds of observations are an important
signal to the hotel that visitors are increasingly interested in their commitment to low carbon living, biodiversity and the use of local resources.
The little things
Sometimes it’s the little touches that can help signal the owner’s heartfelt commitment to the environment and local community, such as providing jugs of water and home-grown wildflowers on the table; the upcycling of things like flowerpots in the garden; a logbook for documenting wildlife. Penhein glampsite in Monmouthshire, asks guests to leave behind any full tins of food that they don’t want to take home, so that they can donate them to a local food bank.
This is an edited extract from The Green Traveller, published by Pavilion (£18.99).