Key criteria to look for when searching for an eco-friendly hotel or vacation home, and why you should want to stay in one.
Hundreds of rooms, conference centers, massive pools, numerous restaurants, a car park filled with vehicles… these elements contribute to the huge carbon footprint many hotels create. However, there has been a hopefully lasting trend of accommodations going green, engaging in improvements that save water and energy, reduce solid waste, utilize local produce and livestock, and give back to the community.
As travelers, one of the greatest ways we can reduce our eco-footprint is by selecting hotels, resorts or vacation homes that are making positive changes in favor of Mother Nature’s health. Although these accommodations often come with a higher price tag than those that only have an eye for their bottom line, you’ll likely have a more satisfying travel experience, as you’ll know your money isn’t just “feeding the beast” but instead supporting a business involved in limiting their damage to the Earth and uplifting their community.
But how do you find such a place? There are numerous factors to look for when searching for an eco-friendly hotel. While you might not find accommodations that check all the boxes below, you can feel good staying in a place that is at least making moves to meet as much of this criteria as possible.
Tip: If a hotel or vacation home’s website is unclear about what eco-friendly amenities they offer, shoot them an email or call, and ask for specifics.
Looking out for LEED certification is one of the easiest ways to find accommodations reducing their negative influence on the environment. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has set stringent eco-standards hotels or vacation homes (and all other variety of structures) must meet before receiving their coveted certification. These standards pertain to a building’s…
Location and transportation offerings
Sustainability of their site
Materials and resources utilized
Indoor environmental air quality
Buildings applying for this certification are judged on a 100 point system. If they receive a minimum of 40-points they can call themselves “LEED Certified.” 50-59 points produces a “Silver LEED” certification, 60-79 points designates a “Gold LEED” certification, and 80 points or more provides the “Platinum LEED” certification.
As you embark on your search, know that accommodations that have received any level of LEED certification usually prominently display it on their home page. And, it might surprise you to know that Marriott and Omni have an abundance of LEED certified hotels.
Because solar panels utilize the clean, renewable power of the sun, they offer a powerful alternative to fossils fuels, like coal and natural gas. Installing solar panels allows a hotel or vacation home to minimize their production of greenhouse gases, and reduce their contribution to respiratory and cardio health issues, as the procurement of fossil fuels pumps out major air pollutants.
Low-Energy Light Bulbs
Anyone that has been in a hotel knows that a lot of light bulbs are needed to illuminate the (often) massive spaces and numerous rooms. All those light bulbs suck up mega energy and contribute to carbon emissions. For example, about 95% of a fluorescent light bulb’s energy is wasted as heat, and only about 5% of the energy actually goes to creating light.
Hotels that have made the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, like LEDs, go through fewer light bulbs each year, reducing the amount of bulbs sitting in landfills, and use less energy, minimizing their use of fossil fuels.
Policy to Not Wash Linens and Towels Unless Guests Request It
Almost every hotel now has cards all over their rooms with instructions for how a guest can let the cleaning staff know if they want new linens or towels. This makes total sense, as few people need their sheets changed after every sleep (with the exception of night-sweaters and bed-wetters) and towels are often only used when you’re already clean. No need to be an eco-martyr and grin and bear filthy sheets and towels, but if it’s not a total necessity, don’t request freshies.
Option to Not Have Room Cleaned
Much like the linens and towels mentioned above, few guests need their room vacuumed, surfaces wiped, and toilet, bath and sink scrubbed daily. Understandably, many want to utilize this daily luxury, as the service is likely included in your nightly rate, but unless the state of your room is minimizing your enjoyment of it, forgo the cleaning until it’s really needed.
Hotels that love baby sea turtles, dolphins and other such adorable sea creatures are saying no to plastic straws. Those thin tubes of plastic significantly contribute to the 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals that die from ingested plastic each year, as 500,000 straws are used in the United States EVERY DAY. So when possible, give your business to a hotel that has strawless restaurants and bars, or those that use paper straws. If you’re a die-hard straw devotee, invest in a few metal straws for travel.
Elimination of Tiny Toiletry Bottles
All those itty-bitty bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion equal heaps of single use plastics in landfills, oceans and waterways. Single use plastics are not biodegradable. Not to be too graphic, but it’s not uncommon for dead sea creatures to be found filled with single use plastics. Hotels that boast wall-mounted, refillable dispensers for these products are the way to go.
Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies
Major cleaning happens in hotels and vacation homes almost every day, creating vast potential for toxins that spout from single use plastic containers to cause harm to guests and the planet.
Accommodations that have made the switch to biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning supplies, stored in sustainable packaging, offer healthier indoor air quality for guests, create a safer environments for kids that lick stuff (hey, it happens) and minimize the amount of those single use plastics we keep talking about from bloating Mother Nature.
Take a moment to think about all the food you’ve seen left on plates in restaurants. For establishments that don’t practice composting, all that food is sent to the landfill. Composting involves the collection and managed decomposition of food waste, and certain yard and paper products. This decomposed material results in rich, productive soil.
Eco-conscious hotels in more rural areas often do their own composting and use the results in their edible garden. Many “green,” urban hotels partake in off-site composting that consists of their scraps being collected and composted in another location. Staying at a hotel that composts not only supports Earth-friendly efforts, but also makes you feel less guilty about not being able to clear your plate.
Utilization of Local, Organic Food
When researching hotels, keep an eye out for those that have an edible garden utilized by its restaurants. It’s also important to ask if they practice sustainable seafood guidelines and the 100-mile diet, which means all foods used in the kitchen were grown within 100-miles of the hotel.
Supporting Car-Free Guests
Look for accommodations that allow you to travel without renting a car by providing shared shuttle service to and from airport or train stations, bicycles, and in certain locations, public transit packages. In addition, choosing a hotel that’s within walking distance of the amenities and landmarks you’re interested in allows you to get in a workout while reducing your carbon footprint.
If you’re interested in visiting a location that would take significant time and effort to get to on foot or a traditional bike, look into electric bike rentals, as they can really fly and are a total blast. In addition, many cities (like Los Angeles) have information pages guiding guests who want to explore the city sans rental car.
Contributions to Nonprofits
Thankfully, many resorts and vacation homes are now giving back to the communities where they reside. These establishments tap into their do-gooder spirit by donating a portion of proceeds to certain non-profits in their area, founding their own nonprofits to support community needs like education, nutrition and healthcare, or even by opening a community center.
A big reason we decided to buy into Nicaragua’s Rancho Santana community is because they collaborated with the Ford Family Foundation to create FunLimón, a 30-acre community center that assists in economic development and social services, and has two schools, a basketball arena, fitness center, martial arts dojo, baseball stadium, soccer field, playground and small livestock farm.
Opportunities to Volunteer
Kick your altruism up a notch by not just staying at accommodations that contribute to their community, but also volunteering in said community. Many altruistically minded resorts offer programs that match guests with activities like planting trees, spending a few hours volunteering at a community center, or saying yes to a range of other tasks that enhance the area you’re exploring.
We’ve found that mixing volunteer work into a vacation elevates our experience and deepens our understanding and empathy for various cultures.