How to spot hotel greenwash
Don't be fooled by token gestures. Check out our guide to what makes a hotel genuinely eco
Sunday Times Travel Magazine, 2012
From campsites to five-star hotels, everyone wants to be seen to be green. Some are genuinely investing in ethical initiatives, but for others, their eco claims just don’t add up. Sniff out the green giants from the greenwashers with a little detective work.
They say: We’re an organic hotel
Red light: The implication here is that all of the hotel’s food and furnishings are organic – which is virtually impossible. Unless this statement is followed clearly and immediately with specific details, take whatever the hotel claims with a grain of non-organic salt.
Green light: Look for quantifiable information, such as ‘At least half our fruit and vegetables are organic’ or ‘All our bedding and towels are made with certified organic cotton’. Beyond organic, when it comes to ethical food, descriptions should mention verifiable external certification labels, like ‘Our tea and coffee is Fair Trade’ or ‘We use RSPCA Freedom Food eggs’, and look for named local farms linked to numerous ingredients on the menu to indicate a strong buy-local ethos.
They say: Our toiletries are eco
Red light: Phrase like ‘eco, ‘green’, ‘natural’ and ‘cruelty-free’ mean nothing in law – or on toiletry bottles. Anybody can use them, so this should be disregarded except…
Green light: …if you see certification logos on the packaging or the manufacturer’s website. Check out www.greenerchoices.org for a list of some of these eco logos, what they mean and how credible they are, but for toiletries, the following are widely used and highly regarded: the Leaping Bunny (www.leapingbunny.org) symbol confirms a product hasn’t been tested on animals; Fair Trade (www.fairtrade.org.uk) and Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforest-alliance.org) logos show producers are paid a decent rate; the European Eco Label flower indicates products with lower environmental impact. Bear in mind that no single certification system covers all issues, so a product that ticks one box might still be unethical in other ways.
They say: We’re reducing water consumption
Red light: A hotel is probably not serious about saving water if there’s no obvious way to opt out of the daily changing of towels and sheets, guestrooms have plunge pools or massive bathtubs, and grounds are irrigated with sprinklers.
Green light: Greywater recycling – reusing water from sinks and taps for gardens, toilets and cooling – is the one to look out for here, but unfortunately, you can’t actually see it, so you’ll have to ask staff if the hotel does it. You can, however, see if the hotel has dual-flush toilets, gardens with native plants (which typically require less water than non-natives), water butts and low-flow showers.
They say: We’ve cut down on waste
Red light: A hotel that makes this claim yet still provides toiletry miniatures, water in plastic bottles and breakfast items in single-use packets, and with no obvious recycling facilities is probably not taking waste-reduction seriously.
Green light: Large, refillable toiletries, a jug of water left by your bed and recycling bins in rooms are all good signs.
They say: We support our community
Red light: This type of feel-good phrase is meaningless unless it is backed up with facts. On the hotel’s website or pamphlets, greenwashers might use only broad sentiments: ‘We encourage staff to volunteer’ or ‘We donate to local charities’, without explaining how they do this. And if most staff and management are foreign, unless you’re in a major cosmopolitan world city, this doesn’t show much commitment to the community.
Green light: Green giants are more explicit: ‘We reward staff who volunteer with time off in lieu’ or ‘We donate two per cent of annual turnover to the local literacy foundation’. When at the hotel, chat to staff to get a feel for how many are from the region. A hotel that genuinely supports the community will employ a high number of locals in all positions, including management.
They say: We’re energy efficient
Red light: ‘
Green light: Alternative-energy technologies – solar panels, wind turbines, etc – are hugely important, but sometimes hidden from guest view – possibly even miles away - so you’ll probably have to ask about this. If a hotel has them, along with low-energy light bulbs throughout the hotel, motion-sensors for lighting in hallways and lesser-used rooms, decent insulation and good staff training, they’re probably serious about energy efficiency.
By Tim Starley-Grainger, eco editor of EcoLuxHotels.com, and Jill Starley-Grainger, editor of EcoLuxHotels.com