Is This Really an Eco-Resort? If You're Asking Questions, Maybe Not


photo: J. Novak

I know that eco-resorts are growing in popularity, and that's a great thing. According to Sustainable Travel, 58.5 million Americans say they would pay more to use a travel company that strives to protect and preserve the environment. But hanging up the towels so that they don’t get washed two days in a row just doesn’t cut it. Being a green hotel , takes much more than green washing. These days eco-conscious consumers have to be wary of hotels and resorts that deem themselves to be green based on little more than an effort to avoid the costs of washing your towels and a recycling program. According to Super Green Me, eco-resort green washing is on the rise, so arm yourself with some knowledge before you plan another disappointing so-called eco-retreat.

Do some research to avoid some of the most common pitfalls to which travelers fall victim when choosing a green place to stay or an eco-friendly tour. According to a recent article in US News and World Report, asking questions can be the best means of determining the eco-status of a "green" resort. Direct communication is the best way to avoid any miscommunication (and to avoid being the fake that stays in the opulent mega hotel that deems itself green for offering free range beef in the restaurant). Ok, that could be a bit of an over exaggeration. But let’s remember that controlling our consumption is often the best means of minimizing our eco-impact.

Asking Questions About Eco-Pursuits
I have found that the best way to find a truly green hotel is to speak with those who know -- the staff. It’s usually even better than looking at a Web site because you can get a feel for their knowledge and passion in the green arena. If it’s a smaller hotel, go ahead and ask to speak to the owner, who will probably be happy to solicit your business. In the case of a larger hotel, ask for the general manager.

Ensure to touch upon real impact issues like: How do you reduce waste? How is the hotel's water heated? How do they reduce water usage? What chemicals does the staff use in cleaning the rooms and the premises? And so forth.

If a hotel spends their green on advertising green but cannot explain their eco-friendly services in detail, it's probably just a greenwash. It’s been my experience that green bed and breakfasts tend to live up to their hype. It's often a family owned business with an owner who truly cares about the planet. Bed and breakfasts are also smaller and, as a result, tend to have a smaller overall impact. I always begin by looking for a smaller hotel or bed and breakfast in the area. And remember, a small locally owned establishment may not have all their green initiatives on their Web site. So give them a call to figure out if the place is green certified by LEED or the Green Hotels Association, or if it works with a green consultant like Carbonfund.org to implement green initiatives. These designations are helpful, but make sure to trust your own instincts when considering small operations.

Know The Difference Between Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism
Going outdoors is one thing, but what do you do once you get there? What does the resort or tour company do to minimize the impact when heading outdoors? For example, green scuba diving companies will not dive at overused sites. Instead, they visit a variety of less seen reefs to avoid too much human impact. Is the eco-tour company a local company? Or at least employ locals? How are they involved with local environmental organizations?

More on Green Travel:
Renewable Energy Powered Eco-Resort Planned by Richard Branson
The "Zero-Carbon" Luxury Beach Resort
Happy Trails: Green Travel Blogs Pick Their Top Eco Destinations

Best of TreeHugger