Photo by Alamy via the Guardian
To psychologically prepare for cold weather, I've been planning a trip to somewhere warm this winter. Like me, more and more people who love to travel are also concerned about the eco-friendliness of the hotels they're choosing. According to the annual North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, hotel guests' awareness of "property-initiated 'green' programs" shot up in 2009: 66% of hotel guests state that they are aware of their hotels' conservation efforts (up from 57% in 2008). More and more hotels are playing into it, ramping up their marketing efforts to ensure their environmentally-conscious practices are recognized. Unfortunately, the "green" efforts that hotels have been marketing aren't always actually so green. The practice of "greenwashing" -is used by hoteliers to draw the heads of eco-tourists into their hotel beds- and it is on the rise. So how can we separate the green hotels from the greenwashed?
photo of Natura Cabanas via oyster.com
Policing Deceptive Marketing
I stumbled upon the new professional hotel review site Oyster.com through a link posted on LifeHacker last week. Oyster, whose M.O. is to send professional journalists to anonymously review and photograph hotel runs a recurring feature on its blog called "Photo Fakeouts." Acting as a deceptive marketing police for hotels, they compare hotels' marketing photo side-by-side with the photographs they take while reviewing the hotel.
The results vary from the shocking to the silly (like this model attempting to make a Jacuzzi look like a giant pool). Whether you feel that the comparisons reveal deceptive ploys or well-meaning businesses attempting to make their product appear as desirable as possible, the point is this: what you see is not always what you get.
It got me thinking: who's there to blow the whistle on hotel greenwashing? How do we call out the hotels guilty of slapping green labels on everything in the interest of luring the eco-conscious visitor into the not-so-eco-friendly bed - and how do we distinguish these properties from the hotels whose green efforts deserve our recognition and our business?
If you're worried about falling victim to "greenwashing," the safe route is often the obvious one. There are plenty of hotels whose eco-friendliness is observable and blatant - like those made from recycled boats, trains, and planes - and in general, the greenest hotels out there don't need to promote their eco-friendliness with plastic signs in the bathrooms.
Take, for instance, the Natura Cabanas in the Dominican Republic. Tucked away at the end of a dirt road, the 11 stone-walled, thatched-roof bungalows have no AC, boast energy efficient light bulbs, and manual water heaters. Most of the furniture in the bungalows is built from the bamboo and coco palm trees that were cleared to construct the property.
Also in the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana Resort and Club has been making great strides in the eco-luxury arena.
Be your own whistleblower. TreeHugger's Sarah Novak recommended doing your own research and asking the hotels you are considering some direct questions before you go. Ask questions about how they reduce waste, electricity and water. If they can answer these questions well, it probably isn't greenwash.
Some luxury properties, like the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York, do not exactly come to mind as laying claim to the title of the greenest of properties the Plaza's management company, Fairmont, boasts quite the array of eco-friendly initiatives. The company recently announced a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Savers program and has a massive "Greening Our Operations" project in place - according to their marketing materials, anyway. That's where the greenwashing police would come in: making sure those composting programs and "comprehensive recycling programs" were actually happening in the back of the house.
LEED Doesn't Lie
When it came down to it, there is, sadly, not yet a feature calling out the hotels guilty of greenwashing that I could find. There is, however, a master list of hotels and resorts that have been LEED-certified and meet the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. There is also the "Green" Hotels Association, which doesn't certify but helps to bring together environmentally inclined hotels and give them best management practices and guidelines. Pick from one of those --and you're in honestly eco-friendly hands.