Magnolia Court - Bardessono Hotel - Yountville, California

More and more travelers want their travel style and purchasing decisions to reflect their values. And for many, these values are connected to a commitment to reducing their environmental footprint and supporting local communities. This often means choosing a “green” or eco-hotel (or eco-lodge) to align accommodation choices with these values.

However, when consumers choose eco-friendly accommodation, where should they begin? The choices available can seem overwhelming, not least of all because it can be difficult to determine if a place is truly environmentally conscious or if it is greenwashed, positioned only in marketing rather than in deed.

So what should you look for in an eco-hotel or eco-lodge? How can you make sense of various sustainability certifications available? What questions should you ask? And where can you find listings of vetted eco-hotels?

To get the latest information, I spoke with sustainability expert Irene Lane who is the founder of Greenloons, a company dedicated to providing green vacations by working with vetted eco-certified accommodation providers, tour operators and local guides.

Magnolia Court - Bardessono Hotel - Yountville, California
Magnolia Court – Bardessono Hotel – Yountville, California. Image courtesy of Melissa Hincha-Ownby.

Three Components of Sustainability

Before we dive into the tools and tactics for finding an eco-hotel, a quick overview of the three components I refer to when I speak of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

  1. When most consumers think of sustainability in accommodation, they typically focus on environmental sustainability – reusing towels, not washing sheets every day, using energy-saving devices, purchasing recycled products, etc.  While this is important, it’s only one of the three frames of the whole sustainability picture.
  2. Next, you have social sustainability, which speaks to the commitment the hotel has towards investment in and support of the local community. This could be through paying livable wages, improving employment opportunities, offering skills development, or providing access to other services with the goal of improving the local standard of living.
  3. With economic sustainability, the goal is to source local products thereby lending viability to the local economy. This often includes partnerships with local companies who share similar values to source food, building materials, finished products and value-added services locally.

Now that you understand the three pillars of sustainability, let’s move on to how you can find a truly green hotel that matches your values and needs.

1. Seek Legitimate Eco-Certification

On the surface, this may seem simple. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that not all eco-certification is created equal. While some seals of approval include an intense and complicated process that can take years, others are available simply for purchase.

So which certifications are legitimate and translate into an accommodation provider’s true commitment to sustainability?

Lane recommends that travelers “look for a certification that is GSTC Recognized.” The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has created universal sustainability criteria to evaluate other third-party certifications. In other words, if GSTC has “recognized” or “approved” another certification, it’s a safe bet.

2. Begin Your Hotel Search with a Green Hotel Booking Site

Start your search instead with a green hotel booking site such as BookDifferent, and Green Pearls. They list accommodation options that have been vetted and maintain a specified level of eco-certification.  Again, be sure that the eco-certification claimed by the accommodation provider is indeed legitimate (see #1).

Bardessono Hotel & Spa
Bardessono Hotel & Spa. Image courtesy of Automotive Rhythms.

3. Look for GreenLeaders on TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor has started a program called GreenLeaders that offers accommodation rating levels of bronze, silver, gold or platinum status based on evaluations from audits, traveler feedback and reported hotel green practices. When you find a hotel that is a GreenLeader, click on the leaf sign and you’ll get a pop-up that describes what that accommodation’s level of sustainability purportedly entails.

Quick tip: If you want to ensure that your search results are limited only to GreenLeader hotels, type the name of your destination with “green hotel.” Here’s an example of GreenLeader hotels in San Francisco.

4. Ask Questions of the Hotel

Not every hotel can afford to pursue an eco-certification process – especially true of small family-run hotels. So what to do if you find a hotel that seems to meet all your needs but isn’t eco-certified? Send an email inquiring about the hotel’s specific actions (re: sustainability).

For a cheat sheet with some example questions to ask, check out page three of the informative Greenloons Consumer Guide to Eco-Certifications.

When you do find that delightful green hotel that matches your values and meets your needs, don’t keep it to yourself. Be sure to share it with others via an online review or by telling family and friends through social media.

In this way, everyone can benefit – the hotel, the local community and future travelers.

Feature image courtesy of Melissa Hincha-Ownby

By Audrey Scott

Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll are writers, speakers, consultants, and digital storytellers. By combining storytelling techniques, content strategies and social media platforms, they help clients market sustainable tourism in a jargon-free way. They run one of the world’s top travel blogs, Uncornered Market, that has shared stories from their journey around the world these last seven years. After visiting over 85 countries together, they are still going…and still married.