Vacationing woman in hotel room

Are you a globe trotter, but you want to have a small footprint? You aren’t alone. According to a study by Booking.com, 83% of global travelers think sustainability is vital. Green accommodations are an essential element of a more sustainable approach to travel. Unfortunately, it can be tough to tell which hotels are really green. To help set apart the cream of the crop, several organizations created green certification programs.

What Is a Green Hotel?

There are a variety of hotels that might achieve a sustainable hotel certification, and these come in all shades of green. Some were constructed with sustainability in mind and may be LEED-certified buildings. After opening their doors, others have made improvements, like installing water-saving plumbing fixtures and using natural cleaning products. Some may give back through volunteer or donation programs and consider their impact on the broader community.

Unfortunately, some hotels and resorts may employ greenwashing to attract green travelers but might not meet rigorous standards. A few major hotel chains that have shown a concerted effort to green their operations include Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, and Starwood Hotels.

What Are Green Hotel Certifications?

It is critical to discern which hotels are the most sustainable to reduce our impact while on the road. Certifications include a set of industry guidelines and best practices, but each certification program has its own criteria and standards. Well-designed certifications can help identify genuine leaders from those greenwashing themselves without really having substance. They also help guide companies on ways to continuously improve, thus becoming more sustainable over time.

Some green hotel certification programs may emphasize one aspect of sustainability more than another, so your personal preference also comes into play when you choose which certification programs to trust.

Are There Trustworthy Green Hotel Certifications?

Yes, there are numerous certification programs that can be helpful in choosing accommodations. The following are in order from the most rigorous and respected to the more questionable ones towards the bottom.

Green Globe

This program measures travel and tourism businesses and their supply chains and contains 44 core criteria. Green Globe considers itself the “highest standard for sustainability worldwide” and even appoints a third-party auditor to work with clients on-site. It even shows on its website how it compares to other certification programs.

The certification program has specific criteria for various types of tourism-related businesses, including golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, attractions, and resorts. Companies can have three different statuses: Certified, Gold, and Platinum. Companies can achieve the Platinum standards if they have been certified for 10 consecutive years. In addition, Green Globe has received Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) recognition, helping to increase trust in this certification.

Green Key Global

This certification program was designed for hotels and meeting venues across the globe. With 1,600 certified hotels and 350 venues across 20 companies, this program has a broad reach across North and South America.

Green Key uses a grading system with five keys being the highest and provides guidance on improving a rating. The assessment examines multiple areas of operation, including waste, energy, water, community outreach, and indoor air quality. Like Green Globe, Green Key is GSTC-recognized. In addition, it partners with BookDifferent, which offers a searchable database of hotels along with their estimated carbon footprint.

Travelife

This international certification program is available for tour operators and accommodations in over 50 countries. Its program includes 163 criteria related to human rights, community engagement, and environmental impact. Organizations must renew their membership after two years and undergo an audit, and the program is GSTC-recognized. Unfortunately, this company doesn’t offer a simple search tool but has a database of certified hotels by country.

Earth Check

This organization provides a framework for green-striving tourism businesses to become more sustainable. Earth Check is an international tourism advisory group that offers certification programs, software, and consulting services and has certification services in 70 countries. The ideas behind this initiative were conceived in 1992, so they have longevity and experience on their side. Earth Check is GSTC-recognized and also partners with BookDifferent.

GreenLeaders

Offered through Trip Advisor, the GreenLeaders logo appears for approved businesses when conducting their online search of hotels and B&Bs. The callout displays who has met specific standards for environmental performance, such as offering an EV charger, recycling, or organic foods. Trip Advisor provides four different badge levels: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum, and is offered free of charge.

The downside to this program is that businesses self-report with a survey they fill out. The certification program is free, and the survey takes about 30 to 60 minutes to complete after gathering the necessary information. Unfortunately, this program doesn’t involve an audit, so it is difficult to verify the information. The upside is that it is incredibly accessible and easy to use.

Unfortunately, some other programs still seem like they are in their infancy. For example, Green Seal ensures that properties meet specific standards for health and environmental criteria. Unfortunately, this initiative has very few certified hotels, so the options are pretty limited, but it does seem like an excellent program.

Another way to use green certifications is to look for hotels and resorts owned by certified B Corporations and includes some genuinely inspiring companies. These businesses meet rigorous standards for social and environmental performance and are really a cut above.

Are There Green Certification Programs Specific to Geographic Areas?

Yes, your destination shapes which certification programs are most helpful. The GSTC maintains a list of certification programs it recognizes. Many of these specialize in a particular geographic region, such as Europe or Australia.

Your Actions Make a Difference

Ultimately, part of the impact of a hotel stay depends on our behavior, even if you do find a green hotel. If possible, avoid drinking bottled water (unless it’s the only safe option), alert hotel housekeeping that you don’t need freshly laundered towels or sheets daily (for extended stays), and turn down the AC or heat when going out. Book your hotel in a walkable area and walk or take public transportation to your destinations when possible. If the hotel doesn’t collect recycling, try to find places to recycle your items off-site. And bring your own toiletries in reusable containers to avoid waste.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.