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Is your hotel really eco-friendly? Here’s how to tell

Our sustainability editor Juliet Kinsman has put together the ultimate cheat sheet to judge hotels and travel operators – and tell if they’re really green. We’re sharing these considerations so that you, too, can assess if a hotel or travel business is truly eco-friendly, so we are all less susceptible to greenwashing and can start travelling better.

1. Learn how to measure impact

Ultimately, businesses need to measure positive and negative impact with a clear aim to keep doing better. Is the hotel or operator you’re considering demonstrating that their teams actively track this? It can be challenging to quantify impact, but companies must be action-oriented. Action needs to be tangible – we need to know how they’re supporting initiatives to tackle issues such as poverty and gender equality, as well as supporting marginalised people, marine conservation and environmental protection. This might mean messages laced with statistics, or showing that there is a clear company-wide directive around a specific goal.

2. Prioritise decarbonisation – not carbon offsetting

Carbon accountancy is a priority, but there should be an emphasis on reducing the cause of emissions – not just offsetting through third parties. Smaller-scale guesthouses and independent travel agents are likely to have smaller footprints than bigger companies. But kudos to the likes of Intrepid Travel, which sets excellent carbon-measurement benchmarks. The company is signed up to the Science Based Targets Initiative, which means the team tracks and reduces emissions across operations, from trips they arrange to ensure offices globally run on renewables.

Talk of real innovations around greenhouse gas reduction is also worth attention — such as hotels introducing triple-glazing minimal energy waste through heating and cooling. The best brag is for a business to say they carry out significant carbon-sequestration efforts — such as Alladale’s vast reforestation in Scotland — rather than simply outsourcing to carbon-credit projects.

Patagonia National ParkGetty Images

3. Book locally-owned businesses and hotels with sustainability experts

Leaving as much money as possible in local pockets is a big win when it comes to economic sustainability. Thumbs up for locally-owned businesses helmed by a personality who is invested in the environment and community. Smaller companies, B&Bs and conservation-funding accommodations are likely to be better custodians of their coordinates in terms of looking after their neighbours and investing in that destination’s infrastructure.

Bigger international hotels can have standard operating procedures, devised by a sustainability specialist, so they work to a higher standard than your average host – we rate Six Senses and 1 Hotels. Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire, England, may be part of the Belmond/LVHM family, but acts as an indie when it comes to recruitment, supporting local initiatives and being strict about local and seasonal food sourcing – as extolled by Raymond Blanc for decades.

4. Favour companies with official accreditation

Which seals of approval carry weight amid the sea or accreditations out there? Look for certifications demonstrating action and progress. EarthCheck, Green Globe and Greenview indicate a client has conformed to exceptional standards of practice. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) signal construction meet green building principles, although this doesn’t represent how ethical they are as employers. B Corp is a paid-for certification that means a business has been assessed on how much they ponder the impact of every decision on their team, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

5. Consider social impact

We need to weigh up whether a business is kind and respectful to humankind. Are the team people-positive and providing opportunities to those that don’t otherwise have them? Is everyone paid a living wage? Is this enterprise’s existence beneficial to Indigenous peoples? Truly sustainable companies play by the rules – they pay all taxes, shell out for all the right permits and insurance and provide security for teams. Diversity and inclusion in terms of gender, sexuality, and different abilities are as important as having a low footprint. And then there’s ensuring an address provides full accessibility and employment opportunities to those of different abilities.

6. Nature positive

When a company can express what its teams are doing to boost biodiversity and support large-scale conservation significantly, they’re a serious player. It’s important to consider how a trip or stay helps protect wilderness(Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia), funds rewilding projects(Explora Patagonia National Park), leads to improved soil health(Ranchlands USA), or supports scientific research(Kisawa Sanctuary and the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies in Mozambique).

7. Reduce waste

The litmus test for a hotel or company when it comes to waste is whether they honour the five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle. You know how this goes. Are they refusing unnecessary packaging from suppliers? Are they aggressively reducing disposability? Do they push the reuse of bedsheets and towels or refillable containers in their kitchen or amenities in bathrooms? Do they repurpose materials or furnishings? Are they composting to the max and sending as little as possible to landfill? Hotels with a better back-of-house are often vocal about how they go the extra mile with recycling (we rate Cayuga Collection in Costa Rica and CGH Earth in India).


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