Not that long ago opting for greener travel accommodations might have meant bunking alongside strangers in a youth hostel or roughing it campground style. Nowadays however, greener travel options have expanded greatly and now include a growing number of hotels located all throughout the world. Yet, it pays to be cautious in choosing among green hotels for your travels-any hotel can claim using “green” practices for promotional purposes. To make sure you’re getting the real deal, simply invest a little time by asking the right questions.
The first step to finding a true green hotel, is doing a little research about the hotel or hotel chain. Many hotel companies are proud to share details of the changes and upgrades they’ve made to help minimize their own carbon footprint and create a low-impact experience for guests. Check out hotel web sites where specific green features are often promoted in addition to other guest amenities.
Among basic green hotel practices, be on the look out for in-room recycling, various conservation methods that reduce water flow and energy use, and the option to reuse sheets and towels for more than a day. However, aside from these more common Earth-friendly practices, many hotels are committing to providing more sustainable guest accommodations and as a result, are implementing an even greater variety of green efforts.
To learn more about a hotel’s dedication to being green, start by asking questions such as, “what has the hotel done to reduce energy and water cost in the last 5 years?” suggests Susan Womack, a sales manager with The Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. In fact, learning about installed measures such as low flow faucets and fixtures in bathrooms, will reveal a lot about a hotel’s dedication to reducing waste. Another green hotel practice that goes beyond the standard involves the housekeeping routine. What kinds of chemicals are used (if any) to clean guest rooms? Also ask about the hotel’s smoking policy-a hotel that allows indoor smoking is more likely to have poor air quality.
Guest rooms stocked with specialty soaps and shampoos, water bottles, and other conveniences, is often considered a nice perk for travelers. Yet, individual packaging creates added waste-especially if the product is only partially used. Ask if the hotel uses bulk products instead, or decline new, unopened products until they’re needed. Some hotels also participate in product donation programs, where extra food, and toiletry items are donated, says Womack.
Many hotels also offer complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport and also around town, based on availability, to surrounding area attractions. This “upscale” version of carpooling helps reduce issues associated with added traffic, such as increased carbon emissions. “Guests should ask about the nearest public transportation, and what they can expect from that,” says Womack. “Even in Birmingham where public transportation is minimal, we have the Dart trolley that can be used to travel around town.”
When searching through green hotel choices, also be mindful of food and beverage practices. Does the hotel’s menu consist of dishes made using locally grown products? Are there vegetarian, or even vegan options available? Are organic foods and products featured among the hotel’s amenities?
Another indicator of a hotel’s commitment to sustainable practices, is any involvement in community service activities or partnerships with community organizations, such as participation in Earth Hour or Earth Day events, says Womack.
Above all, when choosing among green hotels, look for guest accommodations that have been created using a thoughtful balance of various eco-friendly and sustainable features, along with quality, convenience, and comfort. When these measures come together, it’s almost always certain to lead to an enjoyable, yet also low-impact guest experience.
Written by Kate Agliata