Okay, so you’ve figured out where you’re going to go on your next trip, and you’ve figured out how you’re going to get there. Next stop on the ethical travel train is figuring out where you’re going to stay.
My husband and I often camp or try to stay with friends/family when we travel — this is mainly because we are cheap, but these are also great ways to reduce your environmental impact. But let’s be real, my husband and I are probably not the norm when it comes to travel — most (and by most, I mean normal) people usually prefer the comforts of a hotel when they’re travelling.
But, with 175,000 hotels, with 16.4 million rooms worldwide, there’s no denying that the hospitality industry probably has a pretty hefty footprint.
One of the biggest issues with the hotel industry is its water usage. Between restrooms, landscaping, laundry, pools and other things, water usage can quickly get out of hand. In North America, it is estimated that hotels uses almost 120 gallons of water per guest per night, and that number is even higher in places like the Caribbean and South East Asia, both hovering around 225 gallons of water per guest per night.
Another issue with hotels is the amount of food waste they produce. In the UK, hotes produce 79,000 metric tons of food waste, which accounts 9% of total food waste across the hospitality and foodservice sector in the UK. Statistics are similar in other countries.
And this doesn’t cover other types of waste that occur in the industry. Take soap for example — around the world, five million hotel soaps make their way to landfills every single day. Five million. That’s about 1 million more bars soap than the population of Los Angeles.
Like I said, hefty footprint. When it’s all said and done, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates that hospitality’s annual footprint will total around $4 billion in energy use, 1.2 trillion gallons of water and millions of tons of waste in 2017. And International Tourism Partnership estimates that the industry is responsible for approximately 1% of global emissions.
And we haven’t even gotten to human rights issues surrounding the industry. Human trafficking being one of the biggest said issues. The Polaris Project 2015 study of Human Trafficking and the Hotel Industry identified 1,434 cases of trafficking in hotels and motels between December 2007 and February 2015, with 1,867 victims and survivors. The majority (92%) of the human trafficking was sex trafficking, and females accounted for 94% of the victims.
There are also questions around labor and working conditions, forced labor, child labor and cultural and economic impacts to the local community.
All that said, travelers are becoming more and more interested in sustainable and responsible travel, and the industry is responding and upping their social and environmental responsibility game. Still, the quest to find a sustainable or responsible hotel can be quite challenging.
But, as always, it all starts with planning, researching and asking some questions. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
- Stay local. Look for hotels or hostels that are locally owned instead of large chains. This helps to contribute more to the local economy. You can also consider staying at an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast, or doing a homestay. Not only do these options support the local economy, they’ll often get you out of the tourist hot spots and into the local scene. If you do go with a chain, try to find out if the hotel that at least hires their staff locally.
- Look for energy-efficiency. Does the hotel conserve energy or limit consumption? Have they installed energy saving technologies or use alternative energy sources?
- Save water. What water-saving strategies does the hotel have in place? Do they have low-flow showers or toilet tank diverters? Do they recycle grey water?
- Waste not, want not. How efficient is the hotel’s waste disposal? Do they recycle or compost?
- Straight from the source. Are the ingredients in their food sourced locally, or even grown in a garden on the property? Are their bed linens and towels made from organic materials?
- Giving back. Does the hotel support local charities and initiatives?
- It’s hip to be green. Does the hotel encourage its guests to be green? Do they request you turn of the lights, or adjust the thermostat before you leave your room? Do they have recycling bins around the property? Some hotels even offer bikes for their guests to get around town easily and with less of a carbon footprint.
And to make things a little bit easier, below are some great resources for finding sustainable accommodations:
- BookDifferent.com – Book Different are a Dutch not-for-profit organization. They show hotels that have an externally audited ecolabel at the top of their listings for destination, and also show carbon footprint information for hotels (where the data is available). Additionally, they make a charity donation for every reservation made.
- The Rainforest Alliance provides hotel certification that ensures that the hotel you’ll be visiting is not only fun and beautiful, but also benefits local communities, ecosystems and wildlife.
- The Global Sustainable Tourism Council certifies hotels based on criteria that ensures the hotels are maximizing social, economic, cultural heritage, and environmental benefits, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity, ecosystems, and landscapes. You can find their certified hotels on Book Different, Transat Holidays, or Book Greener.
- Bouteco is a social enterprise that helps hotel lovers find the best boutique eco hotels and inspires hoteliers to improve their sustainability and social responsibility and communications so that luxury travellers can make informed decisions.
- Eco Traveller Green Travel Guide offers recommendations for nearly every type of accommodation from camping, to farm stays, to luxury and spas.
- GreenLeaders is TripAdvisor’s sustainable hotel program that aims to “give consumers around the world a simple way to make greener travel choices.” They already have 8,000 hotels participating and earning green badges on their site.
- Eco BnB – Eco Bnb is a great go to for holiday houses / vacation rentals in Europe, and they have a particularly strong presence in Italy. Eco Bnb focuses on environmental responsibility and have 10 criteria that accommodations need to meet in order to be listed.
- I-Like Local – A responsible tourism site that offers experiences and tours, but also homestays in Africa and Asia.
- Green Hotels Association lists environmentally-friendly properties whose managers are eager to institute programs that save water, save energy and reduce solid waste.
What do you think? What are your tips to find responsible accommodations?