The quest of finding sustainable accommodation, genuine eco-friendly resorts, or a “green hotel” can sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The challenge can begin with knowing what to look for. Do I google “Sustainable Hotels”, “Eco friendly Hotels” or “Green Resorts”? Even then, the listings may not be what you’re looking for. If only there was a Booking or Expedia of Green Travel… but hang on, maybe there is…? (Full disclosure, I used to work for one of these two…)
Over the last year of attempting to travel in a manner that is as sustainable as possible, and to only stay in places that care about their impact (both environmentally and socially) I’ve learned a bit about finding sustainable accommodation.
The topic holds a few challenges—which I’ll go into—but thankfully also some solutions which mean that finding sustainable accommodation is not as hard as we may think. Below, I’ll share my favourite go-to resources for booking environmentally friendly places to stay.
Want to travel as sustainably as possible? Check out our tips for low-carbon travel here.
The Challenges of Finding Sustainable Accommodation.
One of the challenges in sustainable travel is so-called “Green Washing”. Green Washing is essentially where businesses use the power of green/eco for marketing purposes, but in reality do not deliver on said eco claims. If you’d like to read more about this my friend Jessica at Epicure & Culture has a great article on the topic. Greenwashing can be seen in the rise of Eco Hotels or Eco Tourism companies that upon further inspection seem to not be doing much that is Eco at all, and it seems to be particularly prevalent in the developing world.
Because of concerns about accusations of said Greenwashing, the hospitality and travel industry seems to have become rather timid about communicating what it is doing when it comes to environmental and social responsibility.
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The result? Many hotels, guesthouses and resorts are doing great things, but they don’t talk about them! Not very helpful for us customers that are looking for these great places to start with…
There are a plethora of “Eco Labels” that offer certifications to hotels. These vary wildly in terms of what they offer and there is no global market leader. Some are simply a vanity certification with no external checks of what a hotel claims, others are robust certifications which look at a hotels environmental footprint, measures they are taking, social policies, food standards, how the hotel is as an employer.. etc. Bureaucracy anybody?
Last but not least there is a tendency to look at Sustainability only from an environmental perspective. In travel at least, it’s far more than that. Sustainable Travel is not only about reducing our carbon footprints, reducing waste, promoting recycling etc—it’s also about our impact on people. Responsible for 1 in 11 jobs globally, the tourism industry has a huge impact on communities and invidiuals, and particularly in tourism dependent developing economies.
Finding places to stay that employ locals, serve local food, and give back to the local community in a positive way, and keep the money in the local community is arguably just as important as environmental impact.
My Favourite Resources for Finding Sustainable Accommodation.
This is not an exhaustive list, and my hope is that I’ll keep adding to it over time. Do you have a recommendation that is not on this list? Then please comment below or get in touch!
- BookDifferent.com – Book Different are a Dutch not for profit organisation. They show hotels that have an externally audited ecolabel at the top of their listings in each destinations, and also show carbon footprint information for hotels (where the data is available). Additionally, they make a charity donation for every reservation made—to a charity of the users choice! They also show ‘regular’ hotels and guesthouses where eco friendly hotels are not available in a destination.
- 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. More info on their site!
- I-Like Local – A responsible tourism site that offers experiences and tours, but also homestays in Africa and Asia. For those looking for a responsible travel experience that includes staying with locals, homestays can be a wonderful way to exchange cultural knowledge and contribute directly to a local economy, in a sustainable manner!
- Lonely Planet Guidebooks – Yep, guidebooks! Call me old fashioned, but I believe guidebooks are an essential part of preparing for travel and travelling more sustainably because of the huge amount of research and information that goes into them. The more we know about a destination, the more we can benefit from our experience of travelling there. When it comes to hotels and accommodation, Lonely Planet put ‘leaves’ next to the ethical & sustainable options. I’ve found some small treasures in here that I wouldn’t have ever found on Google.
- Tourism Boards – this one varies hugely from place to place. Slovenia, for instance has taken the wonderful initiative of listing all hotels with a sustainability label on its website. For other countries / cities it’s still a novel concept, but it’s always worth asking! And the more that people ask… the more likely we are to get.
- Hosted Airbnb’s – I mention this one with a huge BUT. Airbnb rentals where we stay with the host can be a great sustainable travel experience – similar to a homestay – that makes travel a win-win. Airbnb’s where the whole apartment is available for rent however are often far from sustainable due to issues with unlicensed hotels, the driving up of house prices and out of local communities, etc… you can read more about the mixed effects of Airbnb in my post here.
- Google Search – a little obvious perhaps (maybe that’s how you came here!) but it’s always worth searching for “eco lodge / eco hotel / eco resort + destination” of where you want to go. I’m sometimes amazed at what comes up. It’s then up to you to do the checking of if it is actually “eco” or not… (see next section).
How to Tell if a Hotel is Really Sustainable
This can be a tough call. With the rise in eco friendly accommodations and sustainable places to stay, it can be hard to know if they are all genuine.
Without going into hours of detail here, my best tips for this would be 1)Look at the website. Does the hotel talk in detail about what they are doing, how they measure impact, and what they’ve achieved so far? Do they talk seriously about environmental measures or does it all sound a bit ‘fluffy’? 2) If you don’t find any information, ask the hotel directly what they are doing to be Eco. Accommodations that are genuinely interested in being sustainable will be only too happy to talk (often at great length :-)) about what they are doing. If they can’t tell you much, there’s your answer.
Happy finding sustainable accommodation!
A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.