Travelers have a wealth of choices for eco-friendly lodging, notes Irene Lane, president of Greenloons, a company based in Washington, D.C., that advises families on eco-friendly travel. "The rates aren't going to be that much more expensive for eco-friendly lodging, whether it's corporate accommodation or a small B&B, if they are operating in a sustainable manner," she says. A plenitude of agencies that rate and certificate eco-friendly hotels can make finding your perfect accommodation somewhat confusing, but Lane has suggestions for ways to streamline your approach. (See References 1)
Narrow your selection criteria. Lane recommends searching for distinguishing characteristics on the websites of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts you're considering. Start by looking at whether the lodging has a restaurant on-site or a breakfast area, for example, and what kind of ingredients it uses. "Hands down, all the ingredients must be organically grown from local sources," Lane says. "If that's not happening, that's a huge red flag that (the) place is not operating in a sustainable manner. That's the first thing to look at." (See References 1)
Examine the lodging's energy sources by calling the staff or consulting its website. "Ask where they're getting their energy from --- whether it is a renewable energy source," Lane recommends. "If it's just that they've installed an efficient light bulb, that doesn't mean anything, everybody's doing that." (See References 1)
Research the lodging's energy use as well as sourcing. "You are using more water and electricity if you are changing the sheets and towels frequently," Lane says. Look for lists of ways that the hotel is saving energy. Call ahead and ask the manager if you have any questions, Lane advises. Ask about the lodging's approach to gardening and landscaping, such as the recycling of grey water. (See References 1, 4)
Take a tour of your prospective accommodations. At a truly eco-friendly lodging property, the management will be proud of their sustainability practices, Lane says. "If you say, 'I'm really curious about what you do to stay green,' they'll walk you to see the compost pile, they'll talk about the solar or wind technology, or they'll be very upfront and say we are using the main power utility's green options. They're more than happy to talk to you about it." (See References 1)
- Ask a lodging property's manager to elaborate on the non-smoking polices, use of nontoxic cleaning products and provision of bulk soap, for example (see References 2), if those things matter to you. But in the interest of time, Lane advises focusing on just the two main criteria aforementioned: "OK, if they serve organic ingredients and food, and they have renewable energy, that's good enough for me. Test for these two things and see if it fits in with your plans." Then look at the location and the proximity of other attractions, she recommends. (See References 1)
- Consumers may not always be able to distinguish green washing from an authentically green hotel that goes farther to practice true green hotel principles, Lane warns (see References 1, 4). Green washing refers to public relations claims of eco-friendliness that are offset by continued non-green practices. Check if a hotel self-nominated itself for an eco-tourism list based on efficient light bulbs or goes the extra mile to use solar energy panels, for example. (See References 3, 5)
- Irene N. Lane; President, Greenloons; Washington, D.C.
- Greenloons; Criteria That Makes a Hotel an Eco-hotel?; Irene Lane; July 2010
- U.S. News; Deceptive 'Greenwashing' Aims to Trick Ecotourists; Maura Judkis; May 2008
- CalRecycle: California Green Lodging Program
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: EPA Encourages Ways to Travel Green by Checking into an Energy Star Labeled Hotel
Rogue Parrish is a writer and editor with Demand Media Studios.
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