Expert Advice

An Expert's Tips for Picking a Good — and Green — Hotel

by Juliet Kinsman
welcome Few entrances are as welcoming as that at La Mamounia in Marrakech. Photo courtesy of La Mamounia.

Travelers love a great hotel. But how can travelers know if a hotel is good? Juliet Kinsman, a sustainability expert and the founder of Bouteco, a discovery platform for eco-conscious, design-led hotels, has extremely smart suggestions in her new book, The Green Edit: Travel — Easy Tips for the Eco-Friendly Traveller. The book is packed with useful and inspiring ideas and strategies about where to go, how to get there, and what to do while you're away. She covers it all, from Accessibility to Zero Waste (there's a terrific A-Z of Green Travel Terms), and generally makes it easier to be a more responsible, thoughtful, and happy traveler. This excerpt from "Where to Stay" is an invaluable guide to picking the right hotel.

There was a time when hospitality — the respect and honour shown from host to guest — was prized as one of the most important of virtues.

A vital part of the travel-prepping stage is discerning which hosts not only talk a good sustainability game but are actually doing it. The hotel business has changed dramatically in recent times, to be less about kindness and more about property assets, management contracts, revenue, and profit margins. At a time when our Instagram feeds are teeming with plastic-entangled turtles and motivational quotes reminding us to kick our planet bashing-habits, it’s important to be alert about the hotel you’re booking into.

The mechanics of their loyalty programme and staff training may make you feel a sense of belonging, but chances are you probably aren’t doing much for that farming community you passed as you turned into the driveway.

Now that everyone is throwing around words such as “eco-friendly,” it’s critical to have your antenna tuned to picking up on “greenwash.” It helps to know how to distinguish between tokenism and real activism to ensure you aren’t seduced by a false green sheen.

Bringing their back-of-house activity to the front of your mind is a good rule of thumb. The hotel’s operations, housekeeping, and engineering practices are increasingly as important to guests as the comforts and facilities facing them. Rather than crowd-pleasers spilling over with disposable amenities, we should be digging deeper and saluting hotels or campsites — chains or independents — with dazzling performance indicators and ambitious energy-reduction targets.

Book rooms at a big international chain hotel and it may be an address that marries a wealthy overseas asset-owner with the management of a well-oiled hospitality mega-machine. The mechanics of their loyalty programme and staff training may make you feel a sense of belonging, but chances are you probably aren’t doing much for that farming community you passed as you turned into the driveway.

A general reduction in free amenities (think hotel-room toiletries) is best, otherwise we just use all that junk simply because it’s there. Then we can’t resist squirrelling it away in our bags to take home, knowing that they will replenish it. Beware cutesy pseudo-eco stuff – presenting a disposable razor wrapped in hemp twine or a panda-poo-paper box does not make it sustainable. In fact, the packaging only adds to the junk destined for landfill. We need to beat our addiction to things and convenience and rewire our perception of luxury and value. I’m all for being surprised and delighted, but it won’t be landfill-fodder that sparks joy on my travels; it will be that spirit-lifting feeling that I’m leaving less in my wake.

What to Look For

  • Is there a section on the website dedicated to sustainability creds and corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Can you spot reputable accreditation logos? Does the hotel support charities, community or sustainability initiatives?
  • Energy: Are they clear on their efficiency in terms of their use of renewables, lighting, heating systems?
  • Water: Do they mention low-flow showers, low-consumption toilets or recycling greywater or rainwater harvesting?
  • Waste: Do they follow the “reduce, reuse, recycle” principle for glass, paper, card, plastic and metal? Do they compost?
  • Employment: What percentage of the team is hired from the immediate community? Do they invest in training? Do they even talk about their social impact?
  • Getting around: Do they encourage guests to use public transport, offer cycles or walking tips?
  • Food and drink: Is it all sourced locally or, even better, grown on site? Do they favour organic? Do they have a no beef or no imported branded drinks policy?
  • Housekeeping: Can you reuse towels and sheets to save laundering?
  • Gardens and greenery: Do they make a point of confirming their gardens are biodiverse or planted with native flora? Do they skip displaying cut flowers in favour of plants?
  • Culture and conservation: Is their mention of caring about supporting indigenous crafts and artisans done in a meaningful way? Do they support rewilding or land preservation projects?

Don't Stop There. Read the Whole Book

Buy The Green Edit: Travel — Easy Tips for the Eco-Friendly Traveller from your preferred bookseller: Bookshop.org or Amazon.com.

Extracted with permission fromThe Green Edit: Travel by Juliet Kinsman (Ebury Press © 2020). All rights reserved.

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