At Hidden Lemur, we fully embrace off-beat accommodations. From farm stays to family-owned Airbnbs, to glamping, to couch surfing, we love recommending memorable and green hotels. But we also know that sometimes you just want a hot bath, clean linens, privacy, and a little bit of luxury. In other words, you want the hotel experience!
Unfortunately, the hospitality industry has long had a bad reputation for environmentally and culturally degrading practices, causing ecotourism enthusiasts to look elsewhere.
And while much work remains on the sustainability front, hotels and resorts are beginning to move in the green direction. For example, Marriott International has promised to eliminate items that never fully decompose, such as plastic straws, while Hilton has committed to cutting its environmental footprint in half by 2030.
“If big hotels can make small changes, the ripple can be huge,” says Paula Vlamings, chief executive of Tourism Cares, a nonprofit that works to mitigate tourism's environmental impact. But she cautions, “Sustainability is more than energy conservation or recycling; it is about sustaining communities for the tourism product.”
As the conversation around climate change becomes increasingly urgent, the global hotel industry has begun to recognize that sustainability is a wise business decision that can also elevate the guest experience. “Embracing resource-efficient and resilient development practices is good for business as well as communities,” says W. Edward Walter, Global Chief Executive Officer of the Urban Land Institute. “Sustainable design is what the market wants. It's also what cities want and need, as they seek to become more resilient, competitive, and livable. Sustainable practices have become essential to remaining competitive in this highly competitive sector of the (hospitality) industry.”
This new paradigm is particularly exciting for eco-tourists who have felt the need to sacrifice quality and convenience in the name of sustainability. With more sustainable hotel options than ever before, conscious travelers can now have their cake and eat it too.
Finally, you can rest easy knowing that you booked responsibly, with Hidden Lemur's guide to green hotels.
Booking An Eco-Friendly Hotel
Booking an eco-hotel may sound simple, but the prevalence of greenwashing can sometimes lead well-intentioned travelers astray. To avoid greenwashing traps, look for either Green Seal or LEED Certified (U.S.A.) green hotels. When traveling outside of the U.S., look for certifications such as EarthCheck, Travellife, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and Green Tourism Business Scheme (U.K.), and Good Travel Seal. Green hotels with these certifications have publicly committed to helping the environment and the communities that surround them.
Best Search Tools For Finding Sustainable Hotels
This sustainable search engine connects travelers with green hotels worldwide. To join the Ecobnb network, every hotel must have at least 5 of the following ten environmental requirements:
- Organic or Local Food
- Green building
- 100% renewable energy
- Energy-saving lights
- Solar thermal panels for hot water
- Ecological cleaning products
- More than 80% of waste recycling
- Car-free accessibility
- Recovery & reuse of rainwater
- Water flow reducers
Book Different features over one million accommodations and rates each one's sustainability score with an easy-to-understand system. After completing a search, you'll see a symbol made up of four green hearts next to each accommodation listing. These hearts represent the stay green check criteria: Management, Fair & Social, Culture Friendly, and Nature & Environment.
Every accommodation accredited by an ecolabel also receives a “stay green check.” The Book Different website also specifies every ecolabel with which the hotels have certified. To make things even easier, they automatically show the most sustainable hotels at the top of your search results for any destination so that the first hotels you'll see are the “greenest” by default.
Green Pearls® is another leading source for green hotels, restaurants, and vacation rentals around the world. They choose members based on their sustainable initiatives and green projects. The Green Pearls® requirements need to be fulfilled by every member by at least 80%. These requirements look for sustainable features in: architecture, flora and fauna, water consumption, energy consumption, waste management, housekeeping, food, policies, employees, local communities, social projects, cultural commitment, and communication.
“EcoHotels was founded in 2020, as a responsible and sustainable alternative to the large online travel agencies (OTAs), whose business model and high commissions severely decimate individual hotels' identity, concept, and bottom line.” Most of the world's dominant booking sites take a 15-30% commission of a hotel's nightly rate. Ecohotels makes it free for green hotels to sign up, offers a zero-commission trial period, and charges low commissions to hotels, making it much easier for small properties to get listed!
EcoHotels' mission is to be a community for both green hotels and travelers who want to share knowledge and best practices for promoting sustainability in the travel industry. For travelers who care about booking responsibly, the Ecohotels website is a trustworthy source of information about the hotels they choose to visit.
Here's the caveat: while the sites above can help with vetting and comparing the certifications of more established accommodations, smaller hotels sometimes struggle to afford the expensive improvements required to meet certification criteria. Therefore, it's important not to judge accommodation providers on that basis alone. For example, a family-run farm stay that uses solar power, serves home-grown produce for breakfast, and employs locals would make a great eco-stay, even if it doesn't show up on an Ecobnb search. In these situations, we recommend doing your own research by calling ahead and speaking directly with the hotel concierge or host about their sustainable practices.
4 Questions to Ask Before Booking A Hotel
1. Do you have a sustainability policy?
A hotel committed to sustainability will almost always include a sustainability policy on its website that will showcase eco-certifications (like EarthCheck and LEED) or list specific sustainability initiatives it has implemented, such as composting or solar power. If you can't find this information online OR by contacting the hotel, be cautious.
2. Are you committed to limiting environmental impact?
Hotels large and small have started “greening up their act” in a variety of ways. Beyond the implementation of energy and water-conserving technologies, environmental initiatives to look out for include: onsite gardens that supply hotel restaurants, apiaries, single-use plastic-free amenities, locally made furnishings, recycling bins in guest rooms, eco-friendly toiletries and cleaning products, or washing linens only upon request.
3. How do you work with the local community?
Green hotels know the value of empowering their local communities. They do so by hiring local staff and paying them fairly, using local suppliers, supporting community education programs, integrating guests with the community via local-run tours and cultural activities, or partnering with local businesses.
4. Do you encourage guests to get involved?
Green hotels inspire guests to follow their lead by incorporating interactive initiatives such as: offering reusable water bottles or filtered water refills, accessible bike rentals, shared transport options, guest experiences that support local people and businesses, hosting environmental clean-up events, and encouraging guests to opt-out of having their rooms serviced.
7 Tips for Enjoying Your Stay Sustainably
Now that the hospitality industry has begun changing its practices for the better, it's up to us as consumers to help keep up the momentum.
- Question the hotel's practices and offer your feedback. Did you notice that the hotel lacks a recycling program or doesn't follow through on separating waste? Did you see a lot of wasted food at the breakfast buffet that could have been saved for a local shelter? Consider posting a Google review, as businesses take those very seriously.
- When you leave your room, always turn off all lights, heat/A.C., and television. It's an easy way to mitigate unnecessary energy use.
- Return maps, brochures, and other tourist info once you're finished so that future travelers may use them. This saves more copies from being printed. Better still, save paper waste altogether by going digital! You can download offline maps onto your phone so that you can get around even when you have no internet abroad.
- Some hotels have programs that incentivize guests to pass on housekeeping and conserve water and energy. If your hotel lacks such a program, just leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of your room for the duration of your stay. By not inviting the cleaners in every day, you'll cut down on chemical cleansing products, electricity, water use (for laundry) and allow the staff to use their energy elsewhere.
- Take unfinished hotel toiletries with you, because they are typically thrown away. Travel-sized plastic bottles can be donated or reused on future trips.
- Adjust the thermostat. Lowering the temperature by 2 degrees in the winter or raising it by 2 in the summer is an easy way to energy; most people barely notice the difference.
- Opt for local meals and services instead of hotel offerings when possible. For example, when the hotel restaurant does not feature seasonal or local fare, patronize a local business that does! If the hotel offers an expensive laundry service, consider taking your clothes to a laundromat instead. This way, you'll support locals and save a lot of water in the process, since hotels wash each guest's laundry individually.
13 Green Hotels For Every Budget
With so much information to sift through, choosing a sustainable hotel can feel like a daunting task for travelers. In closing, here are ten examples to help you get the hang of booking your own green stays like a pro. Each hotel or upscale hostel on this list has an extensive and well-documented commitment to sustainability.
- Hostelling International U.S.A.: For over one hundred years, H.I. has committed to sustainability on multiple fronts and has been a trusted database for high-quality hostels worldwide. H.I. Hostels purchase paper products made of recycled content (post-consumer waste preferred), reduce the volume of single-use products given to guests, educate guests about the sustainable initiatives on site, and more. H.I. was also the first hostel company in the world to implement “smart showers” which limit showering time to seven minutes. “If each guest showers for 30 seconds less, we save around one million gallons of water each year,” said Netanya Trimboli, the Hostelling International's marketing director.
- Svart: This ninety-nine room boutique hotel on the Helgeland coastline of Norway plans to open by 2022 and aims to enable fully off-grid operation within five years of its opening. The entire hotel is powered by solar panels and can save extra energy for the country's darker months. “We have also removed materials that consume more energy, including concrete, and focused on wood, natural stone, or glass,” says project manager Ivaylo Lefterov.
- Arlo Hotels: Two of the Arlo locations in New York City offer free monthly talks about sustainability to create a community for eco-conscious travelers. This “Green ParLour” Series brings together thought leaders in the green space to discuss the benefits of green living and teach guests how to make small yet mighty shifts to reduce their personal impact.
- The Palms Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach: In addition to being 100% disposable plastic-free and partnering with local environmental organizations, The Palms organizes three-hour-long beach clean-ups for guests. Guests can register on this site and are encouraged to bring their own water in reusable containers.
- Kudadoo: This private resort island in the Maldives became the country's first 100% energy-sustainable property by integrating solar panels into the roof of its main building, The Retreat. This energy source is so powerful that it can supply energy to the entire island.
- The Rockhouse: This Jamaican eco-resort, perched on the cliffs of Negril, has a strong community focus, solar power, and an onsite organic farm. It is a luxurious and sustainable place to stay that “gets down and dirty' with sustainability. With a plant nursery, woodworking shop, candle making, spa products production facilities, and more, Rockhouse reduces its ecological footprint.
- Hobbitenango: In Guatemala, the builders of Hobbitenango used eco-bricks and upcycled glass bottles to construct hobbit homes. This quirky resort is also 100% off-grid, hires local staff, and serves local produce. “Originally meant to be a small eco-village shared between friends, Hobbitenango has been adopted by the locals and worldwide visitors and has grown into an area that can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to visit.”
- La Fortuna: Another luxury boutique hotel in Guatemala, La Fortuna features upcycled wine bottle walls, 100% solar power, onsite composting, biodigesters, and organic, locally sourced toiletries. Each bungalow was constructed with sustainable and locally sourced materials, including bamboo, which is grown on the property. The furniture throughout the hotel was designed and custom-built by the owners with local artisans.
- Hostal Grau, Spain: This Barcelona hostel feels more like a boutique hotel – and a sustainable one at that. From the coconut-fiber mattresses to the recycled furniture, to automatic water-saving taps, Garu has made every effort has to implement its sustainable intentions. Located in the heart of Barcelona's buzzing historic district, this hotel is the perfect gateway for easy access to this world-famous city.
- Fogo Island Inn, Canada: Nestled in a small fishing community off Newfoundland's northeastern coast, Fogo Island Inn is the ultimate rural retreat. The hotel's dramatic structure puts a futuristic spin on local architecture and integrates sustainable features such as rainwater catchment systems and renewable solar and wood-burning energy sources. The architects utilized locally sourced building materials whenever possible, from the floors to furniture. In the restaurant, local, organic and seasonal food is a priority. They've even established the Fogo Island Agricultural Co-op to supply their kitchen.
- Jicaro Island Lodge: This Nicaraguan hotel values harmony with nature and the local community. The lodge was built with minimal impact to the island and careful planning in terms of water supply, waste water treatment, and electricity use. Jicaro offers only biodegradable cleaning products, heats water with solar panels only, and eliminates the need for air conditioning with strategic building design. Jicaro also gives back to the local community with educational initiatives and provides clean drinking water to a local school.
- Mosaic House, Prague: Here, we have another upscale hostel that offers luxury amenities. Mosaic prides itself on its artsy aesthetic, tranquil urban green space, and CO2-neutral status. It was also the first hotel in the Czech Republic to feature a grey-water system, meaning that they recycle wastewater (for example, from the shower) to flush the toilets. Finally, Mosaic was the second building in the world to combine a grey-water system with waste heat recovery. Heat recovery means using surplus heat from the wastewater to generate energy.
- The Green House,U.K.: This Victorian villa in Bournemouth has been recognized as one of the top “eco-hotels” not only in the U.K., but in the world. The Green House utilizes energy-efficient heating and lighting, reclaimed building materials, locally-made 100% wool carpets in every room, and solid wood furniture made in the U.K. by using trees felled by storms or tree surgeons.