By Christian Barker
Mar 1, 2021
Ed. note: I think we all recognize by now that it’s not good enough to silo our care for the environment and concern for climate change into Earth Day, or even a single month. That being said, there’s so much interesting sustainability and conservation news in travel and hospitality right now, we felt these stories would have maximum impact being told en masse. So, allow me to present #TheGreenEdit.
Throughout this month, you’ll meet eco pioneers in hotels, food and beverage, touring, wellness, and design around Asia-Pacific. There will be stories of slow travel and conscientious development. Some are bold game-changers, others small-idea-big-impact.
Not to worry: we’ll still be talking up green heroes, locavores, upcyclers, waste-reducers, community empowerers, and wildlife-rescuers throughout the year. But the hope is we’ll all come out of March more mindful of our impact on this planet and how we can minimize it while still doing the things we love best, namely travel and leisure. — Jeninne Lee-St. John
7 Signs of a Sustainable Hotel
This checklist will help you sleep soundly in the knowledge that your hotel or resort is legitimately focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
It’s all well and good to eliminate plastic straws and generously offer to ‘save the planet’ by not washing bed linen and towels every day. These token efforts mean little, however, if at the same time, a hotel ignores vital matters such as energy efficiency, waste reduction or responsible sourcing.
Surveys suggest that around three quarters of travelers would prefer to stay at hotels that are doing their part to operate ethically, sustainably, with minimal environmental impact. But how does the consumer separate truly eco-friendly, socially responsible hotels from those merely indulging in straw-free, laundry-lite greenwashing? Read on.
1. Plastic-free zone
The No. 1 sign a hotel is authentically committed to sustainability is the removal of plastics from the premises. Water should be provided in reusable glass bottles, there should be no plastic in the rooms (instead, there’ll be bamboo toothbrushes, cloth washing bags and amenities in porcelain containers, for example), laundry will be returned without plastic wrapping, and of course, there’ll be only bamboo or steel straws. If the hotel has gone to the trouble to remove all plastic from your sightlines, which is by no means an easy task, that is an excellent indication they might have started doing so in their supply-chain as well, and that they’ll have the other key areas of sustainable practice (like renewable energy) well in hand.
NB: Great strides to this end have been set back significantly in many markets by Covid-prevention sanitation regulations, for which hotels, of course, are not at fault.
2. Locals only
A truly eco-friendly hotel will source as large a percentage as possible of its materials and produce from the local area. If a hotel or resort has its own farm on-premise or nearby, it’s a great sign — as is the use of local timber, stone and even mud in building the property, or upcycling construction materials that were already there. (Shipping tonnes of the finest marble across the world, on the other hand, results in ludicrous greenhouse gas emissions.)
Similarly, the hotel should be committed to the residents of its local area, providing them with training and employment, educating them in green values and donating tools to implement them, and actively engaged in giving back to the community and assisting with their self-empowerment.
3. Stamps of approval
Although at present no globally recognized standard for sustainability in hospitality exists, you can (literally) rest assured at hotels bearing accreditations from Earthcheck or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). These organizations award hotels for successfully managing energy efficiency and use of renewables, waste management, air pollution control, greenhouse gas reduction, water, resource and ecosystem conservation.
4. Site for sore eyes
Hospitality players that are seriously engaged in sustainability efforts will often have a prominent tab on their website homepage, leading to an outline of the group or property’s approach to sustainability, details of its key initiatives, and a rundown of the goals they aim to achieve. One of the most eco-friendly groups out there, Six Senses, is a good example. (See our story on the breadth of their green cred here.) As is Alila, the first management company to achieve zero-waste-to-landfill status in Indonesia.
5. Green in the blood
Sustainability should be instilled in a hotel’s corporate culture and viewed as a vital element of the business. Today, the leading eco-friendly hotels and groups generally appoint executives solely devoted to overseeing these efforts — a Director of Sustainability, for instance — and will hold regular meetings with staff to inculcate them with the correct values and knowledge. When culture is properly in place, any member of a hotel’s team you choose to question (be they barman, housekeeper or front desk) should be able to explain the property’s ecological bona fides.
6. Eco on the menu
It’s lovely to know that the food you’re eating is organic, grown nearby or purchased from certified sustainable suppliers. But no one wants to get stuck dining with the person who interrogates their waiter on the provenance of every single ingredient in a dish. Instead of being ‘that guy,’ simply look out for two signs a hotel’s food and beverage operations are on the up and up.
One, plentiful plant-based culinary options display a consciousness of the heavy carbon impact of meat production. Two, the provision of filtered water rather than the overpriced, overpackaged, expensively imported French or Italian alternatives attests to the fact that the establishment values the planet above pretension. Truly refreshing.
7. Did it make you double-take?
It may take a little digging to find out the coolest stuff that’s happening back-of-house, but the hint of unexpected eco-innovations likely means there’s more green goodness behind the curtain.
Solar panels, hydroponics, and composting are wonderful. But if you find out a hotel handbuilt a greywater filtration system of natural materials to feed the gardens, uses biodegradable sous vide bags in the fine-dining kitchen, or donates used aluminum caps to be turned into prosthetic limbs (all stories you’ll read about this month), they’re probably putting your money where their mouths are.