There’s no doubt that some of the best travel plans usually come at a cost—and we’re not talking about luxe hotels and flight upgrades. From gas-guzzling planes and cruise ships to the rising effects of over tourism at some of the world’s most popular natural landmarks, traveling can often quickly take a serious hit on the planet. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever for travelers to help lower their carbon footprint while jetsetting. And while some of these alternatives, such as opting for a greener mode of transportation, may be trickier to compromise, others, like seeking out sustainable accommodations, can be easier to make. In fact, thanks to eco-minded travel agencies and sustainable tourism organizations, finding a greener place to stay on your next trip has become more convenient than ever.
To help travelers narrow down their search for the perfect eco-friendly accommodation, sites like ecobnb, are working to make everything from carbon-neutral hotels to all-organic countryside retreats available to book on one site. According to the founder of ecobnb, Simone Riccardi, the Italy-based travel company provides lodging options in over 52 countries, all of which must have at least five of ten main eco-requirements, which include: use of solar thermal panels, water conservation practices, a recycling rate of 80 percent or higher, organic food sourcing, and car-free accessibility options (shuttles, bike rentals), among others.
“The tourism sector is growing rapidly and it is estimated that by 2030, nearly 2 billion tourists will travel the world every year. This will have a massive impact on the planet,” says Riccardi. “And though transportation, especially the use of airplanes, is the biggest cause of CO2 production in the tourism industry, the second biggest cause of pollution are hotels and resorts.” By choosing an eco-friendly accommodation, like those working with ecobnb, Riccardi says travelers can help save up to 18 pounds of CO2—equal to planting over 200 trees—and conserve nearly 80 gallons of water a day.
For Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, a sustainable travel booking company based in Brighton, United Kingdom, the key to finding low-impact lodging is to think local. “We always recommend staying in locally-owned accommodations,” says Francis, whose company works with and screens local tour guides, trip planners, and accommodation options worldwide for their commitment to environmental, social, and local economic responsibilities. “This ensures your money is more likely to stay in the community and do good there. Locals will also have a vested interested in looking after their home.”
Depending on your destination, locally-owned accommodations may range from glamp-worthy campsites or charming bed-and-breakfasts to a line of luxury hotels. However, avoid assuming that one is necessarily more—or less—environmentally friendly than the others, as Francis adds: “Some hotels are doing fantastic work on sustainability and low-carbon initiatives. Equally, camping doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘eco-friendly’ if issues like waste management aren’t managed effectively.”
His second piece of advice? “Do your research. Seek out responsible tourism policies for the accommodations you are considering to make sure it is helping the environment. If your accommodation or tour operator doesn’t have one, it may be worth reconsidering.”
As you do your research, it’s also important to remember that just because a company dishes out terms like “sustainable values” and “green practices,” it doesn’t always mean that they are environmentally conscious. “Anybody can say what they want about themselves,” says Randy Durband, CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). To steer clear of greenwashers, Durband suggests looking for certification labels (like Green Key Global or Control Union Certified Carbon Neutralized) that show a neutral third party has assessed the accommodation’s sustainable practices. To help hold the travel and tourism industry to a sustainable standard, the GSTC not only works with trusted third-party certifiers to help businesses with authentic eco-friendly missions get a vetted green seal of approval, but also partners with major conservation groups, like the Rainforest Alliance, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization to manage comprehensive sets of criteria for everyone from hotels to tour operators and destination managers. “A sustainable accommodation is one that takes a holistic view of sustainability, includes core aspects of the GSTC criteria, and engages its entire staff to execute this [view] with actions, not just words.”
On the other hand, when scanning for certifications, ecobnb’s Riccardi adds that not all accommodations, particularly smaller mom-and-pop enterprises, will have a list of environmental accreditations as these can sometimes be costly and intensive to acquire. That said, don’t hesitate to ask your trip planner or hotel manager any questions you may have about their conservation efforts or eco-friendly values. “Those that are taking [sustainability] seriously will likely make their policies easy to find and go into detail about the measures they are taking,” notes Responsible Travel’s Francis.
Once you’ve found a place to stay that cares about the planet as much as you do, vow to keep your environmental commitment alive once you arrive. Such eco-friendly habits may include re-using linens for multi-night stays, supporting local makers and crafters as you shop for souvenirs, and carrying a reusable water bottle when seeing the sights.
“If you visit an eco-lodge with exemplary sustainable credentials, but leave litter everywhere or disturb endangered wildlife, you won’t have left a positive impact,” says Francis, who notes that the eco-priorities of every destination will vary. “In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, conserving your water usage is extremely important whereas in Ireland, this may not be so much of an issue.” To ensure you are making the best contributions to the communities of your destination, Francis recommends tapping into local expertise, like the employees who own your hotel or home-share. “These people will be aware of what you can do the most to help.”