Think about the last time you stayed in a hotel for a vacation. There were probably a lot of lights everywhere that were always on. Maybe you had a new set of towels and sheets every day. Perhaps dozens of people were watching the television and charging their devices. If not watching TV, maybe they were taking a long, hot shower. Next to transportation, where and how you lodge leaves the biggest environmental footprint along your travels. Tourism accounts for about 5 percent of global carbon emissions, and accommodations contribute approximately 20 percent of all tourism-associated emissions.
According to Bret Love, editor-in-chief of GreenGlobalTravel.com and GreenTravelReviews.com, “The number one tip for minimizing your impact when staying at a hotel is to leave the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door so staff doesn’t clean your room.” This will save water and energy used to wash your sheets and towels, which don’t need to be replaced every day. It also reduces energy used in the room while it’s being cleaned, to keep the lights on and to vacuum. Love says an easy way to reduce your impact while vacationing is to practice the green habits you practice at home: “Turn lights and air-conditioning/heat off every time you leave the room, and turn off the water while you shave or brush your teeth.”
While you can minimize your own negative impact at wherever you’re staying, you can promote sustainability on a larger scale when you choose lodging that focuses on sustainability. Love says, “The simplest way is to look for hotels that have an officially recognized eco-friendly certification.” He recommends Green Key Global and Green Seal. If you’re traveling abroad, some countries have their own rating systems that assess energy efficiency, recycling programs, community involvement, and more. You can research hotels online, but beyond that, Love suggests directly calling and asking, “What initiatives do you have in place to make your hotel’s operation more sustainable?” You might also ask some more specific questions about the hotel's eco policies, like:
- What kind of energy does the hotel use?
- Does the hotel use local staff and products?
- Does the hotel have a recycling plan?
- What does the hotel do to help the surrounding community?
No matter where you stay, you can limit your impact. Here are a few ideas:
- Bring a reusable water bottle. It’s more sustainable and a lot cheaper than bottles from a mini-fridge.
- Walk or bike as much as you can instead of driving; reduce your carbon emissions and fuel-use, and explore your destination in more detail.
- Avoid using the hotel laundry; they typically wash each guest’s clothes separately, even if there are only a few items, Love says.
- Choose local restaurants that use sustainable and local ingredients.
When you’re traveling, green habits and an eco-consciousness are always things you can take long with you!