Sustainable hotels: How can I tell if an accommodation is really environmentally friendly?
Sustainable hotels are currently springing up like mushrooms. With the climate crisis becoming more and more threatening, the environmental awareness of guests is growing. It is therefore logical that more and more accommodations are jumping on the green bandwagon and writing sustainability on their banners.
In principle, this is a welcome trend. But do hotels really take their impact on the environment seriously or is the climate-friendly image just for marketing purposes? How much greenwashing is behind it at some accommodations? And how can I tell if a hotel is really sustainable?
You’ll find the answers in this article.
Why is sustainability so important for hotels?
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important. On the one hand, because we are becoming more aware of resource scarcity, environmental pollution, global warming and the resulting natural disasters, as well as the decline in biodiversity, and many hoteliers are recognizing their responsibility. On the other hand, because more and more travelers want to travel sustainably. They are specifically looking for environmentally friendly accommodations, and as a result, competitive pressure is growing among providers.
In order to remain competitive, hotels are now forced to integrate sustainable values into their everyday activities and to deal responsibly with resources.
How can I recognize sustainable hotels?
“Help us protect the environment and decide for yourself if your towels are washed or used another time. If their towel is to be replaced, simply throw it on the floor.” How often have I read this notice in hotels by now and how often is it heeded by me, but unfortunately not by the hotel. Often I hang my towel, with which I have dried my face one time, neatly and how often I come back to the room after an excursion and find that the towel has been replaced anyway.
Just putting a sign like that next to the bathroom mirror does not make a hotel environmentally friendly, unfortunately. The implementation is what counts. Unfortunately, this is where it often fails. What really makes a green accommodation is holistic sustainability, implemented consistently and above all in all areas. Sustainability must be anchored as an integral part of the corporate philosophy. This is not about a supposedly green image that is easy to market, but about taking responsibility, conserving resources and so much more.
Unfortunately, truly sustainable hotels can’t always be distinguished from phonies at first glance. You can see and check many environmental protection measures directly, but there are also things that you as a guest don’t even notice or at least only find out about when you ask. For the sake of simplicity, let’s start with the obvious criteria by which you can recognize sustainable hotels:
Sustainability in the hotel room
Let’s first look at the most important thing, the hotel room. Here, there are an incredible number of clues by which you can recognize sustainable hotels. Are there small, individually packaged cosmetic products in the bathroom or have large pump dispensers been installed instead, which can be refilled by the hotel staff again and again?
In the very best case, the cosmetic products provided are high quality products.The focus is on sustainable organic or natural cosmetics from the region and not on cheap products full of questionable ingredients. Environmentally friendly examples are biodegradable shampoo, shower gel without microplastics, and in some hotels I have even found solid, unpackaged bars of soap in the shower.
Is there a policy of no plastic bags in the trash can? Is the toilet paper bleached and perfume scented or is it recycled eco toilet paper? Are towels that are not on the floor really not replaced and you can use them another time? Is there an option to forgo changing bed linens? Who needs new bedding every day?
Many sustainable hotels now even do without a minibar in the rooms, because it consumes a disproportionate amount of electricity, causes unnecessary waste from small products and is simply superfluous. As an alternative, there are snacks and drinks at the hotel bar, a large refrigerator for all guests in the hallway, or you simply order from room service.
However, I know from some hosts in the more upscale hotel industry that doing without a minibar is not so easy, because a minibar in the hotel room is mandatory for a 5-star classification in Germany. Sad, but really true! In my opinion, it is high time that these classifications are adapted to the current climate emergency. Luxury does not have to mean environmentally harmful.
The same applies to kettles and coffee makers, by the way. Even though I myself sometimes very much enjoy preparing a hot drink in my room in the morning before breakfast or after a wintry excursion, it’s not really sustainable and you could just go to the hotel bar for the sake of the environment.
Probably the second most important item at the hotel is the food and beverage offerings. Again, there are endless points where you can immediately recognize sustainable hotels. Everyone knows by now that meat consumption from factory farming is an absolute climate killer. Therefore, take a look at whether vegetarian and / or vegan dishes are offered and how high the proportion of animal-free dishes is.
For me personally, for example, it is crucial whether I have a choice of vegetarian / vegan dishes or whether I have to reorder at each meal elaborately, omit half or even eat only the side dishes.
Many sustainable hotels now offer completely vegetarian or vegan meals. Others have special theme days or at least offer vegan alternatives on the buffet, such as oat milk, soy yogurt or vegan spreads.
Packaging also says a lot about a hotel’s environmental awareness. Are butter, jam, honey, tea, and condensed milk individually packaged in small plastic packets, producing a huge mountain of trash (for which there are even extra small table trash cans!) or are there large, unpackaged containers that guests can scoop from themselves? By the way, the issue of hygiene (especially under the pretext of Corona) is often just an excuse not to offer more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Is there a possibility to buyIs it possible to squeeze fresh juices in a single piece or are juices offered in glass instead of plastic bottles? Are there water dispensers where you can fill up your reusable water bottle for free? Are washable cloth napkins used or just disposables? I’ve even been to a hotel where I could decide for myself at the table during dinner if I wanted to use my cloth napkin again the next day. I thought that was really great.
Regionality & seasonality
Regionality and seasonality also play an important role when it comes to sustainability. Are there apples and pears from the organic farm next door or are papayas, kiwis, mangoes and other exotic fruits flown in for breakfast? Are asparagus and strawberries even available in winter?
Of course, you can’t always tell at first glance where the ingredients come from. However, truly sustainable hotels often make it transparent where they source their products and which transport routes they cover. On buffets or in menus it is often marked whether it is organic quality.
Homegrown & homemade
Some hotels even grow their own pesticide-free vegetables and kitchen herbs in raised beds or greenhouses. Here, the food then goes directly from the bed to the plate. It doesn’t get any fresher or more sustainable than that. I’m a big fan of hotels doing away with convenience foods as much as possible and producing most of their own food. Freshly baked bread, your own spreads and homemade chocolate cream instead of Nutella make all the difference for me.
Drinks in check
When it comes to drinks, you can check whether water is available in glass or plastic bottles, whether regional organic wines from small, local vintners are offered, whether plastic straws are dispensed with, whether a cup of coffee comes with a large sugar sprinkler or individually packaged sugar packets, condensed milk and, to top it all off, even packaged cookies.
Sustainability in the wellness sector
Environmental protection in the wellness area probably starts with the fabric bath slippers that every hotel guest is probably familiar with. Many sustainable hotels have now moved away from giving out the slippers as a matter of course in every room, but only upon request at the front desk. For all guests, who bring their own Flip Flops, then already times no pair of bathing slippers must be disposed of. Some even do without the superfluous plastic foil and hand out the slippers unpacked.
If you’ve always wondered if you’re allowed to take the fabric bath slippers home at the end of your stay: Yes, it is allowed, because for hygiene reasons, most models are purely disposable. It’s good if you use them at least a few more times. However, it would be better to bring your own bathing shoes.
How you can also recognize sustainable hotels in the wellness area: Is the water in the pool disinfected by environmentally harmful chlorine or by salt electrolysis? Is there a natural bathing pond as an alternative to the pool? Are organic or natural cosmetics used for the treatments offered in the spa, or are they conventional products that often contain microplastics, silicones and other harmful ingredients?
Does the sauna run all day or is it only turned on at certain times (for example, only in the afternoon) for the sake of the environment? Are sustainable snacks and drinks (for example, loose teas and fruits instead of packaged cookies) available? Is it pointed out that towels are welcome to be used more than once?
Arrival & transportation
As we all know, a sustainable vacation starts with arrival. Are there possibilities to reach the hotel by public transport and are you as a guest actively made aware that a climate-friendly journey is possible and / or desirable?
Are bicycles or e-bikes offered, with which you can explore the surroundings car-free? Are there charging stations for electric cars? Are tickets for public transportation available or even handed out for free at the reception? Is there perhaps even a shuttle service offered to the nearest town or other excursion destinations so that guests leave the car at the hotel?
To find out more about a hotel’s environmental practices, pay attention to how it communicates with guests. Is there a flyer for every piece of information? Are the excursion tips, the daily program, the weather, the evening menu, the departure information and the feedback sheet all printed separately, resulting in mountains of paper waste? Take a closer look at the printed materials, too. Is it glossy paper or perhaps more environmentally friendly alternatives of grass paper or similar are used?
Another point about communication: are guests involved in the sustainability process and, for example, kindly encouraged not to waste food unnecessarily? Many hoteliers tell us that guests lack environmental awareness and that it is super difficult to teach them to use towels more than once without being lecturing or even scaring guests away. I can relate to that 100%. But there are ways to put a positive spin on it. For example: “Thanks to your help, we have already been able to achieve this and that or save x amount”. This creates awareness and motivation.
Behind the scenes
Many measures that make a hotel more environmentally friendly happen behind the scenes and are not visible to guests at first glance. You have to take a closer look, actively ask questions or do research.
Because of my job, I now know pretty well what criteria to look for, what questions to ask and how to research. Here are some examples that make up sustainable hotels:
What detergents are used for hotel laundry? Conventional products with lots of chemicals and questionable ingredients that pollute wastewater, or environmentally friendly alternatives? Are fabric softeners used? Is the laundry bleached with a chemical mace and then even starched? Or does the hotel perhaps rely on environmentally friendly household products such as baking soda and citric acid?
What agents are used to clean windows, bathrooms, floors and kitchens? Conventional cleaners that are not only harmful to the environment but also to health, or environmentally friendly alternatives?
ies were used for the construction of the hotel or for renovation and expansion measures? Predominantly natural materials from the…
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