As travelers venture back out into the world, they are doing so with sustainability in mind. In fact, a study published this spring by Expedia Group Media Solutions shows that nearly 70 percent of consumers are willing to sacrifice some element of convenience in order to travel more sustainably, and three out of four travelers would choose a destination, lodging or transportation option that supports the local community and culture, even if it was more expensive.
Additionally, a recent study by the research firm MMGY Travel Intelligence found that 81 percent of active travelers are willing to change travel behavior to reduce impact on the environment. To that end, according to the Sustainable Travel Report 2022 from Booking.com, nearly half of the travelers surveyed chose at least one sustainable accommodation last year. The report also shows that 70 percent of global travelers indicate they would be more likely to choose a sustainable accommodation, whether or not they were specifically looking for one.
In California, one effort to be more eco-friendly will soon be mandatory: small personal care products like shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles will be banned from hotels and accommodations with more than 50 rooms starting January 1, 2023; the ban goes into effect for hotels and accommodations of 50 rooms or less on January 1, 2024.
Even without legislation, many hotel brands and independent properties are taking sustainable practices into their own hands.
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Sustainable Practices 101
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has created criteria and suggested indicators for hotels centered around four themes: effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage and reducing negative impacts to the environment.
These practices can range from ensuring the integrity of archaeological, cultural heritage and sacred sites have been preserved, and locally-sourced materials, practices and crafts have been used in the buildings and their designs during the planning phase; to benefitting the local communities by partnering with locally-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to provide goods and services at the hotels.
In regards to enhancing cultural heritage, sustainable practices include highlighting local art and crafts in designs and furnishings, and financially supporting local cultural and heritage groups. As far as reducing negative impacts on the environment, those practices can include encouraging guests to reuse towels for the duration of their stay to save water on laundry, using reusable cutlery as opposed to plastic and reducing energy consumption among other initiatives.
Here’s a look at sustainable efforts happening in accommodations across the U.S., and how travelers can help, too.
Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, New Haven, Connecticut
Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton made history when it opened its doors this spring as the first anticipated net-zero hotel in the U.S. The all-electric property operates entirely free of fossil fuels, which means zero carbon emissions. Instead, the hotel uses renewable solar power energy to generate the electricity needed for its 165 guest rooms and suites, common areas, restaurant, meeting rooms and laundry facility. For those traveling in electric vehicles, the hotel has 12 Tesla Superchargers or universal level-two chargers.
The iconic building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also expected to be the first Passive House-certified hotel in the country as well as one of fewer than a dozen LEED Platinum-certified hotels in the country, the highest level of certification that is recognized globally as a symbol of sustainability achievement. Rates start at $229.
Founded in 2017 as a holistic hospitality company based on the values of wellness, kindness and sustainability, Soul Community Planet (SCP) Hotels’ portfolio includes eight properties in California, Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon.
In an effort to be kinder to the planet, SCP has eliminated single-use plastic bottles, uses eco-friendly materials in renovations and is incorporating energy-efficient systems and solar panels. As of the end of June, these initiatives have eliminated 135,000 plastic bottles and saved 486 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition to these changes, SCP formalized its Every Stay Does Good program to help local communities, too. For example, as of the end of June, more than 98,000 trees have been replanted in unnaturally deforested areas.
This year, SCP intends to achieve net-zero waste company-wide; become fully vegetarian throughout all properties, highlighting locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients; and transform all guest rooms to “Peaceful Rooms,” free of TVs, clocks and radios in an effort to promote relaxation and focus. Rates start at $132 and vary by property.
Aspen Meadows Resort, Aspen, Colorado
In an attempt to become the most sustainable resort in town, Aspen Meadows introduced two electric 14-passenger shuttle vehicles in May for guest transportation, including trips to and from the airport. (The resort partnered with Endera, makers of zero emission electric commercial vehicles, on the shuttles.)
In addition to transportation, the resort replaced all plastic water bottles with reusable options, and removed all single-use plastics (like bath amenities) from guest rooms, replacing them with refillable containers. Rates start at $305.
the green o, Greenough, Montana
Though it’s set within Montana timberland, no trees were cut to build the hauses at the green o, an adults-only resort that opened in June 2021. In fact, sites for the hauses were intentionally identified to avoid cutting trees or disturbing the land and designed to blend into the natural landscape.
Guests at the green o are not permitted to drive gas-powered vehicles on the property. Rather, they are given a Lexus NX to drive to Paws Up Ranch (the 37,000 acres on which the green o sits) and around the area. Once back at the resort, guests are dropped off and picked up by electric carts, and mountain bikes are provided as a means of transportation, too.
Additional sustainability initiatives include energy-efficient lighting and appliances; xeriscape landscaping to reduce the need for irrigation; and eco-friendly cleaning products. Rates start at $2,005 per night, double occupancy, including lodging, round-trip airport transfers and three meals.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Nashville Downtown, Tennessee
Guests arriving at the new 30-floor Embassy Suites in the heart of downtown will find accommodations that feature the use of reclaimed wood, stone and iron, as well as local building materials. In regards to daily sustainable practices, the hotel has a robust glass recycling program, uses low mercury lighting and implements a reduced water-use program. Rates start at $349.
Easy Ways to Be Green While Traveling
Tip: For more sustainable options, check out Staze, a new hotel booking platform that connects eco-conscious travelers with sustainable hotel accommodations around the world. What’s more, Staze offsets twice the carbon footprint of every booking made on the site.
In addition to choosing sustainably-responsible accommodations, there are a lot of ways we can do our part to stay green while traveling. Here are a few easy ideas from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. Disposing trash properly, and lessening our consumption of water and energy, is respectful of the natural environment and can benefit destinations we visit.
Go local. Choosing a locally-based tour provider and other businesses not only provides insiders’ knowledge of a destination and likely results in more authentic experiences, but keeps money within the community.
Explore on foot or bike. Both are eco-friendly ways to experience a destination, rather than hopping into a car, especially if your travels take you to urban areas. These modes of slower travel are also terrific ways to really see, experience and engage with a destination, rather than quickly passing through.
Susan B. Barnes is a Florida-based freelance journalist with a passion for travel and the environment.