Saving the Earth - one hotel at a time

Last updated: February 15, 2022

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Health and sustainability journalist and blogger Kathryn Manning (@sustainablekaty) discusses what she looks for in a sustainable hotel.

Many of us who love to travel understand that the beauty and biodiversity of the world is at risk from environmental damage. So how do we make sure that our holidays don’t add to the price the planet has to pay? After all, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, (UNWTO) tourism is responsible for 5 per cent of global CO2 emissions. And of this, 20 per cent is down to hotels.

At home, sustainability has become part of our daily routines – recycling, renewable power and electric vehicles are now common, and many hotels have caught up. Finding a hotel that is not only a pleasure to stay in but also has good sustainable credentials is getting easier at every budget level, whether you want a private, luxurious resort or a solar-powered eco hostel. However, it’s always good to know what to look for to avoid any accommodation where the claims are more ‘greenwash’ than green. The good news is that RightRooms provides the detail so that guests can go beyond this potential smokescreen.

Here are some things I consider when booking a hotel or B&B for my family.

An ethical plan

The first is whether they have a clear environmental ethos. Realising the selling potential of sustainability, many venues even include this as part of the name of their accommodation. In fact, the last two places where my family and I stayed actually had ‘eco’ in the title! The statistics bear out the sense in this, with a recent report showing that 70 per cent of global travellers would be more likely to book a hotel if they knew it was eco-friendly, and they are also likely to stay for three days longer.*

However, if sustainability is important to you, you need to look beyond the words and ensure that a hotel that calls itself ‘eco’ is actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Of course, checking the green credentials through RightRooms, which asks hotels as many as 60 questions about their sustainable status, is a simple way to do this.

Waste and single-use plastic

A great bugbear of mine is waste and single-use plastic. I visited a spa hotel recently and was sad to see their once very elegant surroundings to the spa area, covered with plastic cups and water coolers, due to concerns over Covid, where they once would have had glass jugs of cucumber water ready for guests. I thought this was a shame, considering that with a little effort, the usual glasses of water could have been used with no extra risk of infection.

On the other hand, one of my favourite things is the use of eco-friendly beauty products in rooms. There’s simply no excuse for those tiny plastic bottles of shampoo any longer. It’s even better if toiletries, towels and bedlinen are organic and locally made. Giving guests the option of refillable water bottles and the use of recycling bins is also good practice.

A low impact on its surroundings

When it comes to water and energy-saving technology sometimes the simplest ideas can be so effective. It’s great to be given the option to forego having your linen and towels cleaned every day to save energy and water, and if there are incentives not to do so, such as vouchers for a free drink at the bar – all the better. This very simple policy has been implemented at a recently-opened London hotel and I think it makes perfect sense.

The Tower Hamlets hotel also has bedrooms with power and water-saving rain showers and fully-sustainable, hypoallergenic super king mattresses, certified organic, natural and chemical-free.

I have to admit a particular weakness for hot tubs - especially when on a UK break where one often needs warming up - so in our last holiday in Wales, we really enjoyed the eco hot tub fed by a natural spring rather than the usual energy-draining variety. To me this is a switch that makes economic as well as environmental sense.

Locally sourced and home-grown food

An on-site garden, or even farm, that supplies the hotel restaurant is also a great sustainable benefit. Reducing transport to the site and the ensuing carbon emissions, not to mention ensuring the creation of seasonal and ethical menus. A recent hostel retreat our family enjoyed had its own farm, vegetable garden and orchard and guests were welcome to visit and even help out. At the other end of the scale, the elegant 5-star resort The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire features an amazing kitchen garden producing fresh ingredients for its renowned restaurants such as The Glasshouse and The Stables and creating menus perfectly attuned to the seasons. At The Grove, the kitchen garden also provides a haven for birds, bees for honey and a great balance of biodiversity.

Community efforts

Some hotels allow guests to get involved in their eco-effects, helping with environmental projects, beach clean-ups or biodiversity protection. Providing free or hired bicycles and shared transport is a good way to reduce emissions. Also pointing patrons towards other local eco-friendly businesses, restaurants and experiences can be a good way to benefit the local area.

Sustainable hotels empower their local communities in this way, and they also employ local staff, pay them fairly, and use local businesses in their supply chain. Eco-hotels are guardians of their land, taking care of waste treatment so that their environmental impact is as low as possible.

The UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as a model that “has a full awareness of the current and future impact of tourism in economic, social and environmental terms in order to satisfy the needs of visitors, industries, nature and host communities”.

My hope is that, in the future, it will be more noteworthy to come across a hotel without environmentally conscious attributes than with them.

* sustainable report 2019

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RightRooms believes all information to be correct at time of going to press. As guidance, research and facts around Covid-19 are changing constantly, the information provided here is for general information only and does not constitute professional advice. Please check with venues, locations and attractions before travelling.

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