DIY green vacation: How to find an eco-aware hotel


By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You know when you invariably get lost on vacation and have that fight with your spouse or travel buddy about which direction to take? Now eco-travelers can have that dispute ahead of time — while they try to navigate toward green lodgings.

The Eco-Suite at the Fairfield in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor district.

Despite great progress in the hospitality industry, it’s still not easy for consumers to find authentically environmental accommodations. This is partly the fault of the tug-and-pull within the industry which enjoys no consensus about whether it should submit to outside auditors on sustainability.

While some brands, such as Kimpton Hotels, have made environmentalism a clear priority, others still consider asking customers to cut back on soap, water or air conditioning to be the antithesis of “hospitality”.

The industry has lurched forward unevenly on the green front, and so has its attendant patchwork of watchdogs, checklists, certifiers and green listings services.

You may stumble across a terrifically green hotel that’s been certified as having been built green by the well-regarded US Green Building Council, such as the recently renovated Fairfield Marriott in Baltimore, which boasts a green roof, pervious pavers (look it up), bicycles on site and energy from wind power. It’s Baltimore’s first LEED-certified hotel.

Or, you could end up at a hotel that talks a green game, but is not much greener than before it slapped a meaningless certification on the front door. This poser hotel might even have been built green, but since the last nail went in, the operations side has failed to follow through.

To get a more holistic picture of a hotel or inn’s commitment to green behaviors, conscientious travelers will have to consult another source, a green hotel ratings listing. Fortunately, and unfortunately, there are several. They include credible services and some that are virtually green rubber stamps, relying on unverified self-reporting.

Think green hotels can’t be glam? Check out, or check into, the Gold LEED-rated Shore Hotel in Santa Monica.

So before you hit the road, we’ll take you on a quick tour of possibilities on the Information Highway.

This list includes hotel listing/certification services that are trustworthy (as far as we can tell), employ a reasonable, public set of criteria to rate or rank lodgings, and have provided a way for travelers to browse for those accommodations. (Some reputable certifiers, like Earth Check and the USGBC, are not listed here because they do not provide public listings.) Now you can debate which green accommodation beckons,  and get that first vacation tiff out of the way.


Green Seal, a veteran certification service.

1 — Green Seal once certified mainly cleaners and household products, but has expanded to offer certifications to hotels and restaurants. Establishments can get a bronze, silver or gold certification based on their practices and leadership. Green Seal has been around since the early 1990s, and its program includes all the appropriate elements for credible certification: a requirement that the property be audited by a third party, published standards, extensive but attainable standards.

The NRDC, finding the same stew of aspiring, failing and credible hotel certification programs that we did, recently rated the raters. They gave Green Seal top marks, four “leaves”, for doing it right.

Green Seal’s  list of certified properties is not particularly long or consumer-friendly. But you can access it online, which is more than we could say for everyone in the certifying biz.

2 –, based in Denmark, has rated 1,800 hotels and restaurants in 29 countries. It has partnered with green cleaner Ecover and stresses staff education, environmental protection, reduced consumption and everything else responsible about operating in the hospitality world. Its  criteria is broad but the NRDC had a quibble, finding its “standards [to be] detailed but not rigorous.”

On a more positive note, the certifications are second-party verified, and there are audits. Green-Key won’t help you much if you’re vacationing stateside, but they have a deep European portfolio.

3 – Green Tourism Business Scheme, in the United Kingdom, sounds to American ears like something dodgy, a greenwash. But this scheme is a certification service partnered with several national tourism councils. It publishes its criteria and an accessible list of lodgings rated “going green,” bronze, silver or gold, based on their sustainability efforts.

So if you’re headed to the UK or Canada, check out their map.

Green Key has one of the largest rolls of green hotels.

4 – Green Key Eco Rating Program, administered by the Hotel Association of Canada, has rated nearly 2,800 hotels in 15 countries. It expanded into the US in 2009. Those who aspire to the certification fill out a survey and are ranked on a scale of 1-5 keys, based on their water and energy conservation, hazardous waste management, building and land use.

The hotels’ self-reporting is double-checked with outside audits, but only 20 percent of the properties are reviewed annually, according to the website, leaving us a little queasy about how much this program means.

On the other hand, Green Key is fully focused on hotel operations, which may give it an edge compared with those that rank various other types of business, such as Green Seal or the other Green-Key in the UK, which certifies businesses as well as hospitality establishments. (Two green keys, that’s not confusing.)

You can find Green Key-rated hotels here.

5 – The US EPA Energy Star for Hospitality program offers guidance to hoteliers moving toward energy efficiency. Hotels that are Energy Star labeled are more energy efficient than average. They likely have efficienct HVACs, efficient light bulbs and low-flow faucets, etc. We include this labeling here, but with reservations. Energy efficiency is good, and it saves money for hotels. But a more stringent certification would offer points for a broader array of sustainable practices, like preserving green space or promoting green transportation.

On the positive side, this government program has enlisted some of the big chains, Marriott and Westin and others, in the efficiency cause. It’s likely that a lot of hotels are no longer blasting AC into the streets because of Energy Star. EPA hpefully brays that if all the hotels and motels in the US reduced their energy consumption by just 10 percent, they save collectively $745 million.

You can check the list of qualified hospitality buildings here.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

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