Does your airline or hotel do greenwashing? Here’s how to say | Travel convenience store
Does the travel industry take environmental protection seriously? Or is it just negligible environmental efforts – otherwise known as greenwashing – to make a quick buck on your next vacation?
Y. Murat Ozguc began to wonder. As the owner of Travel Atelier, a Turkish tour operator, he regularly inspects hotels in Europe that claim to be eco-friendly. He asks them pointed questions about how they protect the planet.
The answers he gets are disappointing. Hotel managers will salute a single rooftop solar panel or mention a recycling program, often mandated by local authorities, he says. “If even that.”
As for the sheets in the bathroom that encourage him to reuse his towels “for the environment”, he says he complies with them. But the housekeepers often remove his towels anyway.
Greenwashing – when a company claims to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but makes no noticeable sustainability efforts – is rampant in the travel industry. Many travel companies have relaxed their sustainability efforts during the pandemic, adding sanitization programs that have increased the use of disposable or non-recyclable materials. Even today, everything seems to be wrapped in plastic.
So how do you know if a travel agency means business?
“Greenwashing isn’t always easy to spot,” says Joshua Zinder, managing partner of JZA+D, which focuses on sustainable design. “We’ve all seen those little cards in guest room bathrooms suggesting you can opt out of having housekeeping provide clean towels. Who really benefits from this practice? The hotelier does this, of course, since it is a question of saving on energy, water and labor related to the laundry. It is a cost reduction strategy with little impact on the environment.
The problem is that there is no Good Housekeeping seal of approval for green travel companies. The closest may be LEED certification, which emphasizes the energy and environmental design of a building. But experts note that a hotel could be LEED certified and lay flat when it comes to other environmental initiatives.
“There are practices that generally indicate that a hotel or airline is more sustainable, or at least is seriously trying to be,” says Ashlee Piper, author of “Give a Sh*t: Do Good.” Live better. Save the planet.”
For hotels, this may mean offering more recycling and composting options. A resort could serve more plant-based and local foods, install eco-friendly heating and cooling systems, or use alternative energy sources. In bathrooms, water-saving measures such as low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators are tell-tale signs that a property takes environmental care seriously.
Airlines that offer transparent carbon offset programs are making a legitimate effort to be sustainable. It is also a positive sign when airlines experiment with sustainable fuels.
Don’t trust the stickers on the door saying the hotel or tour operator is green certified.
“Check out their corporate disclosure documents on their websites,” says Nneoma Njoku, managing director of Labrador US, a global corporate disclosure communications company. “It’s one of the best ways to determine if an organization is environmentally conscious and implementing genuine sustainability efforts.”
For example, Booking Holdings, which owns Priceline, Kayak, OpenTable, and Rentalcars.com, has claimed to be carbon neutral in 2020 and 2021. If you look at its proxy statement, it directs readers to a dedicated area of its website that explains sustainability efforts. .
Or consider the recent announcement that IHG Hotels & Resorts would work with Unilever to replace mini-toilets with bulk amenities in more than 4,000 hotels. This is a key step in the hotel chain’s commitment to eliminate single-use items throughout guest stays by 2030, according to the company.
Is it real or greenwashing? IHG’s announcement contained several specific and verifiable promises. He noted that Unilever’s Dove brand will begin supplying full-size hand soap and lotions to Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Avid Hotels, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites in select locations. According to IHG, switching to full-size bathroom fixtures is expected to save at least 850 tons of plastic per year. The company also has a page dedicated to its green initiatives.
How to flush out greenwashing?
“The most obvious way to see this is through the excessive use of plastic,” says Larry Snider, vice president of operations for Casago Vacation Rentals. “These are individually wrapped soaps, plastic cups, which are often also wrapped in plastic, and plastic trash bags.”
There is also the corporate culture. Do employees drive their car to work or do they ride their bikes? Do they talk about sustainability in a meaningful way or are they just repeating recycled sustainability slogans? Do they volunteer in their local communities? These are all ways to tell if a company is serious about sustainability, experts say.
The problem is, most of the time you don’t know until you’re at your destination. And by then, it’s too late. Experts say it will likely stay that way until the travel industry can develop an enforceable and widely recognized certification program. But time is running out.