It’s Easy Being Green: How to Spot a Green-Tree Hotel

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For many people summer means traveling. And many of these weekenders and vacationers will end up in hotels whether they’re hitting the road or flying abroad. Hotels are often needlessly wasteful, and they add significantly to the already hefty toll traveling takes on the environment. But if guests do their research and ask a few questions before deciding where to post up for the night, they’ll find a wide selection of hotels that cater to customers who want environmentally sustainable accommodations.

Hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and motels can adopt a host of practices to green themselves. Washing towels and linens after every single use, for example, wastes water and increases energy costs. But hotels that allow their guests to reuse such items multiple times before washing them are cutting down on water and energy consumption. Hotels can further cut their water usage by installing low-flow showers and toilets, and they can slash energy costs by using compact fluorescent light bulbs in all rooms or timers or sensors for lights.

They can also store soap, shampoo, and other hygienic amenities in bulk dispensers rather than tiny, individualized bottles in order to cut down on the huge amount of packaging waste involved in lodging. And they can adopt recycling or composting programs to reduce waste or serve locally sourced food to cut transportation costs.

There’s no silver bullet for a making a hotel “green,” but many guides exist to help the eco-conscious lodger find what they’re looking for. The Green Hotels Association promotes and facilitates environmentally friendly practices at hotels throughout the United States and beyond. Their website has a handy member hotels section for finding green accommodations wherever you’re traveling.

The Green Hotels Association doesn’t list information about what makes their member hotels green, but has pretty exhaustive information on an impressive number of hotels throughout the world. They feature a checklist of green practices adopted by each hotel and rate the hotels on a scale of one to seven green trees—similar to the restaurant five-star system. The site also contains a search function and reviews from travelers who’ve stayed at the hotels.

Keep an eye out, too, for hotels that publicize their sustainability credentials such as the Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco, which is certified by the San Francisco Green Business Program, U.S. Green Business Council, and was the first California hotel to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified.

Finally, if you’re feeling adventurous you could always ditch the hotel outright. Consider staying at a hostel, where the paired-down accommodations and communal living style cut down on energy consumption and wastefulness. If your destination is sufficiently outdoorsy, camping also makes for a fun alternative to the hotel. And is a nonprofit organization that connects travelers with locals who are willing to let visitors stay in their houses and apartments. Since you’ll be staying in a place in where someone is already living you’ll be creating less demand for new energy and resources.

Searching for lodging in your travels doesn’t have to mean being complicit with wastefulness or environmentally harmful practices. Eco-conscious travelers can find the perfect fit for their green sensibilities with a little bit of education, attention, and research.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series