You’ve probably read that travel, particularly airplane flights, takes a tremendous toll on our environment. But don’t despair – you don’t need to give up exploring the world to help make a difference.
One way that you can help reduce your impact on the Earth while traveling is to seek out places to stay that are eco-friendly. There are 54,000 hotels and motels in the United States alone, so you’re sure to find one that meets the green level you desire.
Search the websites of major chains to see what measures they’re taking to protect the Earth’s resources, or search for environmentally responsible hotels, motels and resorts through the Green Hotels Association.
Here are some things to look for in your next green vacation stay.
Installing Energy-Saving and Water-Saving Devices
The bulk of hotels and motels institute some sort of linen/towel reuse policy, which avoids running washers and dryers and wasting water to clean items that aren’t dirty. Put the “do not disturb” sign on your doorknob when you leave for the day, so your bedding won’t be changed unnecessarily.
Some establishments go a step further and practice rainwater harvesting or gray water reuse. With hotels’ large roofs and vast parking lots, lots of this free water can be collected for use in toilets, cooling towers and even landscaping, rather than letting it run into storm drains.
Best Western® Hotels & Resorts’ Green Housekeeping Program grants its Best Western Rewards® (BWR®) members 500 bonus points, or an equivalent food and beverage credit, for each day they opt out of housekeeping services, on stays of two or more days. Guests can also use these points towards a free night stay on their next trip.
Find hotels that have swapped out incandescent bulbs for LED or compact fluorescent ones and those that have timers to turn off the lights when not in use. Programmable thermostats and double-paned windows are other ways hotels have renovated rooms to keep them comfortable without wasting energy. Even installing updated televisions can be a sustainable feature, because the newer models use less electricity than older sets. And the water savings from using low-flow shower heads and smaller-capacity toilet tanks add up quickly, and you likely won’t even notice the difference.
Recycling and Composting
Your grandmother was right when she admonished you not to waste food. Tossing uneaten produce, bread gone stale or meat that’s no longer fresh in the garbage not only means the energy used in producing that food was in spent vain but also the local landfills will reach capacity sooner than expected.
Mindful hotels keep their organic scraps out of dumps by composting them. When these scraps are added to the larger compost piles at local sanitation departments or farms, they metamorphose into what is known as “black gold” in the agricultural world. This nutrient-laden soil additive can then be used to boost future crop production, turning garbage back into food.
Another way to rescue food from the garbage bin is to donate it. Leftover banquet platters, trays of sandwiches or even giant fruit salads can be donated to shelters or other places to serve those in need. Doing so not only prevents the food from going to waste, it strengthens the bond between the hotel and its community.
And it’s not just food scraps that end up unnecessarily at the dump. Single-use items, like the mini bars of soap, small bottles of lotion and cellophane-wrapped plastic drinking glasses, add to the enormous amount of waste created in the hospitality industry. Look for hotels that participate in recycling ventures, such as Clean the World, which collects soaps and bottles of lotions and shampoo for distribution to areas of the world where they need these hygienic items (after a thorough decontamination process, of course).
Or plan your stay somewhere that uses large bottles of toiletries that are attached to the wall, eliminating the need for the small, disposable ones. Choose to stay in places that provide reusable glasses and mugs in rooms, rather than throwaway cardboard or plastic cups.
Reduce Food Miles
To reduce the distance food must travel to reach hotel restaurants, why not opt to stay at a hotel that has its own farm? This idea is not a new one in some parts of the world, but it is catching on here in the United States. Although hotels and inns in more rural settings might find growing some of their own food easier than those in a crowded city, even urban hotels can take part in this practice. For example, rooftop gardens are popping up in metropolitan regions across the country, and urban beekeeping has increased in popularity.
If a hotel doesn’t grow its own food, learn toward those that source their food from local vendors. Not only will your meals be filled with the freshest ingredients possible and keep the distance they must travel to a minimum, you’re sure to enjoy experiencing the specialties of the region, from local beef to seasonal fruits or fresh-caught seafood. The Best Western Plus Chateau Granville, in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers a “Go Green” menu that features local produce as well as a zero-waste food program, through which they compost organic matter and other recyclable items.
Steps You Can Take to Make a Difference
Being aware of your own individual actions when staying in a hotel can also help reduce your effect on the environment. Remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room, just like you do at home. Adjust the thermostat so the AC or heat isn’t running when you’re not there. And for visits to a city, consider staying within walking distance of your destinations, so you can leave your car in the garage for the duration of your stay. Small steps that both you and the hotel industry take to lessen adverse effects on our world can add up to big changes, if we all do our part.