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The Greenwash Brigade

Does green travel offset emissions…. or just your guilt?

Heidi Siegelbaum Apr 10, 2008

Travel to an eco-resort abroad and mitigate guilt over the GHG emissions used to get there all at the same time! Ah, the confusing lexicon of ecotourism and green travel might be just enough to get me to visit this website on environmentally-friendly hotelsbut I sure wouldn’t rely on it. I’ll get to that shortly.

Regardless of where we travel, environmental impacts follow our every step. Common sense says the farther you jet from home, the greater the impact. This impact may include impact on the climate not just from all air travel, but from the jet YOU are flying on. (This report (PDF) explains how jets impact climate change through something called “radiative forcing.”) Now that’s scary. Ecotourism and green travel are implicitly about impacts, opportunity and action related to SCALE and DIMENSIONS of responsibility.

–GHG Emissions: Greenhouse gas emissions from any mode of travel (an issue of policy, particularly that of the airlines where industry analysts recommend a separate surcharge that can be paid voluntarily by the traveler and if not, 100% of the tab is picked up by the airline itself)

–Site Specific Impacts: This is where credible conservation efforts in lodging can make a difference (water, energy, landscaping, material use and disposal)

–Site Location and Culture: Implications of the lodging site and how we interact with the local community (with respect or with bare chested plunder?)

You can stay in a spiffy lodging that has undertaken scores of environmental initiatives but how does this balance play out if it’s located in a place where raw sewage is dumped into tropical waters and toxic trash is burned? It’s not just the eco-lodge that matters but the implicit values, plans and actions of the host community and country. Regardless of what you find, speak up and reward good lodges and contact local/regional tourism agencies if you don’t like you see — the industry is acutely sensitive to guest opinion.

In many ways it doesn’t matter what label you put on lodgings that are adopting a continuum of green programs as long as they are doing something and are not overstating its accomplishments. The problems with a site like environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com are many:

  1. The definitions bear no resemblance to any credible standard (Green Seal, Green Leaf, Green Globe 21, ASEAN Green Hotel Standard, ISO14001/4) and are vague enough to open the door wide open for greenwashing: the research is based on standard web searches from what I can see and I know from my own work that most lodgings do not disclose the nitty-gritty of their engineering and other progress for a few reasons (time, don’t think guests care, not considered their core mission in many cases or not practiced in explaining what their programs mean); and

  2. The properties are not audited and end up on the site with mere self-congratulation on a worst case basis- you say so and I believe it.

You would be better off going to the venerable Ecotourism Society or the research site intute: social sciences which has a smorgasbord of legitimate sustainable tourism links such as Planeta and Sustainable Travel International.

Happy Trails!

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