Ooh, it’s almost summer travel season.
Let me be clear: I’m a firm believer in the benefits of traveling. Travel can open our eyes to the realities of different parts of the world, and make us more compassionate, better citizens of the earth.
But travel can also be a drain on resources. What with the fossil fuel consumption of driving or flying, and staying in hotels, with their miniature toiletries, constantly running laundries, extravagant spreads and massive energy consumption, travel skyrockets your carbon footprint, not to mention the impact on our wallets and issues of accessibility.
But that doesn’t mean you should (or even can) stay at home.
While you’re busy looking for great deals on summer travel, don’t forget to factor in Mother Earth. Most hotels these days are jumping on the bandwagon of environmental sustainability, and there’s a wealth of information to be found about hotels’ sustainable practices.
The good news? The hotel industry knows it’s got a problem with environmental issues, driven by common sense, consumer trends, and businesses that care about the impact of their meetings and travel. In 2008, there were only 18 LEED certified hotels in their US. But in 2012, that number had jumped to 198! People want green options and hotels are finding creative ways to show consumers to offset their environmental impact.
And while there are options like Airbnb, Couchsurfer, and local B&B’s to consider, they’re not always practical for every stay. That’s why it’s important to know which hotel chains have actually made a difference in changing their carbon footprint.
Here are 5 hotel chains that are leading the way when it comes to corporate commitment to sustainability. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but consider these, when you’re in the market for a hotel stay:
1. Starwood Hotels
This hotel chain, which includes Westin and Sheraton, is making sustainability a priority. Their corporate commitment to waste, water, and energy reduction in all its properties has resulted in an 11.5% reduction in energy use, 14.8% reduction in water use, and an 11.6% reduction in carbon emissions in their hotels across the board.
Oh, and in case you wonder if reusing your towel or turning your lights off makes a difference, Starwood tracked it: 5 million of their guests participated in green initiatives in the past 4 years, and saved 223 million gallons of water and 961,000 kilowatts of electricity overall.
Starwood also has the super cool new chain Element, which has inserted sustainability into every facet of the operations of the hotel: from eco-friendly textiles to energy-reducing roofs, to Energy Star appliances in all guest rooms. This chain reflects an exciting trend in business that will likely be replicated in years to come.
Starwood’s W Hotels have also recently partnered with will.i.am & Coca-Cola to recycle plastic bottles into hotel bedding! These eco-friendly sheets are supposedly just as cozy as high thread count cotton.
Hilton is another example of how big companies can make big impacts. They established and met sustainability goals to reduce water consumption by 10%, and waste production by 20%. They also worked at not only reducing energy use but also establishing sustainable energy, and it’s paid off, big-time: up to 94% of Hilton’s energy is now green.
On the waste-reduction front, Hilton donates excess food to local food banks, and recycles both mattresses and box springs. They also partner with a nonprofit that recycles partially-used hotel soaps into clean, usable toiletries for people in need, across the globe.
All of the Fairmont properties have been LEED certified, and they employ innovative concepts like heat recycling and green roofs. Some of their properties even have bees on their rooftops! They participate in redistributing food and soap as well.
Making sustainability a part of corporate culture is something the Fairmont chain seems to do more than pay lip service to—and the result is some really elegant innovation that
4. Hyatt Hotels
Hyatt was one of the first hotel chains to start tracking their energy and water use, and continues to work at reducing them. They also participate in Clean the World, and actively participate in LEED certification and new construction that keeps sustainability in mind.
What’s more, their restaurants partner with the World Wildlife Federation to make sure that their seafood is sourced from sustainable waters.
Not to be outdone on use of post-consumer fabrics, Marriott recently unveiled uniforms made from polyester using recycled plastic bottles. They also don’t have to be dry cleaned—good for the environment, and convenient for employees!
Marriott also boasted a 13% in water use, 11% reduction in energy expenditure, and a 12% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions last year from 20017, putting them well on their way to their pledged 20% reduction in those areas by 2020.
The hotel industry does a great job of making people feel special by fawning over customers and paying attention to the details. To see corporate policy extending that kind of focus to Mother Earth is also pretty cool.
Yes, hotels and travel in general use a lot of our planet’s resources. But if it’s important to you to find a hotel that’s making big changes to their carbon footprint, don’t fear lack of options.
Are these hotels going green just to save money, strengthen their brand, and try to win over eco-conscious customers? Most likely. But if that means that that their carbon footprint is a little lighter as a result, then it’s still a move in the right direction.
Emily Rabbitt is a freelance and fiction writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a Massachusetts native, iced coffee enthusiast, and marathon runner, and tries to be a good citizen of the planet. Follow her on Twitter: @rabbitterun.