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How to tell if a hotel is truly green

Hotel room with green furnishings

Hotels are keen to jump on the green bandwagon to promote their eco-friendly credentials. But are their claims tokenistic and how can you tell which ones deserve a green stamp of approval?

How often have you seen a notice in your hotel bathroom announcing the hotel’s environmentally-responsible attitude by not wanting to wash towels unnecessarily?

To say the least, this policy is, well, wishy-washy. Your towel will be replaced daily unless you choose to help the environment by not sending it off to the laundry. More often than not however, it will be taken away regardless.

Of course, the hardly-used towel shouldn’t be removed in the first place, but why is it a hotel custom to replace towels daily? How often do you wash your own bath towels at home – once a week?

In my case it’s more like every fortnight (and if I’m honest sometimes a bit longer). I’m clean; they’re clean so what’s the problem? Ok, I’m not suggesting hotels take up my laundry habits. But why don’t they reverse their towel-wash eco-policy and just replace them after a few days unless a new towel is requested?

Substantial efforts make hotels sustainable

If though, washing towels less frequently is a hotel’s only green commitment, frankly it should steer clear of making any sustainable eco-claims. Where are the solar panels, wastewater purification systems, waste recycling units… in fact anything substantial to prove its responsible-tourism credentials?

To vindicate my not-as-green-as-they-seem point I’ll go to Andrea Nicholas, MD for the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), who knows a thing or two about eco-hotels.

She reported in July that ‘more than half of UK accommodation providers are misleading guests with their green policies.’ Although she added, ‘this is often not deliberate’.

How hotels can prove their eco-credentials

Truly eco-friendly hotels won’t be shy about flaunting their green achievements online and in brochures. Some of the eco-friendly GTBS criteria to ask about when you are looking for a ‘green’ hotel are:

  • Social Involvement and Communication – green policy, promotion of environmental efforts on the website, education, and community and social projects
  • Energy – efficiency of lighting, heating and appliance, insulation and renewable energy use
  • Water efficiency – good maintenance, low-consumption appliances, flush offset, rainwater harvesting, as well as using eco-cleaners
  • Purchasing – environmentally-friendly goods and services, e.g. products made from recycled materials and FSC wood, use and promotion of local food and drink
  • Waste minimisation – encouraging, the ‘eliminate, reduce, reuse, recycle’ principle. This includes glass, paper, card, plastic and metal recycling, supplier take-back agreements, dosing systems and composting
  • Transport – aims to minimise visitors car use by promoting local and national public transport service, cycle hire, local walking and cycling option, and use of alternative fuels
  • Natural and Cultural Heritage – on site measures aimed at increasing biodiversity, e.g. wildlife gardening, growing native species, nesting boxes, as well as providing information for visitors on the wildlife on and around the site

Do you think hotels need to do more to prove their eco-credentials? What do you look for in an eco-hotel and have you stayed in any good ones?


We recently stayed in a large hotel in Kensington [West London] and a very pleasant and comfortable stay it was. However, the only aspect of any relevance to environmental credentials was the request to continue using the bathroom towels. It had over 800 bedrooms each with a 10′ x 4′ single-glazed window. The heating and ventilation system, which was effective and comfortable, used electric fans blowing hot air; whether this came from a hot-water or an electric heat source was not apparent. No amount of postponed laundering of the towels is going to help this establishment go green!

I have been disappointed not to be able to turn off heating even when I know I am going to be out of a hotel all day. Putting towels in the bath should be enough to request clean ones but I have stayed in hotels where they have been replaced even if unused.