How to spot greenwashing – The Washington Post


Is the travel industry serious about protecting the environment? Or is it just seeking neglected environmental efforts – otherwise known as greenwashing – to make a quick buck on your next vacation?

Y. Murat Ozguc began to wonder. As the owner of Travel Atelier, a Turkish tour operator, he regularly inspects hotels in Europe that are said to be environmentally friendly. He asked them questions about how they protect the planet.

The answers he gets are frustrating. Hotel managers wave a single solar panel on the roof or mention a recycling program, which is often mandated by local authorities, he says. “If so.”

As for the bathroom cards urging her to reuse her towels “for the environment,” she says she follows. But the housemates often remove her towels.

Greenwashing-when a company says it is environmentally aware for marketing purposes but doesn’t make any noticeable maintenance efforts-is prevalent in the travel industry. Many travel companies relaxed their maintenance efforts during the pandemic, adding sanitizing programs that increased the use of disposable or non-recyclable materials. Even today, everything seems to be wrapped in plastic.

So how do you know if business means a travel company?

“Greenwashing isn’t always easy to spot,” said Joshua Zinder, managing partner of JZA+D, which focuses on sustainable design. “We’ve all seen those little cards in the bathrooms in the guest rooms suggesting that you can refuse to provide clean housekeeping towels. Who really benefits from this training? Of course, the hotel operator does, because they stand to save energy, water and manpower related to laundry. It is a cost -saving strategy with minimal impact on the environment. ”

The problem is there is no Good Housekeeping seal of approval for green travel companies. The closest may be LEED certification, which focuses on a building’s energy and environmental design. But experts note that a hotel can become LEED certified and still fall short when it comes to other environmental initiatives.

“There are practices that generally indicate that a hotel or an airline is more sustainable, or at least earnestly trying to be,” says Ashlee Piper, author of “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. “

For hotels, this could mean offering more recycling and composting options. A resort can serve more plant-based and local food, install environmentally friendly heating and cooling systems, or use alternative energy sources. In bathrooms, water-saving measures such as low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators are signs that a property is seriously helping the environment.

Airlines that offer transparent carbon offset programs are making a legitimate effort to be sustainable. It is also a positive sign when airlines are experimenting with sustainable fuels.

Don’t trust door stickers that say the hotel or tour operator is environmentally certified.

“View their company disclosure documents on their websites,” said Nneoma Njoku, general manager of Labrador US, a global corporate disclosure communications company. “It’s one of the best ways to determine if an organization is environmentally aware and implementing real sustainability efforts.”

For example, Booking Holdings, which owns Priceline, Kayak, OpenTable and, claims to be carbon neutral in 2020 and 2021. If you look at its proxy statement, it points readers to a dedicated section of its website explaining maintenance efforts.

Or consider the recent announcement that IHG Hotels & Resorts will partner with Unilever to replace mini-toiletries with multiple amenities in more than 4,000 hotels. This is an important step in the hotel chain’s commitment to eliminating single-use items throughout guests ’stays by 2030, according to the company.

Is this true or greenwashing? The IHG announcement contains some specific and verifiable promises. It noted that Unilever brand Dove will begin providing full-size hand wash and lotion to Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Avid Hotels, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites in several locations. IHG says the switch to full-size bathroom amenities is expected to save at least 850 tons of plastic annually. The company also has a dedicated page for its green initiatives.

How do you find greenwashing?

“The most obvious way you’ll see this is through excessive use of plastic,” said Larry Snider, vice president of operations at Casago Vacation Rentals. “These are individually packaged soaps, plastic cups, which are usually also wrapped in plastic, and plastic trash cans.”

There is also a corporate culture. Do employees drive their vehicles to work or cycle? Are they talking about sustainability in a meaningful way or are they just repeating recycled slogans about sustainability? Did they volunteer in their local communities? Those are all ways of determining if a company is serious about sustainability, experts say.

The problem is, usually, you don’t know until you’ve reached your destination. And by that time, it was all too late. Experts say it is likely to remain that way until the travel industry comes up with a workable and widely recognized certification program. But time is running out.

Potential travelers should consider local and national public directives regarding pandemic before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map that displays travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC travel health notice webpage.