How can you tell if a travel company is environmentally conscious?

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Travel consumes precious natural resources, pollutes the environment, and punctures the ozone layer. You probably already know that most vacations aren’t green. But does the travel industry know?

A 2023 survey by Booking.com found that 74% of travelers believe they need to “act now” to make more sustainable choices to protect the planet for future generations. I found out that there is. This was an increase from 66% the previous year. Still, hotels continue to act as if discarding single-use soaps and sourcing restaurant ingredients locally could reverse climate change.

And even as travelers feel the effects of climate change, airlines often make outrageous claims to being “sustainable.”

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Experts say it’s gone too far.

“It can’t just be about the impressive goal of reusable water bottles,” says Kathleen, sustainability engineer at design firm Buro Happold and contributor to the book “The Regenerative Materials Movement.”・Mr. Hetrick says. “There needs to be intention, and of course there needs to be measurable action behind it.”

This is a good way to say, “Enough is enough. We don’t need any more greenwashing.”

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What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing, the practice of making exaggerated claims about a company’s sustainability to attract visitors, is ubiquitous.

Last fall, Austrian Airlines lost a lawsuit brought by a consumer group that accused it of promoting carbon-neutral flights using 100% sustainable aviation fuel. The lower court found the advertisement to be misleading.

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled in December that Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad Airways had run ads promising passengers “more sustainable flying” and “a commitment to protecting the environment.”The regulator said the advertising was false and misleading and noted that air travel emits high levels of both carbon and non-carbon dioxide.2 emissions.

Closer to home, one of the biggest greenwashing incidents in recent years occurred at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego County, a resort that has won numerous environmental awards. Activists discovered that the resort was trapping and killing wild animals such as skunks and possums.

The point here is that it’s very difficult to tell if an airline or hotel is greenwashing. There are no environmental police patrolling the resort. Your resort might make wildly false claims about how it cares for the environment, and you’d be none the wiser.

Or do you?

How can you tell if a travel company is truly environmentally conscious?

Let’s be honest: There’s no such thing as a “green” vacation. No matter what, you’ll leave a carbon footprint behind. But your trip could turn greenish. Below are some questions.

  • Are you a B Corporation? A B Corp is a company that has met rigorous standards set by the non-profit organization B Lab. These include governance, worker, customer, community, and environmental requirements. You can search a directory of these forward-thinking companies online. There are some pretty well-known brands like Intrepid Travel. But at least for now, you won’t find any names of major airlines, car rental companies, or hotel chains.
  • Does the company have other environmental certifications? Third-party certifications by Green Key, LEED, and WELL can indicate that a travel company is serious about the environment. Freight companies may also offer verified offsets from organizations like Terrapass and Gold Standard Foundation. These certifications do not guarantee that a company is environmentally friendly, but they are a good start.
  • What does the company say to everyone? If a company claims to be environmentally friendly, don’t just take their word for it. hear what it says. If you see bikini models lounging around a pool on your Instagram channel or only ads for online discounts on your site, it’s probably a fake green shade. “A company’s social media strategy generally reflects the company’s current ethos and goals,” explains Craft Travel founder Julia Carter. If you see posts about sustainability and conservation, that could be a positive sign.
  • How deep is our commitment to the environment? Look for reliable reports on sustainability from travel companies. For example, The Travel Corporation publishes an annual impact report that charts the company’s progress against 11 sustainability goals set by the United Nations. Many cruise lines also issue detailed reports that allow you to check their environmental efforts against several objective criteria. For example, Carnival Corporation shows which goals have been completed and which are still in progress.

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Looking for a green getaway? Be skeptical

Let me tell you a story that deviates from the script a little. Most of the environmental claims made by the travel industry are nonsense. The only green they care about is the color of the cash. On the other hand, I am very conscious about the environment. (That’s why I reused that line from the previous story.)

But seriously, as someone who literally travels all the time, I’ve noticed two consistent truths. One is that no matter what the travel industry claims, it will always benefit more than the planet. In other words, if it’s a choice between doing something that helps the environment and making money, money wins.

Second, travelers lie about what they want. They tell pollsters that they want to make a difference and care deeply about the environment. Then they turned around and booked the cheapest hotel room they could find. (Is it LEED certified? No need to worry!). They choose the cheapest airline. (Are you using biofuel? It doesn’t matter!).

And that has created an environment where travelers pretend they want a green vacation and the travel industry pretends to give it to them.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking of taking a green vacation, you might want to think again. Travel, no matter how you arrive at your destination, has a negative impact on the environment. If you want to go completely green, stay home.

Elliott’s tips for spotting travel companies that are greenwashing

It’s hard to overstate it, but almost everything in the travel industry has a fake green tint to it. Here’s how to identify and avoid the biggest offenders.

  • look for magic tricks: Some companies emphasize environmentally friendly practices that are unrelated to their main environmental impact. For example, airlines may have small-scale recycling programs but fail to address their massive carbon footprint. “That’s irrelevant,” said Kristin Wincafe, a travel advisor at Wincafe Global Travel.
  • Be careful not to focus too much on one program: Greenwashing companies focus on a single initiative but miss the big picture, says Justin Smith, owner of Evolved Traveler, an agency focused on sustainable travel. For example, hotels that advertise their commitment to ditching single-use plastics and utensils may be missing out on an opportunity to create truly sustainable products by also supporting local residents. “Such practices demonstrate that there is not a full or serious commitment to sustainability,” he said.
  • Be careful of ambiguous expressions and buzzwords: Please be suspicious. Hotels that call themselves green, or even worse, “ecolodges”, should receive special scrutiny. However, many of the terms thrown around are not just popular, they are also vague. “Vague and unverifiable claims can be a sign of trouble,” said Shannon Gaihan, president of the Treadlight Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Travel Corporation.

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and Elliott Report, a customer service news site. If you need help with a consumer issue, you can contact him here or email chris@elliott.org.

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