Tag - eco-labels

Why Hotel Eco-Labels Don’t Work

Sun umbrella made from natural materials such as wood and straw.
Hotel Eco-Label Schemes

It is no secret that hotels are increasingly becoming aware that following the principles and guidelines of sustainable tourism has positive effects on staff satisfaction, energy and water consumption, brand appreciation, and customer feedback.

There are a number of organizations that provide free or paid sustainability management tools and assist with marketing the hotel as “green” or “responsible”. The extensive amount of sustainable tourism certification schemes can also serve as pointers for travelers to find the hotel they are looking for. This list from DestiNet will give you an excellent overview of the various sustainable tourism certification schemes worldwide and their individual focus. The list is not complete. In fact, according to Green Hotels Association there are currently around 800 eco/green/sustainable hotel certification organizations worldwide ranging from a local-regional scope to a global one.

Challenges of eco-certification of hotels

Here we outline some of the major challenges related to hotel eco-labels and green certification:

Figure showing issues and challenges of hotel eco-labels and hotel sustainability certification schemes

Understanding the Sustainable Hotel Certification Schemes

It gets a little complicated though, when you find out that each provider of these services has its own sustainability definitions, criteria, monitoring, and accreditation methods. One scheme might only consider environmental sustainability, while others include social and economic aspects also. The importance of certain sustainability aspects will vary from setting to setting. For example, supporting wildlife protection is less important in a London hotel compared to a rainforest lodge in the Amazonas. Sustainability schemes give medals, green leaves, palms or sometimes stars. How do you compare them? Additionally, some organizations include third party accreditation where an external expert audits the hotel’s position on formal criteria, while others are merely based on self-monitoring and evaluation according to a checklist.  As the services of the sustainability management organizations wary greatly in scope and focus, so do their fees for participation.

Consequently, if you want to understand how and why a particular hotel is certified, you will have to closely read through the selection criteria and score systems of the organizations that give certifications.

Why some hotels do not want to be certified by sustainability organizations

It is not uncommon to find hotels that don’t want to market themselves as environmentally friendly or be part of a tourism sustainability scheme. This is sometimes because they don’t want their hotel to be associated and grouped with other hotels that don’t match their own standards and efforts on sustainability. In other words, the most dedicated hotels feel they are so far ahead of the pack that they see themselves in another sustainability league. Theses hotels would much rather be featured in The National Geographic or win a green hotel award for their efforts on sustainability, rather than be included in a “weak” group of sustainable hotels where the bar is too low.

I have inspected hotels that score high on certain sustainability schemes, yet with no sign of commitment beyond the standard request of guests to reuse towels and bed-linen. I have also inspected hotels with no accreditation or available information on their sustainability efforts where sustainability was clearly an integral part of the management of the hotel.

Green Hotels Association offers a stark critique of certification schemes, saying that

Certification is very expensive and very time consuming. The certifying entity will want you to recertify every year or at least every other year—again spending thousands of dollars and many long hours.


We believe a much better choice is to use the money you would spend on certification to improve the quality of the stay…

Small hotels don’t have resources to be certified

To be certified by a sustainability organization takes time and it costs money. Not all hotels can spend resources on assessing, monitoring, evaluating, and setting up environmental policies for their property. Even though many of the certification schemes will offer lower participation prices for small hotels, this might not be where a small hotel, lodge, guesthouse, or homestay wants to spend its money. This means that a lot of the smaller hotels will never appear if you search for eco-certified hotels.

This is a shame, since many smaller accommodation providers quite often are much more environmentally and socially sustainable than their bigger counterparts. For example, “leakage” is not a big issue in small family-owned hotels. Compared to big hotels and hotel groups, small accommodation providers are more likely to…

  • be locally owned
  • hire local staff
  • buy local food and goods
  • use less resources in the construction of the hotel
  • generate less waste
  • use less water and electricity

In contrast, an international luxury hotel will put more stress on the local environment due to much higher overall consumption (watering gardens, air-conditons, spas, pools etc.), and it will generally have to import goods and staff to maintain its international standards.

Easier identification and easier booking of eco-hotels

The good news is that more and more 4-5 star hotels and international hotel chains have become aware of their environmental and social impact and now work to implement sustainability into the management and operation of their hotels. The availability of green and responsible hotels is therefore steadily increasing, with or without certification schemes.

New services for finding hotels, reading about their efforts, and giving overviews of their certifications and sustainability awards are already there or in the making. This makes it much easier for travelers to find eco-hotels at any desired destination.

Check in on later, as we return with a guide on how to find a sustainable hotel.