Have you ever heard the term “green hotel”? How about “sustainable resort” or “eco-friendly tours”? The green travel market can be difficult to navigate with so many terms being thrown around. Businesses sometimes use these terms dishonestly in an effort to appeal to a growing movement of conscientious travelers without actually having any environmentally or socially responsible policies in place. Here, we hope to shed some light on what these terms really mean.
Going further than “green”
What does “green” really mean? Usually, nothing! Unfortunately, the word “green” has been used so often and loosely in recent years that it has become diluted. Some have used the term “greenwashing” to describe a PR tactic in which a business deceptively promotes the perception that their policies are environmentally friendly. The term was first coined by researchers in the 1980s in a study that described the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room that encouraged guests to reuse their towels. The study found that the hotels ultimately made little to no effort to actually conserve resources or reduce waste; they just wanted to appear green in order to increase profits.
To be clear, not every hotel that uses the word “green” is automatically guilty of greenwashing–the responsible traveler just has to dig a little deeper, and the Rainforest Alliance is here to help. We work with tourism businesses to help them conserve natural resources and support local communities, and those that comply with our rigorous standards earn the right to use the Rainforest Alliance Verified mark.
So go further than green! Most environmentally-friendly hotels have information on their website about their “green” initiatives, so you can easily learn about the concrete measures they are taking to conserve natural resources, protect plants and wildlife, and contribute to the well-being of local communities.
Putting the “eco” in ecotourism
Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” The key principles of ecotourism include minimizing impact, protecting biodiversity, building environmental awareness, and respecting local culture. Typically, the primary attractions for ecotourists are flora, fauna, and cultural heritage.
Sustainable tourism: the total package
Sustainable tourism businesses support environmental conservation, social development, and local economies. Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are similar concepts and share many of the same principles, but sustainable tourism is broader; it covers all types of travel and destinations, from luxury to backpacking and bustling cities to remote rainforests. A sustainable tourism business must also be financially sustainable—in order for sustainable tourism to thrive, it has to be profitable for business owners.
Examples of sustainable business practices include conserving water and energy, supporting community conservation projects, recycling and treating wastes, hiring staff from the local community, paying them just wages and providing training, and sourcing locally-produced products for restaurants and gift shops. Sustainable tourism businesses take concrete actions to enhance the well-being of local communities and make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. In doing so, they cut down on their own costs and preserve the longevity of their operation in addition to attracting responsible travelers.
What’s a traveler to do?
Even though “sustainable tourism” and “ecotourism” are more meaningful terms than “green tourism,” the responsible traveler shouldn’t just take these claims at face value. No matter what a hotel or tour operator says about their green credentials, always investigate further. Be sure to ask, “What is this business doing to preserve the environment and support the local community?” If you want to be 100 percent sure that a tourism business is doing what it claims, opt for those that have been certified or verified for sustainability by an independent, third-party organization.
If you’re heading to Latin America or the Caribbean and looking for a sustainable hotel or tour operator, we’ve already done the legwork for you. All of the businesses featured on SustainableTrip.org have been thoroughly vetted to ensure that they are truly sustainable–and each business has a “Making a Difference” section on their profile so you can read all about their sustainability initiatives.
Do you have your own thoughts on green, eco-, or sustainable tourism? Share them with us in the comments!