How to find eco-friendly accommodations

Photo of a dining area with color plants and chairs and a turquoise couch, an example of how hostels can be ecofriendlly accommodation options as you use less resources sharing the space.
Hostels often mean you have less space to yourself, meaning you use less resources and make more friends!

Outside of transportation, accommodations gobble up a lot of resources and represent a large chunk of our eco footprint when we travel. Finding eco-friendly hotels or lodging is a huge step in minimizing that footprint and curating a more sustainable trip. It’s not always easy to find eco-properties though especially if you’re short on time.

In this post, I’ll show you where to find eco-friendly accommodations, what to look for, which questions to ask, and how to compare your options.

Where to look for eco-friendly accommodations

If you have free choice over your destination, one easy step to take is choosing a sustainable destination. Some cities are way ahead of others in sustainable tourism options, and other cities are completely overwhelmed by tourists and could really use a break from visitors altogether. Choosing an eco-friendly city will mean more options for eco-accommodations, and likely for more public transportation, green eateries, and ethical experiences too.

Another important step is to minimize the travel required to get from your hotel/hostel to the attractions on your itinerary. This usually means finding a place in the city. Figure out which neighborhood you might be spending the most time and set your sights on accommodations nearby.

Finally, it’s time to start actually seeking out accommodations.

See if there are eco-certification organizations in the region of your trip

When I say eco-certification organizations I’m referring to the ones who audit and award certifications of sustainability to accommodations who meet their individual standards. These standards vary from region to region and from organization to organization.

Important things to look for in confirming the validity of a certifying body (ie to make sure they’re not just selling eco certificates to anyone who wants to buy one), make sure their standards are clear, there are third-party auditors who provide the checks to each accommodation (rather than the hotel saying “yes, we’re meeting all your standards!) and the audits are regular (every year or two, typically).

Examples of these organizations include Biosphere, Austrian EcoLabel, and Ecotourism Ireland to name just a few. Most of these bodies will have websites where they’ll list the hotels/hostels or other accommodations who’ve received their certification. If you’re able to find a site like this, it’s probably the quickest way to identify all your eco-accommodation options.

A few I’ve found:

Austrian EcoLabel

Ecotourism Ireland

Ecotourism Australia

EU Ecolabel (European Union)

Fair Trade Tourism (South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania)

Great Green Deal (South & Latin America)

Green Globe (Worldwide)

Green Key Global (North America)

Green Sign (Europe, Tunis, South Africa)

Luxembourg Ecolabel (The website is in French/Danish, but you can probably still find eco-properties easily enough and translate on google)

Nordic Swan Ecolabel

Expand your search to green-booking platforms

You’re probably more familiar with booking sites than the previous platform. Think Booking.com, a booking site in itself, but did you know it has a partner site called Bookdifferent with eco properties?

A few I’ve found green-booking platforms I’ve found:

Responsible Travel

BookDifferent

EcoBnb

Coral Road

Consider options like homestays, workaways, and housesitting

Typically, these options mean you’re staying at someone else’s home, often in a guest room or dorm. Accommodations like this don’t inherently imply any sustainable practices are in place, but it does mean you’re spending the night at a home that would already be occupied and you’re supporting locals rather than corporations.

Odds are you’ll use a lot less resources sharing someone’s guest bedroom than renting out your own property for the week.

A few platforms I’ve found:

WWOOF (work on a farm in exchange for accommodations)

Workaway (I wrote a post about why you need to try Workaway)

Trusted Housesitters (watch peoples home and pets while they’re away)

Couchsurfing (find a couch to crash on for the night)

Photo of a workaway hostel banner as an example of how to find eco-friendly accommodations.
Photo from a hostel I stayed at through the Workaway program.

What to look for

What you should look for on accommodation websites are any signs of eco-friendly practices and standards. These will vary from place to place because there are a lot of ways to work on sustainability. Common eco-actions include:

  • recycling programs
  • plant-based mattresses or other furniture or supplies made from sustainable materials
  • locally-sourced food options, souvenirs, etc
  • energy efficient lightbulbs
  • water saving technology

The best places might even publish some stats on their resource use and plans for improvement.

Signs a place might be “greenwashing”

If there is no info on the hotel site about sustainability, it’s likely there are no sustainability efforts in place. As green travel becomes more popular, most good businesses are savvy enough to market their sustainability efforts, often to the point of dishonesty. Those who are making no effort to explain how they’re trying to improve their footprint are probably not making an effort to improve their footprint.

I’ve learned that many hotels tend to greenwash by presenting their mediocre efforts as huge green milestones that nobody else has considered. Think things like asking you to recycle your towels, turn of the lights, and skip room service when possible. These aren’t bad, but they put the onus of the sustainable action on the consumer signaling the hotel is worried about the environment when they’re really just concerned about saving themselves time doing laundry and cleaning rooms.

Don’t get it twisted, I highly advocate for all of these behaviors when you travel – do turn off lights and keep your cleaning services to a minimum. Still, giving guest an option to refuse room service does NOT an eco-friendly accommodation make. This goes for vague “we’re eco-friendly!” claims that provide no evidence of how that’s true. Just cus you say it doesn’t make it real.

Questions you can ask the hotel or hostel staff

If you have questions about a hotel or accommodations’s sustainability certifications or practices, shoot them an email or tag them on social media and ask them the questions on your mind. Here are a few ideas if you’re not sure where to start.

  • Where do you source your furniture, consumables, and food/drinks?
  • How many of your staff are hired locally?
  • What initiatives to you have in place to protect the environment and community?
  • Which energy or resource saving technologies have you implemented on your property?
  • Do you have any sustainability certifications?

What about ecolodges? Are all ecolodges eco-friendly?

Well, yes and no. By definition, ecolodges tend to focus on one or all of the following: providing local experiences, located in offbeat, nature-oriented places that aren’t overwhelmed by tourists, sustainability in location/materials/practices, an/or aiding the the local economy, typically by purchasing goods from and hiring locals. Sounds all good, right?

The issues is that there’s a lot of places greenwashing by using the term ecolodge too freely, and I think the term has taken on a more general meaning of “an accommodation in nature” rather than any guarantee of eco-mindedness. And obviously, just because you’re staying in a hotel in the woods doesn’t mean it’s eco-friendly or sustainable at all.

All that to say that you should still investigate the places who deem themselves ecolodges and determine for yourself whether they are simply ecolodges or actually eco-friendly lodges.

Photo of a wood bridge leading through mangroves into the woods.
Just because a place looks like this doesn’t mean it’s actually eco-friendly!

Don’t forget about tour groups

There are some amazing companies out there who run tours that are zero emissions, carbon-neutral, plastic free, or otherwise ahead of the game in sustainability. These groups work to find the most sustainable accommodations and support locals however they can. If you want to leave the work of trip planning to someone else, here’s a few tour groups I’d recommend.

Intrepid Travels

GAdventures

Contiki Tours

OneSeed Expeditions

Have you found this been helpful?

Hopefully now you feel much more equipped to find and book eco-friendly accommodations. If this has been helpful for you and you think someone in your life might benefit too, I’d love it if you shared this article with them!

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How to find eco-friendly accommodations
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