How to Travel Green in 2023: Eco-Friendly Hotels and More
In the face of climate change and an uptick in natural disasters, there’s a big push to go green.
At home, we turn off the bathroom faucet while brushing our teeth, and we try to conserve energy by not touching the thermostat so much (even on steamy summer days).
All in the name of helping our planet.
But when you’re on the road or traveling for business, how do you minimize your impact on planet earth?
Here’s everything you need to know about traveling green, from booking eco-friendly hotel rooms to packing your luggage earth-smart.
What Is an Eco-Friendly Hotel?
Eco-friendly hotels are at the foundation of sustainable tourism and a growing trend in the face of a global climate crisis.
Also known as eco hotels, these accommodations lean on green initiatives to limit their carbon footprint and environmental impact.
But what makes a hotel “eco-friendly” exactly?
The 2017 Green Lodging Trends Report mentions a few key categories of environmentally conscious initiatives:
The average U.S. hotel spends about $2,196 per room per year on energy costs.
Generating this energy creates air pollution and emits harmful greenhouse gasses that directly link to global warming.
Here are some hotel initiatives that use clean or reduced energy:
- Renewable energy sources (i.e., wind, solar panels)
- Electric vehicle charging stations
- Interior LED light bulbs
- In-room occupancy sensors connected to digital thermostats
- Window films (for indoor temperature control)
- EnergyStar appliances
One of the hottest trends in eco-lodging is the “zero waste” goal — or cutting how much trash the hotel sends to the landfill. Hotel guests average about 2.5 pounds of waste created per day, with 40–50% of it being non-recyclable.
Common waste management practices in hotels include:
- Recycling bins in each room
- On-site composting for food scraps
- Only selling recyclable or multi-use plastics on hotel grounds
- Reusable plates, utensils, and towels
- Bathroom soap dispensers and hand dryers
- Donating excess food and supplies to the community
Did you know that the average hotel room uses up to 73,000 gallons of water every year?
Water conservation initiatives can reduce the likelihood of droughts and increase the availability of water while reducing the energy used to purify it.
Here are the most sustainable practices for water conservation:
- Low-flow toilets in guest rooms
- Rainwater collection
- More efficient faucets, showers, and bathtubs
Other Sustainable Practices in Hotels
Water, waste, and energy management are the simplest sustainable trends across the lodging industry.
Yet, there are some other practices common in eco-friendly hotels:
- Local sourcing of food ingredients (specifically organic food)
- Organic gardens to supply the restaurant with fruits and vegetables
- Non-smoking properties
- Organic mattresses (i.e., hemp)
- Green, biodegradable, and chemical-free cleaning products
- Locally sourced building materials
How to Be an Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Traveler
The best way to become an eco-friendly traveler is to book guest rooms at hotels with these sustainable practices in place.
But what can you do to reduce your carbon footprint while on a business trip or vacation?
Here are seven tips for becoming a more sustainable traveler:
Reuse Towels and Bed Sheets
Daily room service is one of the luxuries of booking a hotel suite instead of, say, a rental house. A stack of fresh towels in the bathroom and crisp, clean sheets are the pinnacle of traveling in style.
Yet, sending these linens to off-site cleaners every day wastes plenty of water and energy while also pushing harsh detergents into the water supply.
Instead, ask the front desk staff if you can reuse your towels and bedsheets for the length of your trip.
Use the Hotel Room’s Electricity Sparingly
Business trips may drag you out of your hotel room before sunrise and keep you out until after dusk. There’s no need to have electricity on while you’re out of the room.
Before you leave your room, take some energy-saving precautions:
- Switch off the lights
- Power down the TV
- Set the in-room air conditioning unit to its energy-saving mode
- Unplug any charging devices
Bring a Travel Mug or Water Bottle
If you drank the recommended 64 ounces of water per day from 16-ounce plastic bottles, you’d discard four bottles per day — or 1,460 each year.
That figure alone explains why reusable water jugs and travel mugs are the next big thing in sustainability.
These eco-friendly containers are easy to fill on the go; just find the closest water fountain. They also store more water (32+ ounces), are insulated to keep your water cool for hours, and are BPA-free.
Bring Reusable Straws, Containers, and Utensils
Whether you’re dining out at local restaurants or ordering room service, a “zero waste” trip begins with packing reusable goods. Pack a metal straw, reusable food containers (if you’re meal-prepping), and a metal utensil set.
Or, ask your server not to give you a straw at all. Americans send half a billion plastic straws to the landfill each day, starting the 200-year countdown until it completely decomposes.
Walk or Bike to Destinations
Even driving a single mile in a gas-powered vehicle releases an average of 404 grams of CO2 into the environment. Carbon dioxide also happens to be the greenhouse gas most responsible for intensifying the current global warming crisis.
The simplest eco-friendly travel tip is to drive as little as possible.
Walking and biking create zero emissions and are a reasonable alternative when your destination is within a mile radius. If that’s not possible, book a group rideshare service or use public transportation to get around.
(Walking and biking are great ways to stay healthy while traveling, too!)
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in that order for a reason.
Your main goal is to reduce how much you use and how much waste you create. For example, you might choose souvenirs with minimal packaging or use one square of paper towels instead of three.
The next most important step is to reuse. That could mean refilling a water bottle or repurposing prescription medication bottles to store earbuds.
Lastly, if there’s no other choice, recycle. Cardboard, paper, aluminum, and many plastics will go to the local recycling plant to create new products.
Pack Your Own Hygiene Products
The complimentary mini shampoo bottles, toothpastes, and wrapped bar soaps are among the more convenient perks of booking a hotel room. But at just a few ounces apiece, they hardly last the entire trip.
Refill them the night before you leave with your favorite products from home. In addition to being TSA and eco-friendly, they also take up less space in your luggage and allow you to use the products you already use every day.
How to Cut Fuel Costs While Traveling
Unless your meeting or project happens to be in a big city with plenty of nearby hotels, it’s not always possible to use zero fuel while traveling.
However, these tips will lessen your emissions and cut fuel costs on the go:
Book Hotels Within Walking Distance of Public Transport
Most major cities and metro areas offer public transportation, whether it’s buses, subways, trains, trollies, or light rail.
Public transportation cuts the U.S.’s daily fuel use by some 11 million gallons per day. Booking a hotel within a few blocks of these stations will also cut out the middleman (i.e., your own car or rideshare).
Avoid Driving Solo
Unless you’re traveling alone for business, carpooling with your coworkers is the best way to cut fuel use and costs. Pairing up with another coworker can cut these figures in half. A group of four will slash them by 75%
Rent an Electric Vehicle
Electric vehicles (or EVs) are the future of travel and leave behind the smallest carbon footprint of all vehicle options. In the U.S., electric cars produce 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gasoline cars.
If the company’s travel budget allows, rent an electric vehicle for the length of your stay.
Participate in a Local Bikeshare Program
Cycling is a zero-emission option for short-distance travel and local sightseeing in your downtime.
Use Cruise Control When Driving
Each time you press and release the gas pedal on a vehicle, the car’s fuel economy drops ever-so-slightly. A car’s cruise control setting helps the vehicle maintain a consistent speed — ideal for highway driving and long trips — until you apply the brakes or turn the setting off.
Cruise control won’t double a vehicle’s fuel economy or make an immediately noticeable impact. However, KIA suggests it can save 7–14% on fuel.
Save Money With Gas Price Apps
Mobile apps like GasBuddy track fuel costs at local pumps in real-time to help users save a few cents per gallon. Just plug in your hotel’s zip code and sort by cost to find the best prices near you.
Paying even five cents less per gallon on a 12-gallon tank can save you 60 cents per fill-up. This savings adds up if you travel for business frequently.
Book Seats on Non-Stop Flights
Did you know that 16.6% of a plane’s fuel usage comes from takeoff, landing, and taxiing? Booking non-stop flights with no layovers can save thousands of pounds of fuel.
Bundle Business Trips to the Same Region
Those who travel for business average about 6.8 trips per year, with the younger crowd booking even more often. Unfortunately, every time you travel to a destination, you’re contributing to the emissions problem.
For instance, say your company has investors in Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit, all of which are about 500 miles away from home. Visiting each of these locations separately requires 3,000 miles of travel in total, but lumping these trips together and adding a few extra days to your journey can cut this number in half.
How to Find a Green Hotel
Eco-friendly hotels are everywhere, whether you’re booking a luxury hotel with an infinity pool or a boutique hotel near a nature reserve.
But short of calling each front desk individually, how do you find a sustainable hotel for your upcoming business trip?
These three tips will make the search that much easier:
Look for Eco Credentials
Low-flow toilets, recycling programs, and solar initiatives are simple ways for hotels to become more “green” and shrink their carbon footprints. But the most eco-conscious hotels are those stamped with green certifications.
LEED-certified hotels are those that score 40+ points between six eco-friendly categories:
- Innovation and design
- Innovation in operations
- Indoor environment quality
- Materials and resources
- Energy and atmosphere
- Sustainable sites
A LEED platinum hotel ranks in the highest tier points-wise and is awarded to hotels designed and operated with ecotourism at the forefront (i.e., built with sustainable materials sourced from the local community).
Ask About Their Sustainable Initiatives
Hotels can also follow sustainable and eco-friendly practices without a green certification. Once you narrow down your choices to a few hotels, check their websites or call their front desks to ask about their green initiatives.
Listen for keywords like sustainable, organic, local, and recycle.
Book Through an Eco-Friendly Hotel Booking Engine
Booking a room at an eco-friendly hotel is step one. The next step is making that reservation with an environmentally conscious travel tool — like Hotel Engine.
In 2021, we committed to planting 250,000 trees through our partnership with One Tree Planted. And we met our goal in December of 2021, helping to reverse habitat loss in areas of the country damaged by natural disasters and disease.
Each dollar raised meant another tree planted.
Whether your travels bring you to Australia, Cambodia, Atlanta, or Los Angeles, traveling doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your passion for the environment.
The easiest way to minimize your footprint is to book a room at a LEED-certified or carbon-neutral hotel.
However, you can also reduce emissions, waste, and fuel costs by making eco-conscious choices throughout your trip. Say, reusing your hotel bath towels, renting an electric vehicle, or packing a metal straw in your suitcase.
Consider booking through Hotel Engine, too — we share your commitment to creating a better environment.
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.