October 11, 2023
By Kim Campbell

A green hotel is exactly what it sounds like: a property committed to promoting sustainability and helping protect the environment through eco-friendly, green practices. A flexible phrase, “green hotels,” can describe chain hotels, motels, inns, resorts, B&Bs, and other lodging partners. As long as your property is committed to reducing the environmental impact of travel and tourism, you could be a green hotel.  

In this post, we’re taking a closer look at what being green actually means. We’ll explore how green hotels provide quality facilities, excellent customer service, and top-notch accommodations—all while limiting their environmental impact. From water waste reduction initiatives to energy-efficient architecture, you’ll uncover real-world eco-friendly initiatives that can help make your property more sustainable.

Why should your hotel go green (if it hasn’t already)?

If your hotel hasn’t already committed to green initiatives, here are three reasons why you should:

1. We must reduce the environmental impact of hotels

From overconsumption to habitat loss, many parts of the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries significantly harm the environment. Soil erosion, pollution, and added endangered species pressures are just a few ways hotels can negatively impact their natural surroundings.

Recent reporting from CBRE Group shows that hotels sit very high on the CO2 scale—at 96. With similar industries averaging a rate of 80 on the same scale, green hotel initiatives should be at the forefront of every industry professional’s mind.

2. Modern consumers want sustainable solutions

The number of sustainable-minded travelers is booming, and hotels that want to remain competitive must keep up. In 2022, 78% of Statista survey respondents noted their intent to stay in an eco-friendly location at least once in the coming year, with 81% of travelers noting the importance of sustainable travel.

In light of consumers’ increasing concerns about climate change and the impact travel and tourism have on the planet, more consumers are turning to green hotels than ever before. Additionally, travelers seek destinations that help them escape catastrophic weather, like hurricanes, flooding, and increasing temperatures. Sustainability affects which destinations tourists visit, when they plan their travel, and what they can do while at their destination.

3. Sustainability is profitable

The demand for sustainable, environmentally-conscious, and ethically responsible travel is rising, with the global sustainable tourism industry valued at $181.1 billion (sustainable tourism statistics by Avantio). Hotels that fail to adapt to green business models and more sustainable practices risk losing more than loyal customers; they risk losing their position as dependable players in their local markets.

Are all green hotels the same?

Also called eco-hotels and sustainable properties, “green hotels” may refer to many different hotel types. Some properties, like the Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, were built with the intention of promoting a luxurious and sustainable travel philosophy. The lodge’s remote location allowed the property engineers to create a self-sustaining waste management system that supports the brand’s mission to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

However, most hotels were not designed with sustainability as the primary inspiration. Still, many recognizable hotel brands have adopted more modern, eco-friendly means of operation to keep up with the times and changes in consumer demand. Notable hotel chains celebrated for their sustainability initiatives include:  

  • Marriott International
  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
  • Choice Hotels
  • IHG Hotels and Resorts
  • NH Hotels
  • Hilton Hotels
  • Ruby Hotels
  • Fairmont hotels

What makes a hotel green?

A green hotel is a property dedicated to reducing its environmental impact and carbon footprint. While there are no specific criteria they must meet to be labeled “green,” they implement policies, follow procedures, sell goods, and operate their businesses in a manner designed to have less environmental impact. Green hotels embrace corporate and social responsibility and work hard to promote those values in their communities.

Sustainable hotels strive to minimize their effect on their immediate environment and global pollution levels. Eco-friendly accommodations improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and improve the well-being of guests and staff through various initiatives, which may begin with the hotel’s construction and continue in daily practice. Standard green hotel practices include:

  • Designing a new property using sustainable or recycled materials
  • Operating a non-smoking facility
  • Installing smart thermostats and smart lighting
  • Using non-toxic housekeeping products
  • Going paperless (e.g., electronic billing)
  • Purchasing organic linen, towels, and mattresses
  • Investing in renewable energy resources, like wind and solar panels
  • Reducing hotel waste
  • Promoting less consumption (i.e., reusing towels or refilling water bottles)
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Innovative and inspirational green hotels 

Whether instituting green hotel policies for the first time or looking for ways to take your current initiatives to the next level, you can turn to industry leaders for inspiration. Here are four hotels that understand the value of going green and have built their brands around it.

1. Proximity Hotel

Named the Greenest Hotel in America in 2007, the Proximity Hotel is located in historic Greensboro, North Carolina. 90% of the steel used to construct the Proximity came from recycled post-consumer materials. Topped with over one hundred solar panels, the hotel recycles 75% of its waste and is LEED Platinum-certified. The Proximity is the perfect location to host an intimate single-day event or a massive executive retreat.

2. CitizenM Hotels

CitizenM is a cutting-edge, sustainability-focused hotel brand based in Amsterdam. Nestled in the Netherlands, CitizenM took advantage of the lower costs, labor, and resources required to build modular properties. Various hotel components, such as the guestrooms, were constructed offsite and assembled at the final location. Traditionally, hotel construction produces 10-20% waste, but CitizenM’s modular method reduced waste to approximately 2%, simultaneously decreasing supply chain and building costs.

3. Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay

Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay was the first central California hotel to receive LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The prestigious certification showcases the commitment and effort the hotel put forward to reduce its environmental impacts using creative methods and alternative energy, such as solar panels.

A waterfront property, Portola Hotel uses cogeneration to simultaneously generate electricity and meet the property’s hot water needs. The hotel also pioneered early industrial efforts to reduce water usage with eco-friendly amenities, like low-flow faucets, shower heads, and an ozone laundry system.

4. The Hideout

If you’re planning a sustainable destination trip to southern Thailand, look no further than The Hideout. An eco-friendly treehouse hotel overlooking Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, The Hideout is a self-proclaimed haven for “digital detoxing.”

Located in the lush, untouched jungle on the island of Koh Yao Noi, everything about this hotel, from the palm leaf roof and bamboo blinds to its wellness programs and sustainable five-star cuisine, sings eco-friendly. While many green hotels employ technology to meet their goals, The Hideout is a tech-free haven that runs off of 100% renewable resources.

What hoteliers need to know about going green

Although the rewards are impactful and plentiful, there are a few things hotels should consider when going green. Hotels seeking to reduce their environmental impact should:

  • Implement a strategic yet holistic approach. While the hotel should focus on setting realistic, attainable sustainability goals, providing green training, education, and employee guidance is also critical. Take a comprehensive approach to going green. Conduct an environmental audit to assess your current standing, identify opportunities for improvement, and create an integrated action plan to push the hotel toward sustainability.
  • Pinpoint the areas of most waste. Although measuring hotel waste accurately can be a challenge, you can still work to reduce the total waste your property expels. Some of the most significant areas of hotel waste include water overuse, food waste, and CO2 contributions. Identifying the hotel’s problem areas could greatly reduce your environmental impact.
  • Identify initiatives your hotel budget can realistically accommodate. Determine the cost of installing new green technology and look for ways to offset expensive initiatives with exclusive promotions, special events, or creative hotel pricing strategies.   
  • Know your target audience and invest in the programs they care about. Uncover which environmental practices or concerns matter most to your guests (e.g., climate change, pollution, or overconsumption). Create green initiatives, products, and services based on consumer feedback and promote them through the hotel booking channels where target customers will see them.
  • Build a green team. Institute a Green Hotel Team. Put them in charge of tracking and measuring hotel sustainability initiatives. Ask for regular updates, suggestions, and feedback on what’s working or what isn’t.

Learn more about what 2024 has in store for hospitality

Creative green hotel initiatives that work

Sustainable initiatives vary from hotel to hotel and are often inspired by the destination, the hotel’s customer base, or brand initiatives. Some of our favorite real-world sustainability initiatives include:

1. Refillable water stations

Single-use plastic containers are one of the planet’s primary pollutants. Even when recycled appropriately and sent to the correct location, very little of what is sent to recycling is recycled. Reduce the amount of single-use plastic your hotel consumes by replacing old, tired vending machines with purified water refilling stations for guests instead. Encourage upcoming guests to bring a reusable water bottle during their travels or purchase one at the hotel’s retail shop.

2. Towel reuse programs

At the average hotel, laundry accounts for 16% of water usage, but implementing a towel reuse program can bring that number down significantly. By involving guests in the hotel program, Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas—a massive resort and casino—reduced water usage by more than 30 million gallons.

In a report with National Geographic, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA) estimated that the request to reuse hotel towels reduced the total loads of laundry being washed, leading to a further 17% reduction in related energy, water, labor, and sewer costs. The report also found that reducing the number of times a towel gets washed increases its’ lifespan, further cutting replacement costs and unnecessary hotel waste.

3. Eco-friendly keycards

Plastic room keys are among the most significant contributors to hotel financial and environmental waste. Luckily,  there are many ways to reduce keycard waste, such as using environmentally-friendly keycards or encouraging guests to use digital room keys. Digital key cards are easy to keep up with, cost the hotel less, and provide guests the convenience of immediate, contactless check-in upon arrival.

4. Greener meals

Make green dining a core component of targeted marketing campaigns, like competitive lodging brands have done already. Choice Hotels has committed to only using 100% cage-free eggs in every single one of their properties’ kitchens by the year 2025, which is a unique selling point that shows the brand’s commitment to social responsibility.

Create organic, farm-to-table, or vegan meals to cultivate a greener hotel menu. Promote unique dishes and seasonal produce to attract foodies and wine lovers from around the region. Host guest chefs, promote specialty chef dinners, or organize cooking classes. Host a farm-to-table workshop highlighting how your hotel properly treats, processes, and prepares food for guests.

5. Smart hotel technologies

Innovations in automated hotel technology have made it easier than ever for properties to reduce waste and become more energy efficient. For example, hotel smart showers with pre-set timers are becoming more popular. Guests can preselect their shower duration, and an alarm notifies the user their time is almost up. In-room smart lighting fixtures can detect a guest’s presence, limiting electrical output when the room is empty. Smart thermostats optimize hotel energy consumption.

How to be a better green hotel

Regardless of size or service level, there are many different ways your hotel can work to become more environmentally friendly. Be a more sustainable lodging partner by:

  • Designing eco-friendly facilities. If you’re planning a new build, seek an architect with green design expertise. Work with them to develop a design constructed with reusable building materials or get help reducing the hotel’s impact on the surrounding environment. Discuss the future; for example, you might want to consider installing battery charging stations in the parking lot to serve guests with electric vehicles.
  • Investing in sustainable fixtures. Determine how much capital you have to invest in greener guestroom fixtures, such as low-flow faucets, self-set shower timers, shampoo dispensers, or smart lighting units. Expand smart lighting technology throughout the hotel, programming an innovative system to adjust lighting levels based on the time of day. Motion-detection lighting can reduce operating expenses in hotel facilities that are not open 24-7. Use motion-based or timed lighting in the hotel’s fitness center to reduce energy usage while supporting guest safety while the facility is closed.
  • Focusing on waste management. Start making your hotel a greener space today by reducing waste. Create a hotel recycling program. Install clearly labeled, easily accessible recycling bins throughout the hotel, and look for creative ways to limit the number of products the property distributes. Consider placing a few copies of popular newspapers in communal hotel areas instead of delivering one to each room daily.
  • Staying ahead of local, town, and state ordinances. Many locations, like New York City (NYC), are banning single-use toiletries in places like hotels. When the law goes into effect in 2025, the regulation could eliminate the use of more than 27 million single-use toiletry bottles in NYC, but lodgers who fail to meet the laws could face hefty penalties. Keep up with changes and potential shifts in local, county, and state ordinances.
  • Keeping up with eco-industry news. Subscribe to green hotel blogs, magazines, or newsletters to stay updated with the latest in green hotel news. In an increasingly competitive industry, staying ahead could mean staying in business.

Green hotel FAQs

What is ecotourism?

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) classifies sustainable tourism as a program that “takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.” Hotels that want to abide by UNWTO initiatives will strive to do the same.

What is LEED?

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program is an assessment and rating system designed by the U.S. Green Building Council to measure how green hotels are. To obtain an LEED rating, hotels must demonstrate that their design, construction, and daily operations meet LEED regulations. As more consumers seek LEED-certified hotels, architects have become more inspired to collaborate with hoteliers and build hotels with sustainable, long-lasting infrastructure.  

Become the leading green hotel in your market

Now that you have a better understanding of what being a green hotel really means, you’re ready to dive deeper and implement eco-friendly initiatives in your backyard. Even with everything covered in this post, we’ve just scratched the surface of green hotel operations. For real-world tips and actions your hotel can take right now, explore 25 eco-friendly ideas for sustainable properties.

Headshot of Cvent writer Kimberly Campbell

Kim Campbell

Kim is a full-time copy and content writer with many years of experience in the hospitality industry. She entered the hotel world in 2013 as a housekeeping team member and worked her way through various departments before being appointed to Director of Sales. Kim has championed numerous successful sales efforts, revenue strategies, and marketing campaigns — all of which landed her a spot on Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list.

Don’t be fooled though; she’s not all business! An avid forest forager, post-apocalyptic fiction fan, and free-sample-fiend, Kim prides herself on being well-rounded.

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