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What is a Green Hotel?

BY: Molly Metzig | Sep 19, 2016

hotel staff using green cleaning products 1 jpg

Green cars. Green dishwashers. Greenspace. Once just a color, “green” is now widely used to suggest that something is environmentally friendly.  It’s not always obvious what “green” means, though, especially when it comes to hotels. But it’s extra important to be on the lookout for eco-friendly practices when booking a vacation, since a hotel's sheer size and occupancy have the potential to leave a huge footprint on our planet.

There are more than 800 kinds of green hotel certifications out there—but do they actually mean anything? Can hotels be kind to the earth, even if they aren’t certified?

In a word: yes. Read on as we demystify what it takes to make an eco-friendly hotel.

What Makes a Hotel “Green”?

Even if a hotel doesn’t have an official green hotel certification, it might have a number of eco-friendly habits that can be lifesaving for the planet. As you consider making a reservation, keep an eye out for some of the following practices and products:

  • the option to reuse your towels or sheets
  • a placard near the door that reminds you to turn off the lights, climate control, and TV
  • toilet paper made of recycled materials
  • nontoxic cleaning products that won’t harm the environment
  • solar panels
  • water-conserving toilets
  • electric-car charging stations
  • farm-to-table dining
  • programs that efficiently use electricity and minimize carbon dioxide output

My Hotel Has a Green Certification—What Does It Mean?

Chances are, a quick look at its website will reveal its eco-friendly cred, since most hotels are quite proud of their earth-saving measures—as they should be. But here’s a quick rundown of five of the most common green hotel certifications:

Energy Star: Approved by Uncle Sam

Energy Star is a popular certification from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Hotels must report 12 months of energy-consumption data to be verified by a professional engineer or registered architect in order to earn an Energy Star. On average, Energy Star hotels use 35% less energy and emit 35% less carbon dioxide than similar buildings.

Green Seal: Good for the Earth and the Community

A Green Seal means you’ll find a hotel recycling program, energy-efficient laundry and kitchen appliances, and biodegradable cleaning products. Bonus: if the hotel has an onsite restaurant, this seal indicates the kitchen donates leftover food to local food pantries.

LEED: Green From the Ground Up

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is a coveted architectural distinction. Hotels can earn certified, silver, gold, or platinum LEED status by using recycled building materials, having energy-efficient windows, and meeting a long list of other features. It’s possibly the most challenging green hotel certification to achieve.

Green Key: The U.N. of Eco-Friendliness

Started in Denmark in 1994, Green Key tracks water, energy, and chemical use to identify eco-friendly hotels in more than 40 countries. Onsite audits happen during a hotel's first two years in the program and every three years after that.

Note: The Green Key program costs each participating hotel several hundred dollars a year—and that’s not atypical for green hotel certifications. For that reason, not all hotels pursue certification, even if they’re qualified.

TripAdvisor GreenLeader: A Handy Traveler’s Tool

When a hotel has this badge on TripAdvisor, you can click the level (Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) to view a list of its eco-friendly practices. At a minimum, GreenLeader hotels must recycle, offer guests the option to reuse towels and sheets, regularly track their buildings’ energy use, and employ energy-efficient light bulbs.