Greenwashing In The Travel Industry And Why Should You Care

You probably hear the term greenwashing quite a lot these days but perhaps aren’t quite sure what it really means?

In essence, greenwashing involves falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution promotes environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations. This can also include misleading customers about the environmental benefits of a product through misleading advertising and unsubstantiated claims.

Greenwashing occurs in all industries, and travel is no exception. A hotel chain, for example, might promote itself as green because it allows guests the option of reusing towels or sleeping on the same set of sheets for more than one night. It’s a step in the right direction but, according to the University of Oregon’s Greenwashing Index (GWI), this policy “actually does very little to save water and energy where it counts — on its grounds, with its appliances and lighting, in its kitchens, and with its vehicle fleet.”

With 2017 declared the year of sustainable tourism by the United Nations, green travel is now officially at the top of the agenda in one of the fastest growing industries in the world. The demand for responsible and sustainable travel experiences from travellers is growing, irresponsible attractions such as elephant trekking or swimming with dolphins are becoming less and less popular as awareness is being raised. They are even being replaced with more responsible alternatives as the industry realizes that is where the tourists – and the money – are going. Accommodation options are all starting to promote their eco friendly credentials, whilst some are even using it as a whole marketing technique and declaring themselves eco hotels.

There is no internationally recognized group that certifies the environmental practices of the travel industry, so it’s mostly up to individual vacationers to make their getaways as green as possible. The more information you can find on each entity of your trip, the better for the environment, the local people and your experience. Research extensively online before investing in your trip, here are some concrete tips:

For activities and tours that involve locals and claim to give back to the community, you need to ask:

  • Is the activity empowering local people or exploiting them?

  • Are the tours and activities run by locals or by international organizations?

  • Do they employ local people or source supplies locally?

  • What (if any) percentage of profits goes back to the community or community projects?

For wildlife attractions you need to ask:

  • Are they part of any international overwatch organizations that apply strict guidelines?

  • Do they uphold internationally recognized standards in their activities or tours?

  • Do they allow any riding, touching or interacting with the animals involved?

  • Are the animals kept in unsuitable conditions or forced to perform shows?

For finding accommodation we suggest the following:

  • Read reviews from other guests to find out actual standards (and help us review places at oneplanetrating.org)

  • If the company claims the lodging is environmentally friendly, have travelers noticed their efforts?

  • Do they have low flow water fixtures, staff people from the local community, and change out towels and sheets only on request?

  • Does their website have detailed information on their sustainability efforts and do you see those matched up in traveler reviews?

  • Investigate certification programs in the area you wish to travel in and research marketing claims to make sure you are really building a better world through ecotourism, while also traveling in it.

If you take the time to make informed travel decisions, you have the power to drive sustainable innovation in tourism. One of the most meaningful things tourists can do is to share ecotourism experiences (positive or negative) with friends, family and others in their network. What did you learn about the environment you visited? Did your stay respect it? Did your trip contribute to the wellbeing of local communities? Log in to One Planet Rating and tell us all about it!

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