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Green Hotels: Find the Greenest Option

How do you differentiate between green hotels? It's a fact that finding a hotel the right shade of green to suit your conscience can be somewhat tiresome.

To make the choice a little easier, I've created a list of some of the top green measures a hotel, eco-lodge or sustainable accommodation choice can put into place.

But if you haven't read eco-friendly hotels yet, please do so now, as this article really gets into the nitty gritty of making a hotel green.

Green Hotels Criteria: Sustainable Building Design

A green building is one which is efficient in its use of energy, water and raw materials. Buildings generate waste (whether through its occupants, in construction or demolition) and emit potentially harmful emissions.

Thus, a green building design minimises the impact of construction on health and the environment through each and every aspect of its processes.

As mentioned in the overview of eco-friendly hotels, a hotel should ideally be built sustainably from the get-go. To convert an existing building into a green building can be costly, both for the environment and for the hotel's pocket.

While the definition of sustainable building design is constantly changing, some things remain common to any green building or proposed green hotel.

Green Hotels Criteria: The Use of Green Materials

The first step for a hotel is building with recycled or renewable,non-toxic materials which minimise environmental impact such as global warming, resource depletion and pollution.

Existing hotels can also convert their building into a eco-friendly one through retrofitting, doing maintenance or extensions with sustainable materials.

Today's sustainable hotels can be built out of tyres, beer bottles, and salvaged forest-fire wood. There are buildings made out of rammed earth, cob, adobe or stone. These are often called earthships, which are generally self-sustaining.

What's more, the materials used must be resilient and durable, as well as low maintenance.

Green Hotels Criteria: Energy Efficiency

To reduce energy consumption, eco-hotels use insulation and correct solar orientation, known as passive solar design (shaded in summer and warm in winter) as well as natural ventilation.

Effective window placement provides natural lighting, while solar panels or windmills harnessing the wind’s energy can further reduce energy costs.

Other simple operational measures in which a hotel can reduce its carbon footprint include:

  • Leaving vacant rooms unheated or uncooled. 
  • Switching off appliances after rooms are vacated
  • Heating hot water by gas (or renewable energy sources) only on demand
  • Changing light bulbs to low energy compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Linen to be changed only on request
  • Line drying all laundry
  • Motion sensors to control lighting
  • Keycard-controlled electricity for rooms

These are just a few ways in which a hotel can reduce its energy consumption, giving you a general overview of what to look out for in a green hotel.

Green Hotels Criteria: Water Conservation

An eco-friendly hotel or lodge needs to have water management procedures in place to reduce their use of this scarce resource. Strategies to use water efficiently include reusing or recycling water as well as harvesting water from rain, condensation or snow.

For instance, toilets can be fitted with a half flush button, sinks should have plugs, and taps can have a weak water flow. The hotel's greywater can also be used to water the garden (a truly eco-friendly hotel would use no chemical detergents thus the water can be used unfiltered for fruit trees or filtered for delicate produce).

Green Hotels Criteria: Wastewater Management

There are numerous ways to treat wastewater, any of which demonstrate a hotel's commitment to the environment. Many hotels use septic tanks while recently various kinds of compost toilets are becoming more widely-used (and accepted). 

Reed beds provide another filtration system, allowing treated wastewater to be used for irrigation.

Green Hotels Criteria: Pollution Prevention and Waste Management

The use of recycled materials means that a sustainable hotel does not contribute or limits its pollution. Other aspects to reduce pollution include using no harmful chemicals, fertilisers or pesticides both indoors and outdoors as well as minimising waste (reduce, reuse, recycle and composting).

An eco-friendly hotel might also use vermiculture (worm farming) to create rich compost from organic waste.

A sustainable hotel should also purchase products in bulk to reduce packaging, or even manufacture their own organic toiletries (natural soaps, shampoos and conditioners, for instance), thus ensuring less waste and less pollution.

Green Hotels Criteria: Contribution to Conservation

Hotels, eco-lodges and other green establishments need to live up to their green status by contributing to conservation. Although specific biodiversity practices vary depending on the particular resource concerned or the hotel's location, a hotel can:

  • Allow a portion of the hotel garden to grow wild, thus allowing natural biodiversity to flourish
  • Use indigenous plants in the gardens
  • Avoid souvenirs produced from threatened or protected plants and animals, and support local artisans/craftsmen 
  • Promote responsible recreation activities and support local biodiversity conservation efforts. 

Green Hotels Criteria: Keeping the supply chain green

Hotels must constantly review and update procedures to ensure all products and services are allied with their environmental goals.

A hotel can:

  • Purchase local products and use local services to reduce transportation costs
  • Use biodegradable, recyclable and eco-friendly products
  • Donate unused items/food to good causes
  • Grow their own vegetables organically
  • Source organic, Fair Trade products or produce their own

Green Hotels Criteria: Community Relations and Involvement

Part of making a commitment to the environment involves supporting a destination's local culture. Before choosing a hotel, check whether your hotel is involved in the local community, and to what level.

For instance, if your hotel purchases local products or is staffed by a local workforce, profits are channelled back into the community. Furthermore, your hotel could offer support during times of crisis, through donations or through volunteer initiatives from their staff.

A hotel that calls itself green should be dedicated towards the upliftment of the community, in whatever way they can.

Ultimately, it's up to you, the eco-conscious traveller, to decide whether your hotel meets your commitment to the environment.

Eco Accommodation South Africa


Platbos Forest, Africa's southernmost forest, offers eco-friendly accommodation in the heart of an indigenous forest in the Western Cape.



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