How Green Was My Vacation?

Opportunities to travel lightly on the planet do exist.

| January/February 2005

  • The Sheraton Hotel in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square flourishes after a green renovation turned it into a retreat for the environmentally aware traveler.
  • Sheraton Rittenhouse bedrooms include organic, natural, and chemical-free mattresses and bedding.
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF) cruises, operated by Zegrahm Tours, take you to a certain kind of paradise the big cruise lines can't—and in green style.
    Photo by Jack S. Grove/Zegrahm Expeditions
  • Snorkel in clear waters near the Seychelle Islands and glide peacefully on
  • Le Ponant, the sailboat used for the Indian Ocean cruise offered through WWF/Zegrahm Tours.
  • While the Lenox Hotel devotes itself to green ­initiatives, the guest rooms don’t skimp on amenities.
  • Boston’s Lenox Hotel stands as a beacon, because of its environmentally sound initiatives, including ­recycling and water and energy conservation.
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF) cruises, operated by Zegrahm Tours, take you to a certain kind of paradise the big cruise lines can't—and in green style.

Tourism is the world’s largest and fastest growing industry. It provides 10 percent of the world’s income and employs almost one-tenth of the world’s workforce. By 2010, those numbers will double.

Many negative environmental and social impacts result from today’s travel practices, according to the International Ecotourism Society. For example, in popular resort areas such as Cancun and Hawaii, overbuilt beachfront hotels have contributed to beach erosion, flooding, and the disappearance of natural wetlands and generate mountains of garbage without adequate means of disposal. In Nepal, the rapid growth of the trekking industry has increased pollution in Kathmandu and caused dangerous crowding and destruction of trails. In Yellowstone National Park, trash left by tourists forces relocation of bears and their untimely deaths.

According to Green Seal, a nonprofit environmental organization, the average hotel purchases more products in one week than 100 families do in a year. Resorts and hotels often over-consume natural resources such as water and power, forcing up utility prices and causing blackouts and water shortages for locals. Because of this, the greening of mainstream travel offers an enormous opportunity to conserve resources.

Heartbreak Hotels

The hospitality industry has yet to come up with a gold standard for green lodging; there aren’t any independent certifications that are as recognizable as the standards for organic food. However, many lodging facilities around the world are committed to saving water and energy, reducing solid waste, and purchasing products such as nontoxic cleaning supplies and post-consumer recycled paper. A pioneer in the field, Saunders Hotel Group, created SHINE (Saunders Hotels Initiatives to Nurture the Environment) at its environmental award-winning Boston properties: The Lenox and Copley Square Hotels, and the Comfort Inn and Suites near Logan Airport. With ninety initiatives including state-of-the-art ozone laundries and energy-management systems, the SHINE program annually saves 1.7 million gallons of drinking water, eliminates 37 tons of trash, conserves 110,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and saves 175 trees through paper recycling. Another notable eco-hotel is the 193-room Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Green features include recycled granite flooring; furniture made from recycled wood pallets; improved indoor air quality; and organic, natural, and chemical-free mattresses and bedding.

In many cases you’ll have to do some sleuthing to find out how eco-friendly an establishment really is. When you call to make reservations, ask the booking agent or hotel manager:



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