This is the third in our series about what makes an eco-hotel. To see Part 1 – toiletries, click here; and to see Part 2 – community, click here.

Reduce, reuse and recycle – the three Rs – this has long been the mantra of the waste-reduction movement. A hotel that claims it’s reducing waste, yet still provides toiletry miniatures, water in plastic bottles, breakfast items in single-use packets, and with no obvious recycling facilities is probably not taking waste-reduction seriously.

Waste management is something everyone identifies with these days. We all seem to have numerous bins in our tiny kitchens to sort every type of waste.

For hotels, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For a start, in some countries or locations, recycling is simply not an option as there are no recycling facilities operated by the government or private companies. North Island, for example, struggles with this, but has come up with some innovative solutions to deal with it, and you can read about some of them here.

Reduce is the most important of three mantras, and hoteliers keen to show their environmental commitment need to cut down on this. Put full-sized toiletries in bathrooms – whether you allow guests to take these home or clamp them in so they’re for use by all guests is up to you. Cut down on plastic. This is harmful to the planet from creation to disposal. Ditch all those breakfast miniatures. Serve jams, sugars, ketchup in big glass jars instead – looks much nicer, too. And behind the scenes, switch suppliers to those who use less packaging. Garonga Safari Camp, for example, provides free water to all its guests in glass bottles instead of leaving plastic ones in the mini-bar. Read more about their waste-reduction initiatives here.

Reuse – this one can be more difficult for hoteliers as you’re dealing with multiple guests. But it’s not impossible. Find out how The Scarlet reuses candle wax and other items here.

This is part 2 in our series about what makes an eco-hotel. To see our first blogpost about toiletries, click here:

What does it mean when a hotelier states on its website or marketing materials that it ‘buys local’ or ‘supports the local community’?

Far too often, not a lot.

This type of vague, feel-good phrase should be disregarded unless it is backed up with facts.

Don’t be fooled by vague feel-good phrases. Instead of statements like, ‘We encourage staff to volunteer’ or ‘We donate to local charities’, look for specifics.

You want to see verifiable, easy to confirm phrases, such as

  • ‘We reward staff who volunteer with time off in lieu’
  • ‘We donate 2% of annual turnover to the local literacy foundation’.

And chat to staff, especially management, to find out how many of them are locals. Claiming to support the community while hiring in cheap foreign labour isn’t very supportive.

On the restaurant menu and in bathrooms, look for products that are made locally, too.

Laguna Lodge in Guatemala is an excellent example of a hotel that genuinely supports its local community. Find out how here.

Laguna Lodge, Guatemala, Mayana people

Laguna Lodge in Guatemala works with the local Mayan community in numerous ways and makes a significant, positive impact

Lather toiletries - certified cruelty free by Leaping Bunny - and with excellent ranges available for hotels

Lather toiletries – certified cruelty free by Leaping Bunny – and with excellent ranges available for hotels

There’s more to making a green hotel than just using bamboo keycards or Fair Trade tea. This is the first in our series of What makes a green hotel.

Eco-toiletries – fact versus fiction

Eco’ is a broad term than can mean anything from environmentally friendly to fairly traded.For toiletries to be fully eco, they could be many things – local, organic, plastic-free, etc.

But my bare minimum (and, I suspect, most people’s) is that they must not be tested on animals and that they must not harm the environment in their creation or usage (i.e. aquatic plants and animals won’t be destroyed when the product is sent down the drain).

For full eco-cred, they should be organic, use local ingredients and be fairly traded. Oh, and it’s a given that they’ll be provided in full-sized bottles – either for multiple guests’ use or for individual guests to take away.

Many hotel (and high-street) toiletries use ‘green’ or ‘natural’ in their name or put unverifiable claims, like ‘We’re against animal testing’ on bottles, but unless externally verified, these should be completely disregarded as there is no proof that this is true – and in many cases, it has been proven untrue (i.e. all the ingredients were, in fact, tested on animals), at which point the company has to remove it, but this process can take years.

There is an belief held by many consumers that most toiletries aren’t tested on animals these days. In fact, the opposite is true.

The majority of the toiletries you see on shelves or in hotels ARE tested on animals, and these companies (the toiletry companies, not the hoteliers) continue to persist in this cruel and unacceptable behaviour because it is cheaper to torture animals to prove that a shampoo won’t cause an allergic reaction than it is to test via more state-of-the-art methods.

If your hotel’s toiletries don’t have external verfication the they are cruelty-free, it is far more likely that they ARE tested on animals, than that they aren’t.

Also, many hoteliers state that their toiletries are locally made – but have no idea about how they are tested or what goes into them, so this does not mean they are green or animal friendly. It’s just as easy for a small, local company to buy ingredients that have been tested on animals or are harmful to the environment as it is for major corporations. When it comes to ethical toiletries, locally made means nothing apart from the fact that it supports a local business.

To find out if your hotel’s toiletries are genuinely green, look on the packaging or the manufacturer’s website for certification logos.

The reliable certification logos provide verifiable proof that toiletries are meeting the standards they claim. (Some certification logos are meaningless, though, as they can just be bought.) See www.greenerchoices.org for a list of eco labels, what they mean and which can be trusted. As a broad guideline, for toiletries, these are widely used and highly regarded

Bear in mind that no single certification system covers all the issues, and a product that ticks one box might still be unethical in other ways.

There’s no excuse for hoteliers of any size to continue to purchase unethical toiletries (or, for that matter, cleaning products). Hotels as diverse as the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam and the independently owned Bohinj Park Hotel Eco Resort & Spa in Slovenia both have toiletries that feature the European Eco Label flower, for example.

We’d like to see more hoteliers thinking about which toiletries and cleaning products they buy. There are cruelty-free, ethical and environmentally friendly toiletries in every price range and style these days. Better still, hotel guests really appreciate unusual and ethical toiletry products, so it makes sense on every level to make the change.
Cruelty-Free Partners

Buying renewable electricity, via a green energy tariff – as many consumers and hoteliers do – sounds like a great idea to help finance and grow the renewable energy sector.  You are going to buy electricity anyway so why not buy renewable? Especially as it doesn’t seem to cost any more.

Well, the last bit is a clue that you might not be getting what you think you are.  Producing renewable electricity is more expensive than producing ‘brown’ electricity, maybe ~200% to 500% more.  So why do ‘renewable electricity’ customers only pay a small premium?

Don’t kid yourself that paying 101% of the going rate for electricity is financing any significant expansion in renewable electricity.  In fact, it is doubtful that even this small premium increases the amount going to renewables – analysis from Cambridge University suggests small energy supply companies (such as Ecotricity and Good Energy selling green power in the UK) have operating costs ~2% higher than more established suppliers so the preimum you are paying could simply be to cover operating costs rather than being ploughed into renewables.

So, if people are buying renewable electricity, why aren’t they paying full price for it?

Well, taking the UK as an example, there are 3 main groups of renewable generator

  1. Large hydropower stations (often dating from >50yrs ago)
  2. Medium-scale systems such as wind (expansion can be traced back to the start of subsidies in the 1990s via the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation and continues today with subsidy via the Renewables Obligation) – this group also includes generation from biofuels such as landfill gas
  3. Small-scale systems such as solar panels (which only really took off seriously in the last 2 years – subsidies contiue from Feed in Tariffs)

The only expansion that is going on in UK renewable electricity generation capacity is in groups 2 and 3 and it is being driven by legislation meaning that pretty much all new renewable power in the UK is subsidised to a greater or lesser extent by the public purse (e.g. via tax breaks, financial incentives, grants, etc.).  The amount of subsidy varies slightly but it is designed to make the technologies competitive with conventional electricity generation plant.

Understanding how the subsidies work is key to understanding how electricity suppliers can afford to sell renewable electricity at no extra cost.

For example, as well as a record of the electricity generated, medium-scale renewable generators obtain 3 further certificates for every unit of electricity they generate.

  1. a Levy Exemption Certificate (or LEC) which says the electricity is exempt from the Climate Change Levy (a tax paid by commercial energy users that adds ~3% to the cost of their energy);
  2. a Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) which is effectively a certificate saying it is electricity from certain recently installed renewable systems; and
  3. a certificate (called a REGO) which guarantees its origin from renewable energy;

The UK electricity market works as follows.  Generators sell their electricity to suppliers who sell it on to customers.  Given there are hundreds of power stations and wind farms generating electricity at any one time and dozens of suppliers, there is a complex system which tracks who is generating and who is buying what volume of electricity.

As well as selling electricity, generators also sell their certificates to suppliers.

The LEC has an inherent value  – the final customer will pay the energy supply company a premium for electricity that is exempt from tax – the value of the tax avoided pretty much sets the value of a LEC.

The ROC also has a value because all energy supply companies must purchase sufficient ROCs to demonstrate to the government that a growing percentage of their power (currently around 12%) is from a (recently installed, medium sized) renewable source.  If an energy supplier does not have sufficient ROCs, they face a significant fine and it is the threat of the fine which dictates the value of the ROC (and the energy supply companies recoup the cost of the ROCs they have to buy when they sell the electricity to us, the public, anyway).

‘The rules’ give an inherent value to ROCs and LECs and so these certificates provide a means for renewable generators to increase their income – this means they can afford to generate renewable electricity even though they have to sell the electricity they generate at normal market prices.

The third and final certificate, the REGO, does not have any real value.  The only real use is that companies selling green electricity to their customers can buy REGOs and use these to demonstrate their electricity is renewable ‘flavoured’.

Really though, the renewable ‘flavour’ of the electricity has been sold twice already – once with the LEC and again with the ROC.  There’s probably as much renewable ‘flavour’ left in the REGO as there is ‘flavour’ in a third hand tea bag.

Instead of trying to buy green electricity from energy supply companies where the benefits are slim at best, customers can try and enter into an arrangement where you can be confident your purchase of green power is financing direct expansion of renewable electricity.  Be aware though that paying the true cost of renewable power will add considerably to a customer’s bill (+50-100%).  The key to any arrangement like this is to make sure you understand the complexities of the local electricity market, renewable energy subsidies and any carbon trading schemes so that you can be sure you are getting what you think you are.  In the UK for example, to finance renewable energy you could buy electricity from any supplier and buy the equivalent number of ROCs.  Retiring the ROCs (rather than selling them on) would then limit the supply, forcing the price of ROCs up which will encourage more investment.

Other countries will need a different approach as the range of fiscal mechanisms supporting renewable investment is varied and complex.  In the developing world for example, renewable energy projects can even get funding from Western nations via Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism payments.

What about generating your own renewable power instead of buying it?  Are people that have their own renewable generation making a difference?  An organisation that develops green electricity projects might be doing so without subsidies – either out of the goodness of their heart or possibly because the economics of renewables work for them without subsidy (e.g. the business case can be better in remote locations) – but more often than not developments only go ahead where subsidies are in place because these benefits make the investment add up.  Effectively we (the public) are probably paying for them to invest in plant in one way or another.

Hoteliers that put up the money, develop renewable energy projects and make them happen on their property may well be getting subsidies of some sort to make it worth their while but they are also going out of their way to make things happen at considerable personal effort and they are often taking a financial risk – if anything goes wrong, they won’t get their money back.

Any expansion in renewable electricity is being driven by either a) green fanatics prepared to invest large sums with no return or b) those people prepared to put in the effort and take the risk of reaping government subsidies to pay for their development.

Individuals can try and make a difference, but it is not as simple as companies selling ‘green’ electricity would have you think.

EcoLuxHotels.com logoMedia coverage for EcoLuxHotels.com in 2012


As Olympic fever grips Britain, you might be wondering where to stay on your UK holiday. The country has an unfortunate reputation for poor customer service (sadly often deserved) and bland accommodation (no longer deserved – if you’re just a tiny bit careful) And while it’s true that space is at a premium here, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in a broom cupboard.

More importantly, a handful of Britain’s hoteliers are starting to push the boat out when it comes to green hotels, and at the luxury end, there are a few you’ll definitely want to consider for your next trip to London or the UK.

One Aldwych, London

An unbeatable location – on the cusp of the theatre district and the business district – this boutique hotel has sleek, modern elegance, quirky artworks and staff who are as friendly and helpful as they are knowledgeable. Bonus points for the secret basement swimming pool and buzzy atrium bar.

The Savoy, London

This world-famous hotel drips with opulence and heritage glamour, and deserves its iconic status. Just down the road from One Aldwych, choose The Savoy if you want old-fashioned grand-hotel formality, and One Aldwych if you want modern boutique style and staff who will have a laugh with you. They’re both winners, in our books, but for very different reasons. Find out what we mean by reading our Savoy review here, and our One Aldwych review here.

The Scarlet, Cornwall

Escape city chaos to explore one of Britain’s most beautiful coastlines – the Cornish coast. It’s southeast of London, about three hours by train or four by car. And there’s nowhere better to rest your head than this gorgeous eco-spa hotel perched right on a cliff over a sandy beach. In fact, this is one of our favourite hotels in the world, bar none. Find out why here.

The Green House Hotel, Bournemouth

For a getaway that’s a little closer to London than Cornwall, check out buzzy Bournemouth. This seaside town has a pretty sandy beach, and is near the New Forest. This lovely boutique hotel is in the town’s back streets, and makes for a sweet weekend escape.

Radisson Blu, East Midlands Airport

You don’t have to be burning CO2 to fly into the airport just to stay at this hotel. It’s near the Peak District National Park, with loads of gorgeous walks, as well as Nottingham. It is also, amazingly, one of Britain’s greenest hotels. Interiors are business-luxe with boutique flair.

Cherry trees in bloom outside a Japanese castle

Cherry blossom, Japan

The countryside is bursting into colour in the northern hemisphere. Devour views of spring flowers at these luxury green hotels.

Hoshinoya Karuizawa, Japan

Cherry-blossom viewing is a quintessential Japanese experience, and you an marvel at those blooming pink beauties from this elegant eco-luxury hotel in Karuizawa, an hour from Tokyo. Set amid stunning mountain scenery, when you’re not ogling to cherry trees, you can wallow in natural hot springs here – the perfect antidote to those still-chilly nights.

Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park, North Carolina, USA

I grew up near here, and I can tell you that few places in the world can rival the wildflower beauty of North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. Go for walks in the hills and look out for daffodils, irises, dogwood trees and painted trilliums, then cool off later with a craft beer – this is now one of the best spots in the country for them. See here for a schedule of Asheville spring flowers and when they’ll be in bloom.

DoubleTree by Hilton, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Tulips aren’t native to Holland, but they’re now inextricably intwined, with huge swathes of the countryside outside Amsterdam blanketed in these vibrant bulbs, especially at nearby Keukenhof Gardens. But you won’t even need to leave the city as Amsterdam’s parks have their own share of these sculptural blooms. Tulips come in every colour under the rainbow, as well as striped, swirled and checked. Buy your own bunch – or bulbs to plant at home – at the city’s flower market.