Going green with authenticity: operating a sustainable hotel in 2024


Sustainability has been a buzz word in the hospitality industry for several years now, with more and more hotels using their green initiatives as a major selling point to environmentally conscious travelers.

The question is: do consumers actually care about sustainable practices enough to seek out eco-friendly hotels other green tourism options when deciding how to spend their travel dollar?

The answer is yes, but exactly how much depends on who you ask.

Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2023 is based on one of the most wide-ranging surveys and features insights gathered from more than 33,000 travelers across 35 countries and territories. According to the report, the survey results out a spotlight on how economic uncertainty is informing meaningful sustainable travel decisions:

This highlights a dilemma where people feel potentially forced to choose between cutting costs and making more sustainable travel choices.

Nonetheless, 76% of global travelers reported that they wanted to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, which was a 16% increase over the company’s 2021 data and a 5% increase over the company’s 2022 data. (Booking.com has not yet released its 2024 edition of the report.)

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Sustainable hotels go beyond the superficial


Many hospitality industry watchers identified a focus on sustainability as one of 2024's key trends to follow. As Pauline Brettell noted in a Hotel Designs article, this dovetails with a growing emphasis on authenticity, which means a hotel brand's sustainable initiatives must go beyond the superficial.

One of the fundamental points in all of this, is that while issues and concerns around questions of the environment have been around for some time, it is now being explored and embedded on a deeper level. It is about where the food that shapes the menu is sourced, it is about how far those roses on the reception desk have travelled, it is not only about what that candle next to the bed is made from, but also who made that candle and under what conditions. Alongside this, is a healthy expectation of transparency.

A year of debunking and reclaiming

Stuart McDonald, co-founder of the independent travel website Travelfish, put an even finer point on it, as quoted in a recent Roadbook article:

2024 should be a year of debunking and reclaiming. Worthless claims around sustainable tourism, environmental protection, and social benefits by travel companies should be challenged across the board and debunked — in a court of law if need be. Travel writers must lift their game to be in a position to confidently interrogate claims made by hotels and other tourism enterprises in this regard.

The key, then, is to go beyond paying lip service to cleaner energy and environmental design, and to make a real commitment to minimizing carbon emissions and reducing food waste and water consumption.

Sustainable hotels make good business sense

We have made the case before that, in the hotel industry, adopting sustainable practices is more than a moral imperative; it makes good business sense. That's because, as we noted above, sustainable tourism has become a top priority for a large number of travelers — and this is especially true of millennials and members of Generation Z.

These younger consumers, who together represent almost half of the world's population, are also the most likely to cite factors such as "transparency" and "authenticity" when asked what influences their decisions whether or not to support certain brands.

Avoid greenwashing in your hotel marketing

For the sake of that all-important authenticity, avoid overstating the “greenness” of your hotel's operations. If you find yourself spending more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing than actually implementing environmental-sustainability initiatives that reduce energy consumption and minimize your carbon footprint, you might be guilty of greenwashing.

Washington State University hospitality researchers found that greenwashing practices sometimes result in short-term gains by attracting eco-conscious guests, but the majority of those misled customers will boycott the establishment upon checkout.

“Today’s consumers are not always buying the green claims made by hotels,” said researcher Christina Geng-qing Chi. “When ecologically conscious consumers know a hotel is not truly green, they will still use the linen reuse program, but they will not revisit the hotel.”

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Key considerations for sustainable hotels

Operating a hotel more sustainably involves taking various steps across different aspects of operations. Here are some strategies that hoteliers can implement in order to mitigate their environmental impact — and go beyond greenwashing:

Energy-saving technologies

  • Install energy-efficient lighting, such as LED bulbs.

  • Utilize more energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

  • Implement smart thermostats and sensors to control heating and cooling systems.

  • Promote sustainability and encourage energy conservation through signage and guest incentives.

  • Consider renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines.

Water conservation

  • Install low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets to reduce water consumption.

  • Implement a linen and towel reuse program to reduce water usage in laundry.

  • Fix leaks promptly to prevent water wastage.

  • Harvest rainwater for landscaping and other non-potable uses.

Waste management

  • Implement comprehensive recycling programs throughout the hotel.

  • Reduce single-use plastics by providing refillable dispensers for amenities.

  • Compost organic waste from kitchens and dining areas.

  • Reduce paper waste by digitizing room-service menus and other info, and by offering your hotel guests a digital news platform like PressReader instead of physical copies of newspapers.

Think globally, buy locally

  • Source local products for amenities and organic food for the hotel's restaurant or room-service menus.

  • Choose eco-friendly cleaning products and supplies.

  • Opt for products with minimal packaging or made from recycled materials.

  • Prioritize suppliers with sustainable practices and certifications.

Green building design and operations

  • Design or retrofit buildings with sustainable materials and practices.

  • Optimize natural lighting and ventilation to reduce the need for artificial heating and cooling.

  • Incorporate green spaces like rooftop gardens or interior plants.

  • Use environmentally friendly furnishings.

Community engagement and social responsibility

  • Engage with the local community through partnerships and initiatives.

  • Support local businesses and artisans in procurement.

  • Offer volunteering opportunities for staff to participate in local environmental projects.

  • Educate guests and staff about sustainable practices and their importance.

Sustainable transportation

  • Provide incentives for guests to use public transportation or carpooling.

  • Offer bicycle rentals or electric vehicle charging stations.

  • Encourage staff to use eco-friendly commuting options like public transit or cycling.

Monitoring and reporting

  • Track and measure energy and water consumption to identify areas for improvement.

  • Set sustainability goals and regularly report progress to stakeholders.

  • Implement certification programs to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.


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Get your property eco-certified 

That last point is crucial. After all, if you are operating an eco-friendly hotel, you want eco-conscious consumers to know about it. And with Google Search now making it easier than ever for travelers to find eco-certified accommodations, getting that certification is more important than ever.

As we have already observed, it is the younger generations that are largely driving this demand. As millennials and members of Gen Z mature and increase their purchasing power, they’re prompting a shift in the hospitality industry.

These two demographic cohorts have become increasingly focused on supporting companies and brands that reflect their values. They want to find hotels that don't just offer a great guest experience, but also adhere to responsible sustainability criteria.

As we noted in a previous blog post on how to get your hotel eco-certified (and showing up in Google Search), certification is a great way to showcase that you take your hotel's sustainability efforts seriously and are abiding by best practices.

Eco-certification services for hotels

Certification options for hotel operations range from no-cost, survey-based certifications to high-spend certifications that require a robust on-site audit from an independent organization such as a third-party certification agency.

How much you’re willing to spend to get eco-certified will depend on your hotel budget, but it’s worth bearing in mind that as travelers become more informed, they’re likely to make decisions based on the highest standards.

Globally recognized standards for green hotels


Some of the global certifications for eco-hotels include: 

  • Green Globe: measures the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the business and its supply chain partners. Green Globe certification is considered one of the most thorough programs, with more than 380 compliance indicators assessed by independent third-party auditors.

  • Green Key: a Green Key certificate represents a commitment by businesses that their premises adhere to the strict criteria set by the Foundation for Environmental Education, based on regular on-site audits conducted by Green Key auditors, and third-party verification.

  • LEED: a program that recognizes properties built with sustainable practices. This is particularly relevant for new builds or large renovations. There are four levels of LEED certification, ranging from Certified to Platinum. 

  • TripAdvisor Green Leaders: a program designed to recognize hospitality properties with green practices. Its survey-based certification process depends on hotels answering questions about their sustainability efforts. The hotel then gets a bronze, silver, gold or platinum badge on their TripAdvisor profile. 

Of course, before you can choose from among the various certification programs and get ready to participate in the review process, you and your team will have had to implement sustainability practices throughout your operations.

For more information on how to get your hotel eco-certified, visit the website of the nonprofit Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

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