Is Environmentally Friendly Travel an Oxymoron?

I remember very clearly when those little placards began showing up in hotel bathrooms around the world urging us all to hang up our towels if we were willing to reuse them, thus saving millions of gallons of hot water and the energy required to run the dryers.

On the one hand, I thought, "Good idea!", and on the other, "and how convenient for you." I can't help it, I'm a cynic by nature. I just wanted the hotels to acknowledge what we all know in our hearts to be true: Less Laundry = Good.

Fast forward a few years, and suddenly the entire tourism industry is waving their green flags at us to get our business and loyalty. Here are just a few of the things you can expect to start seeing more of at hotels everywhere:

1. Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion in sachets instead of tiny bottles. This drastically reduces the weight and volume of packaging being manufactured and disposed of, and I'm 100% in favor of it. The only thing that would be better is no toiletries at all. If we can all manage to bring our own toothbrushes and toothpaste, we can manage shampoo.

2. Eco-friendly cleaning products. Fewer toxic chemicals in the air and on the surfaces? I'm all for it. It's good for guests, and even better for hotel workers.

3. Recycling containers in hotel rooms. A nice idea in theory, but maybe symbolic. Wouldn't it be more efficient to just have staff separate materials somewhere downstream? I recently stayed in a hotel room with a recycling bin, and I kept putting regular garbage in it. I suspect I'm not alone in this.

3. Low flush toilets. I'm all for most water conservation (for showers and landscaping especially), but I actually think this is a bad idea. Most low flush toilets don't get the job done 100% of the time. Most hotel rooms are not what I'd call well-ventilated. Have you ever had to call hotel maintenance because you backed up your toilet, and then had to stand there while they fixed it? Awkward doesn't even begin to cover it.

4. Carbon offset programs. At certain hotels, you can opt to donate a small amount of money for each night of your stay. This money is then invested in supporting clean, renewable energy resources. I'm torn on this one. Renewable energy sources are obviously good, but carbon "offsetting" doesn't really reduce our use of non-renewable resources. I say save your money. If you want to reduce your family's greenhouse gas emissions, just turn off the lights and AC (or heat) when you leave your room, and take public transportation.

What do you say?

Jamie Pearson is the publisher of the family travel website Travel Savvy Mom. It's a cynical, but friendly little corner of the internet. Please stop by.

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Comment by Bridget Smith on January 29, 2009 at 10:38am
You may soon ! We are on the brink of a drought here in San Diego.
I am thinking of organizing a blog round up from a traveler/ family travel blogger perspective close to earth day. I watched the "I pledge" PSA on you tube that seemed to be inspired by the Obama Inauguration speech. It featured various pledges from celebrities on how they are going to help our country. I was thinking we could do a family travel "I pledge" campaign with bloggers talking about simple steps they pledge to take with their families to travel greener in this year.

I was hoping to find a site with decent SEO, (Does Travel Savvy Mom want to volunteer?) to host the links to sites who are participating. I just started a You Tube channel familyadventuremom, that could host any video blogs. I think if we get a critical mass of bloggers, we can get some publicity about this, We can get some great exposure and also help get our readers thinking about creating a smaller impact on the evironment when they travel.

In answer to the question your blog poses, there are definately aspects of travel that are inherently not so great for the environment(driving or flying for example) , but I firmly believe that there are many little things that we can all do to minimize our impact or improve the environment in the communities in which we travel. Perhaps if we encourage people to make more environmentally friendly decisions as they travel, those habits will continue when our readers get back home.

If any one wants to help me in organizing the "I Pledge to Travel Greener" blog roundup, DM me or leave me a message.
Comment by TravelSavvyMom on January 29, 2009 at 7:45am
That poem reminds me of the drought here in California in the 70s! Haven't heard it in forever.
Comment by ECHOage on January 29, 2009 at 7:40am
Interesting - never know what to do when people ask us to pay more for carbon offsets. Like you i am in favor of the idea, but anxious about how effective it all really is.
Two summers ago, my family and I stayed at this lovely truly green eco-destination called Hollyhock on Cortez Island which is one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia. There were no toiletries at all in the room and they actually had a sign that said "if its yellow, let it mellow, if its brown flush it down" - I thought it was great.
Comment by minnemom on January 28, 2009 at 3:23pm
I think these are great ideas, especially the toiletries. If someone would truly forget something, the desk could have some available for shampoo emergencies.

I laughed at the hotel where they wanted us to reuse the towels to save water yet had a huge whirlpool tub in the room. Could have done quite a bit of laundry with the water used to fill that tub just once.





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