Greenwashing in Eco Travel and What You Can Do About It

Last updated April 22, 2022

There’s a growing “greenwashing” issue in the ecotourism industry that hosts the potential to do more harm than annual spring breakers. 

With the growing trend of eco and sustainable travel comes a lot of well-intended resorts and travelers with the mindset to enjoy the pleasures of the destination while looking to offset the negative impact that travel inevitably has on our environment.

As any marketer will tell you, however, with any growing trend there is a potential to earn greater profit. Thus, the trend of greenwashing is increasing in the ecotourism industry among hotels and travel brands in an effort to capitalize on the category’s growth.

What is Greenwashing?

greenwashing green wall ladder with paint

According to an article in Business News Daily, greenwashing is “when a company purports to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but actually isn’t making any notable sustainability efforts.” 

The post further details that companies can greenwash even when they have good intentions; however, it all comes down to the output and actions.

In other words, imagine you’re under the influence when you’re purchasing dairy-free milk from a store. It claims to have used organic sprouted nuts for pressing. Great intentions, good marketing. 

Come to find out, the manufacturer isn’t aware that the nuts being used are actually not sourced organically and there happens to be a drip of cow milk sprinkled in there. Even though the good intentions are there, if you found this out you’d probably feel a bit duped. 

And, if you’re sensitive to dairy, like myself, then you probably have a stomach-ache to go along with it. Not a good combination, and it can destroy a customer’s loyalty and brand’s identity instantly. 

Global Issues

plastic and metal bottles litter

Greenwashing doesn’t happen in just product marketing. It can happen across multiple different consumer categories, especially in the highly marketable tourism industry. 

Hotels, tour operators, travel agents and tourism boards, to name a few, can all host potential entry points for inducing false claims for ecotourism and sustainability. 

Claiming to do good for the ecosystem while actually not following through with it can do immense harm for both the environment and the industry at large. Further, with a lack of global standards in place, it’s very difficult to define what is considered eco-conscious and to what level. 

For example, one hotel may boast to be eco-friendly, but simply remove plastic straws from their properties. Good first step, but how about the plastic cups, disposal of food, overuse of linens and pool towels, waste being washed into the oceans and pollution from on-site vehicles? 

Without standards and regulations in place, sustainable actions are a very tricky cat to nail down into a corner. 

Indeed, there are organizations such as the Global Standards for Sustainable Travel and Tourism which hosts criteria to meet certain levels of sustainability in travel and certifications. 

Yes, there are more articles than ever before raising a voice about eco-tourism and travel tips to counter climate change. However, I question who’s actually regulating this? Or, enforcing? 

With little funding, especially on an international level, it’s a very hard claim and criteria to enforce.

What Travelers Can Do About Greenwashing

greenwashing crystal globe resting on moss in a forest

That being said, not all is hopeless in the eco-traveler world. One of the top recommendations I suggest is to get informed, do the educational work before booking, and don’t take marketing at face value. 

Like any consumer product, the choice and voice for change is in your own hands. 

Top eco-travel tips for travelers before booking:

  • Read beyond the hotel website and inquire with reviews or word of mouth from other travelers who have been there or visited.
  • Follow and read from eco-focused travelers in the niche market who are dedicated to truth-telling and advocating for authentic eco-tourism.
  • Be critical of “green” certifications and awards showcased—certifications are good, but actions are great.
  • Ask poignant questions prior to booking with the hotel, agent or concierge. 
  • Ask poignant questions when at the hotel and resort as well, making informed choices while on the property. 
  • Choose destinations that are not over-touristed, where regulations can be far and fewer amidst profit margins and mass-scale chain hotel bottom lines.

Small choices and questions from one traveler won’t counter the full effect of greenwashing. 

You do have the power to invoke insight—a voice—and change perspective by bringing awareness to the hotel, agent or tour, and to fellow travelers around you. 

Have you seen examples of greenwashing in travel before? What are your thoughts on this growing concern and, more importantly, what we can do about it? 

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