What is ‘greenwashing’ and how can we avoid it while travelling?

What is 'greenwashing' and how can we avoid it while travelling?

With brands getting ever cleverer at sharing heart-prodding claims about the environmental benefits of their products or the supposed social impact of their practices, many companies are coming across a good deal more sustainable than they are. So it’s up to us to be more alert to greenwashing than ever. The term ‘greenwashing’ originates from those notes we’ve all seen in hotels suggesting us guests reuse towels as a way of saving the environment – when the hosts real motivation is to reduce laundry and housekeeping costs. Hotels and travel agents are busy polishing their halos and talking the right talk, so it’s becoming harder to tell who the true heroes are. Greenwashers are those who shout about their do-gooding loudly to distract us from what they might be doing that is not so considerate, they overstate the little token-gesture acts of sustainability when behind the scenes they’re less than innocent or haven’t got a clue about what it means to be responsible. As ever, we hope to help hone your instincts with our inspiration to travel better.

What is greenwashing?

The term was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay in response to those little signs we still see in hotels that suggest that if we use fewer towels it helps them save the planet (or rather, cuts their laundry costs).

Beware buzzwords and feel-good fluff

Don’t be hoodwinked by hotels and travel companies that speak in eco-friendly platitudes. Transparency and honesty are critical. More than declarations of hope and expressions of feeling, we need substantiated facts and hard evidence. Just as ‘all-natural’ and ‘ocean-friendly’ are meaningless on beauty products or in the supermarket, stay alert to hotel websites full of wishy-washy green talk. If a group uses the strapline ‘responsible luxury’, ask them: ‘responsible in what way?’ Don’t be afraid to tackle companies when it comes to the technicalities. ‘Soft language such as “positive luxury” or “nurturing” belongs in a self-help class, but not in a sustainability strategy,’ says Xenia zu Hohenlohe of Considerate Group, which advises hospitality businesses on how to operate more responsibly. ‘Saying “we care for our planet and try and reduce our impact” without any evidence as to how is not good enough. My advice is always: don’t talk about your green actions or ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] practices until you have something solid to show for them and you can back them up with stories, facts and figures.’

This is an excerpt from an article by Juliet Kinsman, originally published by Condé Nast Traveller.

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