Supporting Clients' Sustainable Travel: Green Lights and Red Flags

Chi Lo
January 20, 2024

So your clients want to travel “more sustainably” or want to “leave a smaller footprint while making a bigger impact.” “Absolutely!” you say, but where to begin? 

First, we set an understanding that sustainability is about how humans interact with our home (Planet Earth) and each other, so that we all may keep living on it and enjoying its resources. When we talk about traveling sustainably, it means traveling in a way that has as little environmental impact as possible, while bringing financial benefit and social equity to the destination being visited. Sustainable travel is not a niche and is not confined to luxury nor budget, solo nor bleisure; rather, it refers to a mindful approach to traveling and to conducting business.  

Green Lights and Red Flags

When a client says they want to explore sustainable travel options, a good place to start is by examining your existing suppliers’ current sustainability practices. 

  1. Do their websites have a sustainability section? A website with a sustainability section - usually a standalone page or embedded in “about us” demonstrates that a company has an awareness of sustainability issues. Different companies will view sustainability differently, and that's okay – what’s important is that they have made a commitment to reducing its environmental footprint and to improving the well-being of its community. 

  1. Green Light: Some key words to look for include ESG (environmental, social, governance), community engagement, community or environmental impact, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and of course, sustainability. 

  1. Red Flag: Notice when suppliers’ sustainability pages are inactive/out-of-date, include fluffy language with no sustainability commitments listed on site, or state claims that aren’t substantiated. 

  1. What does the business communicate and commit to? Greenwashing, a term used to describe deceptive marketing that attempts to show that a business is doing more for the environment than it actually is, can be a dangerous path for companies to take as they risk losing customer and stakeholder trust. It is therefore important to consider what kinds of sustainable practices are in place. 

  1. Green Light: A hotel that is more sustainable will often proudly display its sustainability certifications such as B Corp, LEED, or other recognized travel and hospitality-focused ecolabels. These types of certifications are not easy to achieve and maintain, and are developed through rigorous processes to combat greenwashing. In a certified hotel, you can usually find evidence of this certification at the front desk and of course on its website.

  1. Red Flag: One classic example of greenwashing is when hotels ask guests to hang up towels if they want to reuse them. The guest hangs up the towel, but housekeeping provides fresh ones anyway. This is a problem because it signals that the hotel either doesn’t actually care about saving water, and reducing labor and laundry costs, or it hasn’t communicated with and trained housekeeping to follow the towel policy.

Questions to Ask Suppliers:

Ask lots of questions! Vetting new suppliers or renewing contracts is a perfect opportunity to ask sustainability-related questions. 

Here are several to get the conversation going. Even if the supplier doesn’t know the answer, the act of asking shows clients are interested, which can help drive awareness of sustainability practices. 

  1. How do you address the environmental aspects of its business such as waste, energy, and water? Do you try to minimize waste to landfill by doing things like encouraging recycling, minimizing food waste, using less water, and switching to renewable energy or energy efficient fixtures and appliances? 
  2. How do you work with the local community in the destination? Are staff local hires? Do you make financial or in-kind contributions to the community? How do you support local entrepreneurs and other local businesses? 
  3. Do clients have an opportunity to learn about the environment or local community? Can they do so in a responsible way? What kinds of partners do you work with to help achieve this?

In short, cultivating a curiosity about sustainability and sustainable travel in all its aspects - for both yourself, your suppliers, and your clients, can make a visible impact in how the industry as a whole can be more sustainable. Greater awareness leads to greater demand, which leads to greater availability of sustainable travel options. 

Additional Resources at a Glance

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council has a widely accepted set of standards for destinations and industry that can serve as a checklist for evaluating the sustainability of a supplier. Following these guidelines can aid decision-making and recommendations, especially when comparing two similar suppliers – remember, you are as sustainable as your supply chain!

About the Author
Chi Lo - Host Agency Reviews

Chi Lo

Chi Lo is a strategic visionary with over a decade of experience leading sustainability programmes spanning several continents. She is recognised as an expert in sustainable tourism with a knack for relationship management, communications and content development, project design and implementation.

As a consultant Chi is coaching sector entities aiming to achieve sustainable tourism certification. Chi is active in the sustainable tourism community and is currently an advisory board member of the World Tourism Association for Cultural Heritage (WTACH). Chi is recognized in Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN)’s Circle of Experts, and as a sustainability mentor for Sanctuary Resorts. She has also served as a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Executive Committee and Board. She currently sits on the Council’s Communications & Membership Working Group.

Previously, she managed the Sustainability & Social Responsibility programme at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) where she was responsible for mapping and executing PATA’s sustainability strategy, nurturing global sustainability relationships, and establishing PATA’s position as a sustainability-minded global organisation. Prior to joining PATA, Chi has worked for organisations including the Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA) under the USAID-STAR project, the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia, the Center for Responsible Travel, and the Africa Travel Association.

Chi was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and is currently based in Seattle, USA with her husband, two dogs, and two young children from whom she has borrowed the Earth. While not in Seattle, Chi and her family travel and road trip in their motorhome and keep a blog titled, Tales of RVentures.