Ask people what it means to travel sustainably, and you’ll get some vague, tepid answers. To most, sustainable tourism means staying closer to home; avoiding large franchise resorts (we won’t name names, but think the Costco of travel); and assuming a hotel isn’t going to wash your towels every day. Those answers aren’t wrong, per se, but sustainable tourism is far more nuanced. More and more properties are seeking out ways to lessen their burden on the environment and local people. Not just that, they’re looking for ways to enhance everything they influence. Luckily there’s a new global portfolio of forward-thinking lodges, resorts, and hotels that exemplify sustainable tourism leadership so you don’t have to do the legwork; it’s called Beyond Green.
Every property that’s inducted is actively uplifting local communities, revitalizing ecosystems, restoring endangered species, and protecting cultural heritage. Guests are booking luxury trips that don’t just have a sustainable veneer. For example, at Wilderness Safaris Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, locals are given employment opportunities; community-owned conservancies are collaborated with to lessen local wildlife conflicts by providing lion-proof kraals (cattle enclosures); and partnerships are fostered with programs like Wilderness Safaris’ Children in the Wilderness, which support at nearby schools.
At Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, CA, on-site restaurants source all organic, seasonal ingredients from its own garden, as well as small regional farms; the property also does outreach efforts with Napa Valley Community Foundation to donate food to areas ravaged by wildfires, while its Diversity in Wine program puts the spotlight on wines made from vintners and winemakers of color.
We spoke with Costas Christ, co-founder and executive director of Beyond Green, to get a deeper look at what it means to travel with intention.
Men’s Journal: What was the impetus to launch Beyond Green?
Costas Christ: There’s a lot of innovation going on in sustainability and travel. For a long time, my passion has been to create a portfolio of hotels, resorts, and lodges that represent sustainability leadership based on action and impact—to demonstrate what is truly possible in pushing the frontiers of sustainable tourism. Beyond Green is the result.
For example, Beyond Green members, The Brando in French Polynesia and its sister property IHG Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa, pioneered the world’s first air conditioning system using deep sea water cooling without any harmful chlorofluorocarbons, the harsh chemicals known to damage the ozone layer and contribute to climate change. That technology is now being explored by tropical cities like Honolulu for climate-friendly air conditioning of downtown buildings. That is the kind of innovation I’m referring to that can benefit people and the planet.
Some luxury resorts are defined by exorbitant excess, and choices favor aesthetics or guests’ expectations rather than benefiting the planet. How do Beyond Green Properties find this balance?
In my opinion, exorbitant excess is the antithesis of living and traveling sustainably. In addition, the concept of luxury is changing. It’s less about “bling” and more about life-enhancing, authentic, enjoyable travel experiences. Beyond Green is all about the guest experience, and that translates into beautiful places to stay with a commitment to benefitting local communities and supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage. A prime example of this is Ashford Castle in Ireland.
The historic 13th-century castle had fallen into decay and, with it, the village of Cong, where generations of locals had worked at the castle. Enter the new sustainability-minded owners, The Travel Corporation, who invested tens of millions of dollars to restore the castle to its cultural and historic glory, becoming a Beyond Green member along the way. When I met with one of the leaders in the village of Cong, she literally had tears of joy, exclaiming, “Our castle is back!”
Today, Ashford Castle has an Experience Ambassador on staff who works with local villagers, creating exceptional guest activities that benefit cultural heritage and directly support the local economy. And most people would also be surprised to learn that Ashford Castle is powered 100 percent by renewable electricity, among many other sustainability initiatives.
How are properties inducted?
Sometimes we reach out to a hotel and sometimes they reach out to us. We launched Beyond Green during the pandemic with 24 founding members (today we have 30 members in 20 countries around the world). My own work in sustainable travel spans more than 30 years, so I knew many of our founding members prior to launching the brand, and when they heard Beyond Green was being created in partnership with Preferred Hotel Group, they were excited to join.
We have a very rigorous vetting process for Beyond Green members. For example, a hotel or resort must have already eliminated single-use plastic water bottles on property before they can submit an application to be considered for Beyond Green membership.
Over 50 globally recognized sustainable tourism standards must be upheld for properties to stay in the Beyond Green portfolio. Which are most difficult for resorts, lodges, and hotels to meet?
The removal of all single-use plastics on property is difficult but important in a world awash in plastic waste. It’s one thing to eliminate plastic water bottles on property and another to, say, also eliminate plastic wrap in the restaurant kitchen. We have members that are experimenting using natural beeswax paper for food prep and storage in the kitchen. And again, we’re seeing some great innovation. Beyond Green member The Ranch at Laguna Beach also eliminated plastic room keys, using recycled wood [instead]. They’re also the first hotel in North America to use an innovative system for crushing glass bottles into sand, which they use on foot paths and for replenishing beach sand.
What are some ways people can travel more sustainably?
In my own case, I ask several key questions before booking a trip, such as:
- How does your travel company follow environmentally friendly practices?
- In what ways are you involved with protecting nature and supporting cultural heritage?
- How does your business benefit local people in the places you visit?
In the past, those questions may have seemed odd to ask a tour operator or hotel, but times have changed. If I don’t get a straightforward answer on at least two of these questions, I find another company to go with. I want my hard-earned vacation dollars to reward those companies that share my values as a sustainable traveler.
What’s greenwashing? And are there ways to spot properties who may be inflating just how sustainable they are?
Greenwashing refers to talking the sustainability talk without doing the sustainability walk. There will always be unscrupulous businesses trying to take advantage of people by saying one thing and doing another. That said, travelers are much savvier today, and I would advise any hotel or tour operator that thinks they can keep pulling the proverbial wool over people’s eyes that they’re taking a great risk. The questions I ask before I book a trip that I just mentioned are one way to flush out greenwashing. On the other hand, a traveler who books with Beyond Green can be confident they’re in good hands. Each one of our member hotels must undergo an on-site sustainability inspection every 24 months.
Any projections for the future in terms of hospitality as a whole?
The sustainability train has left the station. This is not a trend or a fad but rather a transformation and evolution of travel as we know it, and that’s a great thing. Those hotel companies that understand this transformation today will be the leaders in a new, better hospitality industry tomorrow. Now’s the time for action.
And how about future goals for Beyond Green?
We want to continue to grow our hotel membership to provide a range of great guest services and enlightening experiences, representing travel as a force for good. On a more personal level, and as someone who helped define the concept of ecotourism back in the early ’90s and helped establish the United Nations Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria nearly 20 years ago, I look forward to the day, hopefully sooner than later, when we won’t need to single out hotels or travel companies for special sustainability collections or awards. Rather, it will be considered a normal part of all travel. That’s the future I look forward to.
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