By Laura Newcomer on November 24, 2021 in Travel
While there are many benefits to traveling the world, packing up your suitcase and striking out on an adventure isn’t always the most environmentally friendly endeavor.
One way to minimize your impact? Heading to an eco-friendly destination.
As more and more people become concerned about climate change and environmental sustainability, global interest in responsible travel has skyrocketed. A Travel Foundation report found 84 percent of survey respondents working in travel PR and marketing said it’s increasingly important for destinations to boast “green” credentials. Meanwhile, a Center for Responsible Travel report found 21 percent of consumers would be willing to pay more for an excursion if the provider had a strong environmental and social track record.
These days, it’s possible to make smart, sustainable vacation choices that allow you to get some rest and relaxation while minding our planet’s resources. Below, we take a closer look at what eco-resorts are, then highlight some of the most exciting options to book in the U.S.
What Is an Eco-Resort?
First things first: What are we talking about when we talk about eco-resorts? The Travel Channel sums it up nicely:
Simply put, an eco-resort is a lodging facility that takes active steps toward environmental sustainability and social responsibility by helping its natural surroundings and the local community.
Those efforts can take several forms, including:
- Renewable energy sources
- Water conservation methods
- Energy-efficient lighting and appliances
- Recycling services
- Eco-friendly toiletries
- Locally sourced food (perhaps including on-site organic gardens)
- Natural building materials
- Organic linens
- Non-toxic cleaning supplies
- Fewer disposable items than traditional lodging options
- On-site environmental education programs
The term "eco-resort" is often used interchangeably with "eco-lodge" or "eco-hotel." (We'll be doing that in this article.) However, some sources distinguish between each of these lodgings. For instance, Green Global Travel states that eco-resorts tend to reside on larger properties than eco-lodges and eco-hotels and are therefore equipped to provide more amenities. Additionally, eco-resorts and eco-lodges may be located in more remote natural environments than eco-hotels, which can often be found in towns and cities.
No matter what you call an eco-friendly lodging, the general principle remains the same: It's a destination that strives to implement sustainable practices and minimize the eco-footprint of both guests and the business itself.
10 of the Top Eco-Lodges in the U.S.
Curious about staying at an eco-resort? Several certification programs exist to help you identify green destinations that actually walk the walk. Look for places that have met the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria or have been certified by Green Seal, Green Key Global, and/or Green Globe.
To make it easier, just book a stay at any of the proven eco-lodges below!
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, Autograph Collection (Denver, Colorado)
From the moment guests check in and receive their biodegradable key cards at Denver's Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, the hotel's commitment to sustainability is evident. Rinse away the grime of travel under a low-flow shower head using locally made soap, then sit down at the on-site restaurant and order from menus printed on recycled paper that boast meals made with ingredients from the hotel's tower garden. Can't finish your meal? Not to worry; leftovers are composted. Fancy a post-dinner spa treatment? Avail yourself of treatments using (extremely) local honey — the hotel's rooftop is home to five bee colonies. You may not want to leave the premises, but visitors who do will appreciate the hotel's location in the heart of downtown Denver.
El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa (Taos, New Mexico)
The town of Taos, New Mexico, is known for its artsy and eco-friendly vibes, and this five-star eco-lodge delivers on both fronts. El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa is heavily focused on reclaiming rain and wastewater, incorporating this recycled water into its design and functions along with plants, fish, rocks, and other pretty accompaniments. The on-site spa features organic products, while on-site greenhouses provide food as well as Instagram-worthy flowers. Accommodations here are more budget-friendly than many eco-lodges, with guest rooms starting at $149 per night.
Habitat Suites (Austin, Texas)
In 2019, Expedia ranked Austin's Habitat Suites as one of the top ten eco-friendly stays around the world — and for good reason. Since the 1990s, the hotel has embraced eco-friendly initiatives including the use of solar power, organic gardens and landscaping, paints that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), organic cotton mattresses and sheets, eco-friendly soaps and cleaners, rainwater capturing and reuse, a saltwater pool, energy-efficient appliances, vegetarian and vegan meals made with organic and locally sourced ingredients, and a composting program for food waste.
Hawaii Island Retreat at Ahu Pohaku Ho'omaluhia (Kapaau, Hawaii)
A member of the International Ecotourism Society, the Hawaii Island Retreat takes sustainability to the next level. Here you'll find low-flush toilets, stringent recycling systems, solar panels and windmills that produce sustainable energy, a salt-purified pool, and an on-site organic farm that supplies many of the ingredients served at the hotel’s eateries. That farm is also the site for educational programming that connects people to the earth and the food they eat. Additionally, the resort was uniquely designed to support the natural cross-ventilation of breezes and doesn't rely on air conditioning. Guests can rest easy knowing this eco-retreat truly walks the walk.
Hotel Felix Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
While many of the lodgings on this list hail from remote, natural surroundings, Hotel Felix is situated in the concrete jungle of Chicago. But don't let that fool you: This hotel still boasts plenty of eco-friendly cred. For starters, the entire hotel is LEED platinum certified (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). That's the highest possible certification from the green building rating program, and it reflects the hotel's commitment to minimizing energy use, using recycled products whenever possible (including recycled carpets), and sourcing eco-friendly food and cleaning products. A visit to the Windy City has never looked so green.
Hotel Terra (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is just down the road from the magnificent Grand Tetons National Park, so any stay here is pretty much guaranteed to be spectacular. Up the ante by staying at Hotel Terra, which boasts several eco-friendly initiatives. Chief among them? A unique air circulation program that circulates outdoor air into all guest rooms, increasing indoor air quality in the process. (Per the EPA, indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.) The hotel also features organic beds and an emphasis on reducing water consumption.
Post Ranch Inn (Big Sur, California)
Nestled into the coastline of stunning Big Sur, California, the Post Ranch Inn boasts several eco-friendly credentials. For starters, the inn itself is made from sustainable materials. Additionally, the hotel's grounds provide habitat for several endangered species including the California red-legged frog and Smith's blue butterfly. Those grounds also supply "home"-grown food, which is served up in the inn's award-winning restaurant. Guests can enjoy the natural surroundings with guided hiking tours, bird-watching outings, and outdoor yoga classes. Want to go farther afield? Take one of the hotel's hybrid vehicles for a spin. These amenities come with a hefty price tag, with room rates averaging more than $1,000 per night.
Proximity Hotel (Greensboro, North Carolina)
Greensboro's Proximity Hotel has achieved platinum LEED certification for its building design, and it hasn't stopped investing in eco-friendly initiatives since. The building is constructed with several sustainable materials, including wood salvaged from storm-drowned or sick walnut trees; rooftop solar panels provide the energy necessary to heat water and more; and guests can avail themselves of bicycles to travel around Greensboro, thereby reducing car usage and fossil fuel emissions. The hotel also offers Green Tours for guests and community members to learn more about its sustainable initiatives.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach (Laguna Beach, California)
"Reduce, reuse, recycle" is the name of the game at California's Ranch at Laguna Beach, where wastewater is used to water hotel grass, excess food is donated to local food pantries, empty glass bottles are recycled into sand for the hotel's golf course, and even unused soap gets donated to Clean the World, a nonprofit that puts soap and other hygiene products into the hands of impoverished people. Pair these conscientious initiatives with luxury suites, a boutique spa, and several restaurants with top-notch views, and you've got the makings for a trip you can feel seriously good about.
The Stanford Inn by the Sea (Mendocino, California)
The Stanford Inn by the Sea opened in 1980 with the intention of inspiring and educating guests about themselves and the environment. More than 40 years later, that mission is still going strong. This education-forward resort offers a variety of gardening lessons, guided meditation sessions, biking trails, canoe excursions, wildlife tours, and cooking classes with an emphasis on vegetarian and vegan meals. Organic gardens dot the inn's grounds and provide healthy ingredients for the on-site restaurant.
If you’re looking to travel but are concerned about environmental impact, booking a stay at an eco-resort is a great way to serve your travel bug and your conscience.
Make sure to do some research ahead of time. As eco-friendly destinations become more popular, some lodgings are “greenwashing” themselves to be more sustainably-minded than they actually are. Familiarize yourself with legitimate credentialing bodies, and don’t be afraid to call the company in question and ask about their environmental track record. A great eco-resort will be happy to educate its guests while providing a relaxing and sustainable stay.