Deceptive 'Greenwashing' Aims to Trick Ecotourists

Don't get taken in by 'ecoresorts' that are wolves in sheep's clothing.

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That's why independent players like Orbitz are seizing the initiative, and the resulting trend could help move the travel industry in the right direction. "If they have a system that encourages those businesses to get better—maybe a rating systems or voting system, so that there's incentive to improve—[hotels] will realize [the site] is not just for them to market themselves as green. Travelers' feedback will reflect on their performance," Ezaki says.

"We're in the early years of how we can turn this industry around," says Orbitz's Hoyt. "We certainly believe we will be at the point one day where, on every travel site, there will people who look to see if hotels are green certified, just like you search for a pool."

Until a comprehensive rating system evolves, though, travelers will have to rely on the listings of nonprofit organizations—and their own personal research. Mullis recommends asking questions of hotel personnel: If authentic green practices are in place, staff members should be able to answer questions about them and tell you about the company's sustainability plan.

"Many companies will position themselves as becoming more sustainable than they are, but if it attracts customers they will become accountable," said Mullis. "The average consumer is well educated and will see beyond the smoke and mirrors."