Travel | December 7, 2021 10:36 am

A New Standard for Sustainable Luxury Hotels Has Arrived

The hotel industry is rife with "greenwashing." Beyond Green wants to change that.

A bird's-eye view of the Brando in French Polynesia
A bird's-eye view of the Brando in French Polynesia
The Brando

Greenwashing: it’s one of those newish words that almost sounds like it should be related to something good. But, just like other things that sound nice and are actually really bad (shots of cinnamon whiskey, owning an exotic pet), greenwashing is something that we should always make a concerted effort to avoid.

What is greenwashing?

Nowadays nearly every big brand is doing its best to claim it is “green” or sustainable or eco-friendly, regardless of whether it actually delivers on those promises (or even tries to with any sincerity). That, my friends, is greenwashing: when a company willfully misleads their consumers to believe that their practices or products are environmentally friendly, when they’re really just talking the talk, without walking the proverbial walk. Unfortunately, it’s a practice that has begun to run rampant in the hospitality industry, and as a result it can feel difficult and inconvenient to seek out sustainably minded properties, especially when you’re seeking an experience of a certain caliber.

When it comes to finding truly sustainable luxury travel options, the first step is to identify what it even means for a hotel to be “green.” For Costas Christ, the co-founder and Executive Director of a new portfolio of hotel and resort properties called Beyond Green, that meant utilizing a three-pronged approach. 

“The onus for creating Beyond Green was all about taking sustainability to the next level in travel and hospitality. For a long time sustainability was only viewed through the lens of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ all very important,” says Christ. “Sustainability in travel is much bigger than that, though, which is why Beyond Green focuses on three core values: Nature, Culture and Community — meaning proactively helping to save nature and biodiversity, celebrate and protect cultural diversity, and ensure social and economic benefits to local communities.”

Ireland's Ashford Castle is part of the Beyond Green portfolio
Ireland’s Ashford Castle is part of the Beyond Green portfolio
Ashford Castle

Going beyond

Christ has a good point. We often look for certain key markers of sustainability when checking into a new hotel: Are there plastic toiletry bottles in the bathroom? Are they washing my towels every day? But a truly holistic approach to sustainable travel starts at a level that can’t be ticked off via a series of boxes on a worksheet.

Since launching Beyond Green with Preferred Hotel Group last year, Christ has been on a mission to curate a portfolio of properties that are “walking their talk when it comes to travel as a force for good,” seeking out sustainable innovation that goes beyond the basics and reflects a larger understanding of the interconnectedness of nature, culture and community. 

So far, those efforts have led to a group of 30 unique hotels, resorts and lodges around the world, which have all passed Costas’s rigorous vetting process and have shown a proven commitment to delivering on his three pillars of sustainable tourism.

Some of those properties, like Ashford Castle in Ireland and The Brando in French Polynesia, even operate on 100 percent renewable energy. Just because you got in the club doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, either: every two years the member properties undergo an additional vetting process based on more than 50 sustainability markers.

Sustainable luxury in the U.S.

If a trip to the African wilderness or the islands of Bora Bora isn’t on the cards for you any time soon, the good news is that Beyond Green has a growing number of American properties within their portfolio, like Ted Turner Reserve’s Vermejo — a mind-blowing 550,000-acre nature reserve straddling the border of New Mexico and Colorado. 

There, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time 200 years to witness American bison roaming free across the plains, eagles soaring through the air and fish skipping across the waters of pristine lakes. This is all thanks to a gamut of ongoing conservation programs, including the rehabilitation of at-risk native trout and the repopulation of free-range bison.

The location also means you’ll encounter a dizzying variety of terrain, from tree-topped rocky cliffs to wide-open grassy ranges and the more traditional desert climate that one expects in New Mexico. You can book your stay within Vermejo’s Casa Grande or rent the whole thing out for your private party. It’s a meticulously renovated mansion next to the lobby which sets the perfect ambiance for sipping bourbon by the historic fireplace before setting out on your next adventure within the grounds. 

Bison roam free at Ted Turner's Reserve at Vermejo
Bison roam free at Ted Turner’s Reserve at Vermejo
Sean Fitzgerald/Preferred Hotels

Beyond Green’s portfolio is also a testament to the fact that luxury experiences can run the gamut, and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to connect with nature. Another way, luckily, involves a lot of wine.

Carneros Resort and Spa is another one of Beyond Green’s U.S. properties, located a stone’s throw from many of the best vineyards in California’s Sonoma County. There, charming free-standing guest cottages combine luxury amenities like wine-dispensing machines with more whimsical outdoor touches like an open-air bathtub and shower. Carneros places a huge emphasis on their food and beverage program, too, like FARM at Carneros, a garden-to-table restaurant helmed by executive chef Jeffrey Jake. Jake and Chef de Cuisine John Carney step right outside in the morning to gather fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables from their on-site garden, and chicken eggs from the coop, to prepare that evening’s fare.

Currently, Beyond Green has six properties in North America, and has plans to continue growing. Regardless of whether you book a stay at one of their vetted properties or elsewhere, Christ says the important thing is to look beyond the buzzwords. 

“Intentional travel, purposeful travel, meaningful travel … the list goes on and on with new names cropping up seemingly every month. The answer to the challenges the travel industry faces today are not going to be solved with these new marketing terms. Focus instead on what really matters: the impact you will have when you travel.  Each of our individual travel choices can make a huge difference, and when we choose to travel the sustainable way, local people and visitors alike benefit from the power and promise of tourism to support economic development and protect natural and cultural heritage for future generations.”

The pool at Carneros Resort and Spa
The pool at Carneros Resort and Spa
Trinette Reed/Carneros

Costas Christ’s tips for sustainable travel

Do your research

When booking hotels, tour operators and activities, ask a travel company or hotel you are thinking about booking with three questions before signing on: 

  1. Can you provide an example of how you are operating in an environmentally friendly way? 
  2. How do you support and promote cultural diversity and protecting nature? 
  3. And finally, how — and in what way — does your company benefit the local community? 

If you cannot get a direct answer and example to each of these questions, move on and find another hotel or travel company that can provide clear answers. Today there are so many travel companies and great hotels that represent travel as a force for good. Remember, each of our travel choices makes a difference, and when we choose to travel the sustainable way, we are making a contribution to protecting our planet for future generations while also having a wonderful holiday. 

Make conscious decisions that support the real local economy

Choose to purchase items from local artisans and family-owned businesses to ensure your money goes into the community in the right way. And never ever buy wildlife products as souvenirs. Just say no to furs, shells, skins and any other kind of wildlife products for sale.

Give the right way

Instead of bringing items such as clothing, books, pencils and treats to hand out to villagers, seek out reputable local social and economic development organizations that partner with the local community. Giving in the wrong way can cause community conflicts or promote begging. True giving impact is about community empowerment. A good place to start is with women’s organizations, as it has been shown time and time again, that supporting women’s micro-enterprise has a greater impact to touch and help more lives.