Uncovering greenwashing in hospitality


However, this progress has ushered in a new challenge for hoteliers and business owners: how to effectively communicate sustainability without resorting to greenwashing. In this article, we unravel the greenwashing tactics employed by hotels, shedding light on the importance of transparent Sustainable Communication in fostering true sustainability in the hospitality industry.

Greenwashing occurs when a hotel or business falsely claims to be sustainable for promotional purposes, without genuinely committing to sustainable action. In other words, they invest more resources in communicating their sustainability initiatives than in actually implementing them, which erodes consumer trust, destroys reputations and leads to potential legal consequences. For some, the fear of being labelled a greenwasher is so real, that they choose to downplay their sustainable initiatives, a phenomenon known as greenhushing.

However, greenhushing is not the solution. It’s imperative that hotels on the sustainability journey succeed – and they can only succeed if they effectively communicate sustainability (to employees, guests, partners, local community members and other stakeholder groups) in a sustainable way. This is where Sustainable Communication comes into play, which dictates how you communicate sustainability, doing so in a socially-responsible and ecological way.

The first rule of Sustainable Communication is simple: It must follow sustainability action! To that end, transparency in communication is paramount – being open, honest and accurate about your sustainability efforts to demonstrate that you are indeed “walking the walk.” In the following section, we present common greenwashing tactics and how practicing transparent Sustainable Communication helps to overcome them.

One of the most prevalent greenwashing tactics involves flaunting certifications (and even labels or awards) that are either bogus or lack any genuine third-party verification process. These unsubstantiated claims, which are often complete with official-looking logos, provide a false sense of responsibility and often go unscrutinised.

To enhance transparency: Third-party certifications provide hotels with added credibility, building trust among stakeholders. We recommend GSTC and B Corporation, which are globally recognised entities that adhere to the highest standards of sustainability.

Hotels often use carefully curated images to create an illusion of sustainability, such as photos of lush gardens, happy employees/locals, or wide open beaches (free of crowds, thanks to photo editing software). However, upon arrival, guests discover that the hotel falls short of the idyllic imagery.

To enhance transparency hotels should update their marketing materials, website and social media platforms with real, accurate and current images of the hotel.

Greenwashing frequently involves the use of vague or ambiguous language, like “eco-friendly,” “green” or “sustainable,” which are thrown around without clear evidence to support them. A hotel might also exaggerate its sustainability efforts, like boasting about its recycling programme (merely placing recycling bins in rooms) and reuse of towels and linens. Let’s be honest, these are the bare minimum of what a hotel should be doing in this day and age, yet these superficial gestures give the illusion of sustainability.

To enhance transparency: Provide detailed information on the specific actions and practices your hotel is implementing to increase its impact, clearly articulating goals, achievements, progress and even challenges. We recommend you communicate this information on a dedicated sustainability page on your website or in an annual sustainability report.

Greenwashing in the hospitality industry is an alarming trend that demands action. By adopting transparent Sustainable Communication strategies, hotels can avoid the trap of greenwashing and strive for genuine sustainable change.

* The writer works for Map Boutique Consultancy, a B Corp-certified boutique consultancy based in Zurich that develops innovative and sustainable hotels.