Green is big. And, so is greenwashing! Last week, I participated in the Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) that was held on Hilton Head Island. The conference was held at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa and it brought together hundreds of ecotourism business professionals, government officials and students to discuss ecotourism trends, business opportunities, and case studies.
I was rather excited to visit Hilton Head Island and this Westin in particular with its emphasis on wellness from the rooms to its surroundings to its restaurant menus. Although not a golfer, I thought it would be fun to explore the area, learn more about its history including the Gullah culture, and sample some great seafood and barbeque. What I didn’t expect was the blatant use of green marketing methods to confuse visitors into thinking they were being environmentally conscious.
The first example strikes you upon arrival during check-in. There’s a huge hanging poster and then additional placards placed all over the lobby with the words – Make a green choice. The placard describes how in exchange for a $5 food voucher, guests can forgo changing their towels and sheets during their stay, thereby saving many gallons of water and units of electricity.
I was intrigued and decided to Make a green choice. In actuality what happened was that there was no cleaning service whatsoever during my stay. Forgot not changing sheets or towels, no one even came into my room to collect my recyclables or trash! After one day, I immediately realized that the Westin was not as concerned about saving water and electricity as it was possibly saving on labor costs. With enough guests Making a green choice, the cleaning staff has fewer rooms to clean on a daily basis, which eventually means that there is no need to have as many people on the cleaning staff. Pure math with the added benefit of making guests think they are being environmentally conscious. This is greenwashing!
True green hotels among other criteria, have a constant supply of fresh air to guests, offer organically-grown and locally harvested food, and provide bulk soap items and amenities.
At this Westin, the carpets were so damp due to the hotel’s proximity to the beach (and perhaps construction) that the air conditioning was on its highest levels to reduce the odor. Additionally, all soap items and amenities were in tiny plastic containers, and ecotourism conference food and beverages were provided to participants with plastic cups and tight plastic wrapping! Lastly, while their SuperFoodsRx menu that offers details about the nutritional benefits of each food and how they work in combination with each other is a great touch, none of the food was grown or harvested locally.
I’m not aiming to disparage the Westin in particular as they are trying to differentiate themselves from other hotel chains on Hilton Head Island in whatever way they can. Rather, I am using this hotel as an example to help consumers understand the difference between hotels that are truly acting in an environmentally responsible manner versus those that may be employing greenwashing methods in pursuit of more publicity and customers.
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