This winter has been particularly unkind to us here in the Northwest. When it snows in Seattle, the place pretty much shuts down. We got hammered with more snow than many have ever experienced and it lingered for days and days. Many wondered if we’d ever see it melt off. But it did begin to melt, and then to rain, which caused incredible flooding which also went on for days. A vacation to someplace warm and sunny would certainly be a nice change.

The travel and tourism industry has been struggling for years to figure out how to lure patrons into their establishments by convincing us that they are operating sustainably. The sole green feature one usually finds in hotels is a little placard on the bed allowing the traveler to ask that towels and linens not be laundered after only a single use. While a nice gesture, washing fewer towels and sheets barely scratches the surface of what it means to be green.

A quick Internet search results in hundreds of hits for green hotels, eco lodging, and ecotourism choices that, on the surface at least, seem to offer more. Reducing waste, using recycled materials for room renovations, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, and adding “Drinking water served on request only” to the menu, are some of the green features hotel chains brag about. These appear to be environmentally friendly things to look for in choosing a hotel or lodging but how does a consumer really know whether these things are legitimately making a difference? Is it really green or just more green (linen) washing?



GREEN LODGING CERTIFICATION SYSTEMS

There is currently no single industry accepted standard for eco lodging. By some estimates, there are more than 350 independent eco-labels, most of which are simple checklists used in assessing an establishment’s “greenness.” None of the labeling schemes are held accountable by any recognized accreditation body. One certification scheme provided by “Green” Hotels Association (the quotes around the word Green are in the title, not mine) only requires a check for $150 plus $1 per room annually to be listed on the Web site as a “green” hotel. The listing requires only that hotel/lodging is “committed to conserving water and energy and reducing solid waste” and is provided with a set of guidelines to achieve this goal. The guidelines include things such as “low flow” showerheads of 2.5 to 3 gallons per minute (more than the current national Environmental Policy Act limitation), live potted plants, non-hardwood furnishings, and no extra charge for “green” rooms. There is no description of why these things are green, no established benchmark, and no required verification of how green the hotel may be in its efforts to save energy, conserve water, and reduce waste.

One certification scheme that seems to be gaining the widest acceptance within the industry is called Green Globe (not to be confused with the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes rating system, a legitimate, consensus-based official ANSI approved standard). Green Globe International purports to be the global environmental certification program for the travel and tourism industry. The Web site offers no insight into how this claim is to be believed. No standard is available for download, no benchmarking performance requirements are to be found. Green Globe has been criticized by the World Wildlife Fund for promoting “confusion rather than clarity,” a criticism supported by the lack of information and dead Internet links on its Web site.

In my search for a green hotel, eco lodge, or ecotourism destination, I was unable to find anything that registered much more than a blip on my “Guilt-Free Vacation” meter. There are lots of claims being made within the hotel and lodging industry about reduced waste, reduced energy consumption, reduced water use, and environmentally friendly operations. None of these comes close to meeting the definition of guilt-free.

THE CACAO PEARL

It was with surprise that I learned of an eco-resort development currently being planned on a remote island in the Philippines that is laying claim to a “guilt-free” experience for those travelers willing to make the trip. Barefoot Investments, a group of young, idealistic developers, claims to be the only eco-resort in the world that can offer a guilt-free vacation destination. The Cacao Pearl is located on a small tropical island in the Palawan archipelago in the Philippines, one of the most pristine in the world. The resort boasts a spa, restaurants, a café, and a recreation center with games and movies.

In addition to the support facilities, the resort is being planned for 100 homes ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. A portion of the homes are scheduled to be sold as investment properties, priced from $210,000 to $390,000, which can then be leased back to the resort to be rented to guests at the owner’s prerogative. Homeowner dues are estimated to be between USD $2,500 to $3,500 annually.

What is so sustainable about building a large, luxury resort on a pristine, untouched tropical island you might ask? The developer’s claims are nothing short of astonishing.

• Energy: The entire resort will be run on 100 percent on-site renewable energy including solar hot water, solar photovoltaic, wind, micro-turbine water and 100 percent vegetable-based (from the jatropha curcas palm tree) biodiesel standby generators. The generators are expected to be run only when necessary, an estimated 30 days per year.

• Potable water: The resort will use a combination of captured rainwater and solar powered pumped well water for all potable water needs.

• Wastewater: One hundred percent of all black and grey water will be treated on-site with special, state of the art waste water treatment equipment.

• Profit: One hundred percent of the profits generated by the resort will be used for environmental protection and social improvement.

Each home is being designed to consume very little power, and will be naturally cooled through passive design strategies. Toilets are composting, the rich waste produced used to fertilize food crops on the island for use in the restaurants and café. The building materials for the homes will be predominately locally sourced, the structure made of wood and elevated on piers to facilitate natural cooling and reduce the amount of imported materials such as concrete.

The developers are acutely aware of all the greenwashing taking place within the travel and tourism industry and the lack of any credible certification system. Because of this, they have developed an in-house benchmarking tool called Greenprints that is being used in the design and development of the resort and includes goals for and sustainable green building materials and total carbon reduction.

The design for the resort is being done by Abode Management, which is run by a Spanish architect and film industry art director Antonio Calvo. The architect of record will be a local firm in the Philippines which will produce the contract documents and help manage the construction. Construction of the resort will be carried out entirely by local laborers and construction firms.

The development is scheduled for completion in 2010, and investors are being sought for purchase of the homes. W&C