How to Protect Yourself from Greenwashing

Want to protect the environment without compromising your adventures? Read why #greenwashing is Public Enemy Number One.
If you’re traveling to a destination, you probably care at least a tiny bit about it, right? You make the effort to memorize some key phrases, look up where the locals hang, and try to behave while you’re there. You might even take it a step further by taking time find an eco-friendly hotel that supports the local ecology and economy. You book ahead of time, excited beyond relief. When you arrive, you notice an immaculate fountain flowing with clear water at the entrance. You get to your room to see a little “Please Save Water – Reuse Towels” sign on the door. You take it off, bring it inside, and check what the room service has to offer. Pineapples? In China? Doesn’t sound very local to me… You order it anyway, and hop in the shower only to notice at least 6 mini bottles containing everything from mouthwash to leave-in conditioner. “Pretty sure green hotels are supposed to use bulk supplies,” you think. “Oh well, dinner time.” You answer the door to notice your “Please Save Water- Reuse Towels” sign has been replaced- already! Hmm.. Seems like you are making all the effort while the hotel continues what it normally does- wastes. You realize you’ve been greenwashed! The worst part about greenwashing is it makes the job a helluva lot harder for the people who are honest in their pursuits. There really are companies out there who are connecting visitors with legitimate, eco-friendly activities and properties that protect the natural beauty of the land. There are also plenty of companies who have taken the effort to try to fool unkowning travelers, like me and you! That is why I write to you today, to help protect you for the horrors of greenwashing. Let’s continue exploring how to be a better traveler, shall we?


Ask a million questions.

Then ask some more. The legitimate companies will be ecstatic to explain their mission statement. If you dedicated your life to the pursuit of ecological preservation, wouldn’t you be excited too?!  The companies who are up to no good will get irritated- fast. Some typical questions you should ask are who owns the company, how was the company started, and how do they measure impact?


If a company claims non-profit status, make them verify it.

Ask for their tax info or search them on guidestar, one of the leaders in NPO verification. Generally, it’s illegal to say you are a NPO (non-profit organization) without actually being one. In the states, when an organization claims 501(c)3 status, they must make all tax and financial information available. If they are unable to provide or verify NPO status, you can pretty much assume they are full of shit.


Research any certification claims.

Remember all that time you spent looking into hotels only to find out they were full of shit? What is the point? Try to at least make it difficult for companies to greenwash by taking a few minutes to research. All you have to do is google whatever certification they have. If nothing immediately pops up, on google, you can guess that the certification is illegitimate.


Ask for testimonials.

Especially for long-term trips! If you plan on trying to volunteer with an organization for longer than a day, you really should consider obtaining testimonials. A legitimate company will be able to not only provide you quotes, but connect you with former volunteers/participants.


If there is a fee, compare with similar programs in your country of choice.

Be extremely wary of a costly volunteer trip or ecolodge! To be charged $100 USD for a proper recylcing program is reasonable, but $400 USD a night? Probably trying to cash in on the green business.


If something seems amiss, speak up.

This especially applies to any encounter with children or animals. If an elephant sanctuary claims to be stress-free for the animals, and the workers use bull hooks, cry foul. Scream foul. Let everyone know! Why not? People who work in conservations have to fight for very limited funds and resources- save them for those who actually give a damn. Remember, when it comes to equality, there is no such thing as complaining!



Have you ever been the victim of greenwashing? Did you speak up or not? How do you protect yourself from marketing tactics?