Even if you have gone green at home and in your office, traveling is a different story. Usually, hotel rates and location are prime factors in determining where to stay, but now green-minded folks have options. green-travel-service During a recent stay at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto, I noticed a simple but logical addition to my room: a recycling bin. It was located conveniently next to the wastebasket. When I returned from my trip, I did some research, and realized that the Fairmont was rated a 4 in the Green Key Eco-Rating Program.

The program

The Green Key Eco-Rating Program rates hotels with a thorough environmental audit. Audit questions include a wide range of issues, including employee training, maintenance and engineering, foodservice practices, housekeeping practices and corporate environmental management. The audit has about 150 questions, and Green Key has assigned weighted values to the questions based on their social and environmental impacts. The values are then converted to a percentage, which correlates to the ratings. Hotels are given a 1-5 rating — 5 means the hotel scored above 80%, 4 means it scored between 60 and 79%, 3 is between 40 and 59%, 2 is between 20 and 39%, and a 1 is below 20%. About 20% of the hotels are visited for an on-site inspection. Some questions include:
  • Does your facility have a formal (written) set of environmental policies in place?
  • Are untouched food items collected and donated to food banks and other charitable organizations on a regular basis?
  • Is there a formal procedure in place to deal with environmental complaints?
  • Are unused toilet paper rolls collected for reuse in staff washrooms?
  • Are guestrooms and/or spa amenities biodegradable and derived from natural ingredients?
  • Are all meeting rooms equipped with recycling bins?
  • Are waste scraps diverted from the regular waste stream and composted?
  • Are cooking grease/oils separated and disposed of/recycled as special waste?
  • Is locally grown organic produce promoted and provided as an option to customers?
  • Does the facility purchase certified “green energy” to supply at least a portion of its energy needs?
As you can see from the questions, the audit covers a wide range of practices. If you’d like to read more questions from the audit, click here.

The U.S.

The program includes many more hotels in Canadian cities than American cities. The program started in Canada, and it just expanded to the States in September 2009. More U.S. hotels will join Green Key as the program continues to grow. The U.S. states with the most green-rated hotels (for now) are California, Washington and Oregon with 15, seven and six, respectively. Colorado; Washington, DC; New York; Hawaii; and North Dakota each have two hotels rated, and Arkansas, Illinois, Montana, South Carolina, Texas and Arizona claim one rated hotel each. Hotel brands rated include Fairmont, Motel 6, Hilton, Embassy Suites, Lakeview Inn, Hyatt Regency and more. This doesn’t mean that every Motel 6 or Hilton is Green Key rated, but certain locations have been audited for sustainability. If you feel strongly about more U.S. hotels being rated by Green Key, mention it to your hotel staff next time you’re traveling. Hotels can register here.


On-site audits have been conducted with hotels in certain Canadian provinces. British Columbia, Ontario, Québec, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have an impressive amount of hotels listed with Green Key ratings. There are literally hundreds of places to stay in Canada that have been rated for environmentally sound practices.

What you can do

It is easy to get a little lazy on vacation, but it’s important to try to keep your normal green habits. Green Key’s website gives tips on what you can do to leave less of an impact while traveling. These tips include using mass transit instead of rental cars and taxis, reusing towels if you are staying multiple nights, recycling and conserving water and energy.