With the rising popularity of eco-travel, it’s hard not to question what accommodation is truly an environmentally-friendly eco-lodge as opposed to those who label themselves as ‘eco’ because it’s fashionable.
When we were researching our travels in Costa Rica, our web searches were inundated with eco-lodges and eco-retreats. With such a vast number of places to stay labelling themselves as eco, it was difficult not be skeptical. Were they all as genuinely green as they claimed to be, or are some of them greenwashing because eco-travel is on trend?
Costa Rica’s incredibly diverse ecosystems, large areas of rainforest and rich wildlife make it an ideal country for eco-tourism to flourish and is the reason behind the large amount of eco-lodges. So far, we’ve had the opportunity to stay in three Costa Rican eco-lodges. They were all incredibly different from one another: a jungle tipi eco-retreat run by a couple enjoying a very simple, natural way of life; an eco-island inhabited by a self-sufficient family who create their own energy and grow all their own food; and a large, family-friendly eco-lodge who offer jungle adventure tours.
Despite being drastically different, all three of them can truly be considered as eco-lodges. They were tied together by the same three principles.
Protecting Nature and Wildlife
Being located in a natural area away from the pollution and urbanisation of towns and cities is one thing, but eco-lodges should also be protecting and conserving the surrounding environment and the local wildlife.
Eco-lodges should have a minimal impact on the environment. Recycling, sustainable waste management, saving water and minimising the use of non-biodegradable chemicals are all part of this. All three eco-lodges were focused on sustainable practices to protect nature and wildlife, as well as passing on this philosophy to their guests.
Using Natural Energy Sources
Renewable energy utilises the earth’s natural resources to generate clean energy that has a much lower impact on the environment than traditional energy sources. Solar power was used at all of our eco-lodges here in Costa Rica. Whilst the smaller two eco-lodges had only cold water showers (not uncommon here anyway), the larger eco-lodge had larger panels that were also able to heat water as well.
Supporting Local Culture
Supporting local people and the local culture is also important to eco-lodges. Two of the eco-lodges we stayed in had no employees and were run by the owners themselves, the other employed staff from the local community, including nature guides. The eco-lodge owners all talked about how they were actively involved in the local community – promoting environmental awareness, volunteering and supporting projects in the area, and so on.
The Importance of Eco-Lodges
Eco-lodges have an important role in protecting the environment, promoting green tourism, and educating others about sustainability and good practice. There are many aspects that contribute to the label of “eco” -lodge, -retreat, -hotel, and every country has different criteria. While in some countries businesses are free to just adopt the “eco” label, in Costa Rica there are standards set by the tourism board that must be met to qualify as eco.
Don’t overlook small eco-lodges, which have lower star ratings in Costa Rica. Many of them are still growing and may not have the funds for big eco-projects. Their star rating, even though low, is a sign that they have been recognised as working toward having a positive impact on the environment and local community.
Have you ever stayed in an eco-lodge? What do you think are important aspects of the “eco” label when it comes to accommodation?