We have not yet seen the day where the average Caribbean vacation is both environmentally sustainable and as indulgent as most travelers would like. Tourism does take a toll on destinations, and islands -- with their limited natural resources -- are especially vulnerable. You don't have to look far, for example, to find the damage that pollution, overfishing, and warming sea waters have done to the region's coral reefs.
Hotels and resorts know that many travelers try to be conscious to limit their footprint on the places they travel, and it has become pretty common to see signs in rooms and lobbies touting steps the management has taken to lessen the environmental impact they have. It can be hard, however, to separate earnest efforts at conservation from "greenwashing" -- programs focused more on marketing than making a better planet.
Suffice to say: signs urging you to help save water by hanging up your used bath towels if you don't want them washed does not, alone, a sustainability program make. Despite abundant wind and potential solar power, most Caribbean resorts are still powered by fossil fuels, for example. Breezy Aruba is ahead of the curve in this regard: the island already produces more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind power and expects to be completely carbon-neutral by 2020.
Ewald Biemans, owner of the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts in Aruba, is a long-time advocate for sustainable development in the Caribbean (he was named “Green Hotelier of the Year” in Caribbean Journal’s 2014 Caribbean Travel Awards), and his hotel is one of the truly "greenest" in the region. Here are some things Biemans recommends looking for when picking a hotel or resort with a real commitment to the environment:
- use of locally sourced and organically raised food
- use of organic cleaning products
- use of organic spa products, such as those made from local aloe, coconut oil, or lime
- water and trash recycling programs in place
- use of energy saving lighting, such as LED
- avoiding use of disposable materials (plates, forks, cups, etc.) in restaurants
- Green Globe certification: if you're looking for labels, this is the "gold standard" for hotels and resorts. Green Globe is more stringent than other certifying bodies, like Earth Check.
- for beachfront hotels, you also can look for those certified by Blue Flag for cleanliness and sustainable practices.
- LEED certification, which indicates that the hotel you are in was built to internationally recognized green-construction standards; properties can be rated "certified," "silver certified," "gold certified," or "platinum certified."