Vacation Rentals: How to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint

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Vacation Rentals: How to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint


Travelers choosing to stay in a vacation home instead of a hotel may have to spend more time searching for sustainable lodgings, but ultimately they will have more control over their environmental impact. The following are steps short-term renters can take to shrink their carbon footprint.

The nonprofit Sustonica validates short-term rentals based on sustainability standards, including conserving water and minimizing waste. But it does not act as a search engine. Instead, travelers will find its logo on certified listings on platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com.

Airbnb’s rental categories can help travelers find off-the-grid options, highlighting more than 9,000 listings that rely on renewable energy sources or have no electricity, and Earth Homes, a set of accommodations built with organic materials such as mud or rammed earth.

Booking.com, which lists vacation homes as well as hotels, allows travelers to search for listings with sustainability certifications from more than 65 organizations doing third-party reviews of practices ranging from renewable energy sourcing to recycling.

The company said that more than 16,500 properties, a combination of hotels and rentals, have separate, third-party sustainability certification.

The vacation home rental platform Vrbo does not have an eco-friendly search filter, citing the lack of industry consensus on what makes a rental more sustainable. Properties listed by its sibling agency Expedia may say they are “eco-certified” and users can search using that filter. But read the results carefully; some listings lack information on their sustainable features.

Wherever you search, scrutinize the listings, said Bob Garner, the founder of EnviroRental, a service that works with short-term rental owners on sustainability practices. Do bathroom photos show shampoo in large, shareable dispensers? Does the description mention recycling? If the host has a separate website, look for press links or blog posts related to sustainability.

According to Airbnb, more than 80 percent of its hosts say they incorporate at least one sustainable feature, such as composting, minimizing single-use plastics and providing guidance on using public transportation. The platform maintains a guide for hosts on sustainable tourism practices, with tips on things like creating a manual to direct travelers to local shops, restaurants and markets.

“When you think you’ve found the right property, ask some questions,” Mr. Garner said. “If they can’t answer them, then there’s a red flag.”

Just the act of asking about environmentally friendly features can have a lasting effect.

“If they think you care, there’s a greater chance of moving the needle,” said Diane Daniel, the founder of Vacation Donations, a nonprofit that encourages short-term renters to donate leftover food in the Tampa, Fla., area.

Even if you can’t find a solar-powered stay, you can choose a location that allows you to get around with minimal emissions.

Connect your “environmental consciousness with the idea of being a good traveler,” said Beth Santos, the chief executive of Wanderful, a global women’s travel community, and the author of “Wander Woman: How to Reclaim Your Space, Find Your Voice, and Travel the World, Solo.”

She recommends travelers live like locals, including taking public transportation, visiting neighborhoods beyond city centers and patronizing small businesses. Take a “day zero,” or a single unscheduled day to walk the neighborhood to find nearby shops as well as transportation options.

Conserve energy by turning air conditioning off or down when you’re out, switching off lights when you leave and turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.

“This could be one area where you say, ‘I don’t care, I’m on vacation,’” Ms. Daniel said. But travelers should stay vigilant, she said. “Short-term rentals are the easiest places to regulate your footprint, because it’s really up to you.”

Renters usually have the option of cooking meals. To avoid food waste, plan meals and shop for them as you go — and as plans change — rather than buying everything at once. Bring staples like salt and pepper and ask the host if the kitchen is stocked with other supplies like cooking oil and coffee.

“Buying slowly over the week as you need things is a really nice experience if you’re in a location where they’ve got some nice delicacies and interesting farm shops,” Mr. Garner said.

Ms. Santos of Wanderful recommends packing a collapsible food container. “You can throw it in your luggage, take home leftovers and have a place to reheat them,” she said.

Take as much leftover food home as you can and look for food pantries that accept donations for whatever you can’t take.

“Perishables are very challenging unless you’re near a pantry that takes them and is open when you’re checking out,” said Ms. Daniel of Vacation Donations.

Don’t assume the cleaner wants your food. In a pinch, Ms. Daniel recommends knocking on neighbors’ doors if you’re staying in an apartment building, or searching Facebook for local groups seeking food donations.

Carbon offset programs invest in activities like tree farming that reduce carbon in an amount matching the emissions generated by a trip. But it’s a controversial practice that has led to inflated, if not bogus, claims of carbon mitigation.

Instead, consider donating your time to a local cause in the area where you’re renting.

“Community offsets or volunteering work are opportunities to spend two hours one morning of a holiday to help in whichever volunteering work there is in this local area, from picking up trash to feeding homeless people,” said Vanessa de Souza Lage, the co-founder and chief executive of Sustonica.

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