A new study shows that the leading U.S. state in eco-certified hotels is…Maryland! According to a study by Family Destinations Guide, Maryland is the only state with more than 10% of its hotels certified green.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Maryland hotels have greener practices than other states. It indicates that hoteliers in Maryland saw an advantage to applying for eco-certification. And perhaps they’re greener as well. Let’s take a look at the study’s other findings about eco-certified hotels.

Related: New survey examines sustainable travel and ecotourism

States with the most certified eco-friendly hotels

Maryland topped the list with 11.13% of its hotels certified eco-friendly. The results are a bit surprising. According to a Wallet Hub study of the greenest states, the top five are Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Maryland and California. Other than Maryland, these other green states are missing from the top 10 of the certified eco-friendly hotel list. Instead, we have Ohio in the number two spot, followed by Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi. Seems like these certifications have caught on in the South.

Of course, there’s percentage and then there’s sheer number of properties. Giant Texas has the biggest number of eco-certified and family-friendly hotels, with 513. It also leads the list in number of pet-friendly properties. The next top states in terms of numbers are California (427), Florida (421), New York (296) and Georgia (261). The only four states to make the top 10 list both in proportion of eco-certified hotels and numbers are Georgia, Virginia, Illinois and Ohio.

A pool in the center of inns

States with the fewest certified eco-friendly hotels

Remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean these states are eco-unfriendly (though that’s possible), but applying for eco-certifications might not have caught on in these places. The bottom five were Oregon, Vermont, Maine, Montana and Alaska. What?! Famously progressive and green Oregon and Vermont? Maine, which is pretty much a park and coastline? Alaska, with giant national parks so inaccessible that approximately two people visit each year? And Montana, which is more sky than people? What’s going on here?

Study says…

As a study published in October 2022 in the International Journal of Hospitality Management found, while consumers say they’d prefer staying in eco-friendly lodging, the hotels don’t generally benefit financially from getting green certifications.

“This is a critical issue for the tourism industry, which is facing internal and external calls to become more sustainable,” said Christina Chi, a professor of hospitality business management at Washington State University, who led the study.

Researchers examined occupancy rate, average room rates and revenue per available hotel room. They analyzed data from 1,238 U.S. hotel properties from 2015 to 2019 and provided by Smith Travel Research. Half of the properties held some type of green certification, while the other half didn’t. The study found that consumers mistakenly perceived green-certified hotels as more expensive, and suspected that certifications were just a marketing ploy. But when survey participants could easily compare rates between eco-certified and non eco-certified hotels, they were likelier to go for the green. This gave Chi hope.

“Besides helping green-certified hotels financially, these practices could put the tourism and hospitality industry on a more sustainable path,” she said.

A pool of chairs around it and umbrellas

Eco certifications for hotels

So what are these eco-certifications? A quick Google search reveals about 25 worldwide, and there are probably more. No wonder hotels are confused if certification is worth the time and money to go through the process, and, if so, which one to pursue. Here’s just a sample of what’s available.

LEED is a familiar name in the eco-world, and it applies to hotels, too. Depending on how many sustainability measures a property takes, a LEED-certified building may qualify for certified, silver, gold or platinum status.

TripAdvisor Green Leaders recognizes properties with environmentally-friendly practices, including wastewater treatment, electricity charging stations and energy efficient light fixtures. Those who qualify get a badge on their TripAdvisor profile.

EarthCheck has been around since 1987 and has an especially rigorous certification process. It’s considered one of the more reliable metrics for truly sustainable properties and is used in more than 70 countries.

In the U.K., Ireland and Canada, you’ll find more than 2,000 properties with the Green Tourism seal of approval. Europe has the European Ecotourism Labeling Standard and Ecolabel. Central American hotels may be certified through Certification for Sustainable Tourism or GREAT Green Deal Certification Program. Africa has Ecotourism Kenya, Green Star Hotel in Egypt and Fair Trade Tourism in South Africa. And so forth around the world.

Are eco certifications worth it?

It’s hard to say whether all these labels will help an individual hotel’s business. And does the world really need so many different ones? But overall, eco-labels give more information to the consumer.

As the Family Destinations Guide said in a statement that came out with its study, “With the environment becoming an increasingly important factor in decision making when it comes to family holidays, it is good to see that many states are excelling in their efforts to make eco-friendly, family travel, more accessible. Hopefully this data will prove a useful highlighter of the places leading the way.”

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