By incorporating sustainability booking sites could increase their income

For the past four years I have travelled across four continents and stayed in over 50 Airbnb homes. As a digital nomad who lives home free, I’ve been using Airbnb as my pied-à-terre since January 2016. During this time I’ve experienced the very different facets of home rental management which constantly change according to different countries. When it comes to environmental and sustainable choices, it is evident that each country has its own rules (or lack thereof), making the opportunity to stay in a sustainably responsible rental home sometimes quite difficult. 

Having lived on Bali and now coming back after a 2.5 year absence, it is quite surprising to see the pace at which this island has developed just in the past 24 months. Bali is one of my favourite places on earth, however what was a concern during my last visit, has now become a very prominent challenge – and that is the topic of plastic and trash. 

As previous residents, my partner and I used local organisations to recycle our trash as much as possible, with all organic waste going into our hand built compost in the back garden. Now that I am back on Bali as a tourist, the reality of the trash management on the island is a stark contrast to my first experience. Everything consumed and thrown out goes into one bin, which then gets picked up and taken to landfill. Even more surprising yet, we are in our fourth Airbnb accommodation, and not one host is using a recycling system to sort the trash. All trash is going straight to landfill. 

Worse yet is the amount of trash and plastic being burnt on the side of the roads, or simply being dumped. This was already happening 2.5 years ago however the volume of trash everywhere has doubled if not tripled since my last visit. Just the other day I was running in the north of Ubud and what was once pristine rice fields and streams, is now littered with plastic trash. 

This is why the marketing campaign #zerobnb, initiated by @TBWA Helsinki and @Neste, really caught my attention. The campaign requests that Airbnb include a new category for their booking site: sustainable accommodation. This push is not only well founded, it’s also crucial. According to research, “tourism is causing almost a tenth of global emissions, with modern globetrotters looking for ways to reduce the impact of their lifestyle.” As globetrotting citizens ourselves, we’ve been waiting for booking sites such as, @Expedia and @Airbnb to add more strenuous sustainability checks to their platforms. Just for 2019, Indonesia set a target for 20 million visitors, with more than half that number visiting the island of Bali. There has never been a more pertinent time for booking sites to step up their game in terms of environmental impact and sustainable advocacy. 

Some countries make recycling mandatory, while others have no rules whatsoever, and as much as recycling is not the solution to the growing trash problem on our planet, it is certainly a step in the right direction in trying to limit the amount of trash that ends up in landfill. Airbnb is the world’s largest online community of holiday home hosts and could have a sizeable impact if it were to introduce an effective sustainability category system on its website, highlighting sustainable listings and helping interested hosts to showcase their green homes.

Below are a few criteria that I think could be beneficial for sustainable rental homes: 

  • Recycling and waste separation 
  • Composting 
  • Use of biodegradable products (such as biodegradable bags / compost bags)
  • Renewable energy/ solar
  • Energy efficiency (building, lighting, appliances, heating/cooling controls)
  • Water catching systems for water use 
  • Eco friendly cleaning and self care products (for the house and for the guests)
  • Filtering systems for drinking water (to encourage drinking filtered water and having refillable bottles rather than buying single use plastic water bottles)

If Airbnb were to include a sustainable category on their platform with guiding principles for owning a greener home, it would on the one hand give visibility to home owners who have already taken the necessary steps themselves, while giving an incentive for more home owners and holiday seekers to join the green revolution.

Tourists often do not know the extend of pollution going on in the countries they visit and this could be a perfect opportunity to educate visitors and help grow awareness for more sustainable ways of traveling and lodging. It would also push booking platforms to take ownership of the accumulation of trash from the impact of tourism. The trash issue is definitely not just from tourism, it’s also from locals, however by having a sustainable accommodation category and sustainable solutions in place as part of holiday booking systems, this could already have a more positive impact on the trash management for holiday homes in developing countries.

Please share your thoughts and expertise

I would love to know your thoughts and ideas on this topic, and what other improvements in your view could be done in order to make traveling more sustainable and eco-friendly. If you have comments or can share your expertise – then please post your comments below. 

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