Are your travel company's policies eco-friendly or is it all spin, asks Stephanie Holmes

Travel comes with many anxieties: choosing a destination, budgeting, planning, getting around once we're there, safety, health ... the list goes on. And now, in times of growing concern over the environment and climate change, there's also an added anxiety of how our travels might negatively impact the world we're so desperate to see.

More and more, travel companies are promoting their eco-credentials in the hopes of luring woke travellers to book with them. But can we believe everything we see?

It's an issue Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton is passionate about, and in the latest episode of our podcast Trip Notes, he talks to me and co-host Tim Roxborogh about what his company is doing to be sustainable and a force for good in the world.


You can listen to Trip Notes for free — the new episode is available from Tuesday, July 9 on iHeart Radio, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher ... wherever you usually get your podcasts.

Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, centre, with Trip Notes co-hosts Tim Roxborogh, from Newstalk ZB, and Stephanie Holmes, from Herald Travel. Photo / Supplied
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, centre, with Trip Notes co-hosts Tim Roxborogh, from Newstalk ZB, and Stephanie Holmes, from Herald Travel. Photo / Supplied

One of the issues Thornton raises is "greenwashing", which he believes is prevalent in the travel industry. But what is it, and what do we need to know about it?

What is greenwashing?

Wikipedia defines greenwashing as "a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation's products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly."

"There's lots of people talking around the term eco holidays, or sustainabilty, or being responsible — in fact, I can't think there'd be a travel company now that doesn't mention it within their brochure or on their website," says Thornton. "But how do you know if a company is truly sustainable?"

How do you spot it?

Thornton gives the example of the hotel he was staying in while he was visiting Auckland. "On the bed is a nice [notice] saying 'we care about the environment, reuse your towels' . . . meanwhile, I go down to the reception area and grab a drink and they provide me with a glass with a plastic straw in it . . .

"The cynic in you might just say they don't want to have as high an electricity bill and they just want to cut costs."


Think of it in terms of food labelling — a product might be called "low-fat" but still be pumped full of sugar; or beauty products — something might be advertised as eco-friendly because it doesn't contain nasty chemicals, but it still comes in a single-use plastic tube.

Hotels and tourism operators might describe themselves as "eco" but there's often no way to quantify what they're doing to live up to this label.

"There's nothing about how they're measuring their environmental impact, the goals and targets they have," Thornton says. "That is a frustration and, for a consumer, how do you know the difference between greenwashing, and actually businesses that are a true force for good."

What can we do about it?

Ask questions before you book. Find out what the company's eco-credentials actually are, and how they have been measured. Are they certified and if so, did those certifications come from verified external agencies?

"Just being inquisitive is probably the most important thing for the consumer," says Thornton. "Very quickly you'll start to see the differences between businesses that have a strong commitment to sustainability and ones that are using it as a marketing tagline."

Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton. Photo / Supplied
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton. Photo / Supplied

To hear more about greenwashing, as well as James Thornton's favourite travel memories, listen to Trip Notes. You can also go to to watch video from the podcast.

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