Gone are the days when urging guests to reuse their towels earned hotels an environmental stamp of approval.

These days, more travellers are seeking hotel accommodation in line with their desire to reduce their ecological footprint.

Travel search engine Kayak, which has an “eco-friendly” filter for hotels, says there has been a 30 per cent growth in Singapore-based searches for such hotels, compared with last year.

Fortunately, these travellers now have more options. High demand prompted hotel group Soneva to open its third sustainable hotel – and second in the Maldives – last year. The 25 villas at the new Soneva Jani resort are made from sustainable wood. The hotel also has organic vegetable gardens and a waste management facility – it aims to eventually be zero-waste – and will soon install a new solar plant.

Hotels are going green, says Gevin Png, course manager of hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic, to cut costs and as a branding exercise. “It’s good to be seen as a brand leader, to win green awards and to be included in green lists, which have influence on customers’ choices,” he says.

Grace Kang, managing partner of Greenview, which provides sustainability reports and strategies for the hospitality industry, says the biggest challenge is convincing hotel managements that sustainability should sit at the core of their business model and is not an expensive undertaking. “They don’t know where to start or don’t have the right tools. Some hotels have this misconception that it will be costly to be sustainable,” she says.

Singaporean Shermain Pea, 28, general manager of Meguru Corporation, a start-up that helps to build sustainable towns and societies in Japan, is always on the lookout for eco-conscious accommodation, restaurants and activities when she travels.

The hotel industry, she says, can do more to educate travellers. “There should be more eco tours available for people to learn about what eco initiatives are and be inspired by them,” she says.

Here are five eco-luxe resorts that walk the talk.

1. Song Saa Private Island
The 24-villa luxury resort opened on two small islands in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand in late 2012. Co-founded by Australian husband-and-wife team Rory and Melita Hunter, each villa was built using local timber and sandstone and decorated with artwork and furniture made of driftwood and repurposed local materials, which Ms Hunter, a designer, crafted by hand.

Low energy light-emitting diode lights are used in every room and the resort gets its water from an aquifer on the nearby island, Koh Rong. The water is pumped and filtered according to demand at the hotel’s filtration plant.

To reduce freshwater usage, the water for each of the villa’s pools is half fresh water, half salt water, and used water is passed through a multi-stage sewage treatment plant. Waste water is stored for irrigation and flushing.

No non-recyclable materials are used on the islands and all organic waste is turned into compost.

Much of the produce served in the resort’s restaurant is grown locally and in an on-site garden, and even the drinking straws are locally made out of bamboo.

Through their non-profit Song Saa Foundation for sustainable development, the couple also helped create Koh Ouen Marine Reserve, Cambodia’s first marine-protected area, which now covers 200 sq km around the islands and aids in coral reef conservation, the clean-up and restoration of mangroves and seagrass beds, sponsoring of marine research and monitoring of the impacts of climate change.

The foundation also provides healthcare, education, stationery, water filters and a solid-waste management system to surrounding villages.

Prices for villas at the resort start at US$1,000 (S$1,420) a night and include meals.

2. Whitepod Eco-luxury hotel & Alpine experience

At 1,400m above sea level in the mountains of southern Switzerland, the igloo-like accommodation at the Whitepod Eco-luxury hotel & Alpine experience (www.whitepod.com) provides guests with a unique eco-tourism adventure and unforgettable views of the surrounding countryside.

An hour’s drive from Lausanne and a 1½-hour’s drive from Geneva International Airport, the 15-pod resort is embedded in nature, away from crowds, busy streets and cars. Guests must walk along the mountain side from the reception to their dome-shaped tents – made of steel, fabric and plastic thermoshield lining – which are individual bedrooms equipped with wood-burning stoves, organic luxury bedding, fully serviced bathrooms and a large terrace with views of the Alps.

The eco-hotel has energy- efficient fireplaces, electrical devices and water boilers; uses local spring water on low-flow appliances; engages local food and beverage suppliers; uses only biodegradable cleaning products; and sources sustainable paper products – everything from printing paper to brochures, tissue and toilet paper.

The colour of the pods change so they blend in with the seasons – white in winter and green in the summer, and the pods can be dismantled with little impact to the environment.

A night in a pod starts at 290 Swiss francs (S$405) in summer and 405 francs in winter.

3. Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat
Three hours north of Cape Town in South Africa, in the wilderness of the Cederberg Mountains, the award-winning Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat is a sanctuary for humans and wildlife alike.

The 7,500ha property contains vast fields of wild flowers and more than 130 ancient Bushman rock art sites.

It is home to more than 150 kinds of birds, 750 plant species and more than 35 species of mammals, including the Cape Mountain Zebra, an endemic species down to just 400 members 30 years ago, but of which there are now 1,200 worldwide. Bushmans Kloof owns one of the world’s largest privately owned herds of the animal.

The luxurious, 16-room hotel – prices start at 8,790 rand (S$940) a night – also helps to track and rejuvenate the elusive Cape leopard population, which is thought to be less than 1,000-strong; plants the endangered native Clanwilliam cedar tree; and restocks endemic fish populations in lakes and rivers.

At the hotel’s Bushmans Kloof Heritage Centre, guests can learn about the extraordinary collection of ancient Bushman artefacts, including jewellery, dancing sticks, hunting kits, musical instruments and paraphernalia, and gain insight into the lives of the ancient Bushman tribes who lived in these mountains for 120,000 years.

The hotel is one of 55 National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World and only guests are allowed to enter the reserve, which limits human impact on the environment.

Any food waste is sent to a nearby pig farm; paper and plastics are recycled; and waste water is used to irrigate the hotel’s gardens, so guests can sit back and admire the raw beauty of the environment guilt-free.

4. Cempedak Island
Leveraging on the expertise gained over 10 years in operating Nikoi Island, the award-winning eco-luxury island resort off Bintan, Nikoi’s sustainability-focused owners have opened a brand-new resort.

Cempedak Island, which opens this month, is also located in the Riau Archipelago and is poised to outshine its elder sibling’s eco- friendly credentials. Getting there requires an hour-long ferry ride to Bintan, about an hour’s drive to the east coast of Bintan and then a 25-minute speedboat ride.

There are 20 villas on the adults-only island, which accommodates a maximum of 40 guests. Each 150 sq m, two-storey villa ($600 a night), with a broad deck, a plunge pool and expansive sea views, has been handcrafted using locally sourced and sustainable bamboo.

Tucked into the privacy of the jungle, the villas are designed to blend into the environment and maximise natural airflow, negating the use of air-conditioners.

Solar panels provide water heating and the resort plans to install additional high-energy solar panels and battery banks that will allow the island’s generator to be switched off for up to 12 hours a day, further minimising energy consumption. Cempedak buys almost all its supplies at local markets from small traders and directly from farmers when possible. The resort has its own fruit and vegetable garden, makes its own tonic water and cuts its own straw out of bamboo.

It collects rainwater and stores enough to provide up to two months’ water supply. Its recycling and reuse of water, combined with water-efficient equipment, means it is water self-sufficient.

Plastic or aluminium is recycled. Glass is crushed and reused to make cement, food waste is processed into chicken and fish meal, and all other organic waste is composted.

5. Earthships
For more than 45 years, American architect Michael Reynolds has been using natural and recycled materials, such as dirt, used car tyres and glass bottles, to create radical homes that are fully sustainable.

Completely cut off from the electric and water grids, the houses – known as Earthships – produce their own electricity, collect their own water, treat their own sewage and grow their own food.

Solar panels, strategically placed glass and densely packed walls regulate the buildings’ internal temperature, making them remarkably energy-efficient.

Through a simple yet efficient network of channels and pipes, every drop of water that lands on an Earthship roof is reserved and used four times, from washing at the sink to watering plants in the greenhouse to flushing the toilet, so homes do not need to take a single drop of water from the ground.

Guests have been able to rent Earthships for overnight stays since 1996. Five are available through Earthship Biotecture (earthship.org) at the company’s headquarters in Taos, New Mexico, while others can be found through home-sharing platform Airbnb.

The cost of a nightly rental varies by location and size, and start at about US$150 (S$210) a night.

Adapted from The Straits Times.