Ecolodge Defined

 November 12th, 2008 |    sabalolodge

The definition of an Ecolodge can be illusive as there currently is no agreed upon definition for the term. There are however many organizations that have worked hard over the years to bring a standard definition to the industry. The Nature Conservatory and Costa Rica’s own Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) are two organizations that come to mind. They have set out as well as others to more narrowly define what an Ecolodge should consist of.

There is much more to a “Real” Ecolodge than just being eco-friendly by reducing the impact on the environment using green technologies.

The sad truth of the matter is that many so called “Ecolodges” fall short of what a “True” Ecolodge should be. This article will attempt to educate the responsible traveler that is trying to make a difference in how they vacation to be able to make wise choices.

Unfortunately, like so many things, the term Ecolodge has been abused to facilitate marketing strategies for profit instead of it’s original intent. As written by one of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, taken from his latest in a series of Odd Thomas books, titled Odd Hours he writes; “Words are plastic these days. Small loans made to desperate people at exorbitant interest rates are called payday advances. A cheesy hotel paired with a seedy casino is called a resort. Any assemblage of frenetic images, bad music and incoherent plot is called a major motion picture.” Words are plastic these days and that is the reason for this article, thanks Dean!


The Nature Conservancy has published the following as a general definition for Ecolodges:

An Ecolodge refers to a lodge that meets the following minimal criteria: (i) has minimal impact on the natural and cultural surroundings, (ii) fits into the physical and cultural environments through attention to design and landscaping as well as building materials, (iii) utilizes “green” technologies that provide sustainable means of water acquisition, safe disposal of solid waste and sewage and use of renewable energy sources, (iv) involves local communities in the Ecolodge development and seeks to bring about economic and educational benefits to communities, and (v) integrates environmental and cultural education into the visitor’s experience. In other words, the eco-lodge refers to small-scale tourism development that through adequate planning (as recommended in this set of guidelines) minimizes impacts to the environment and maximizes benefits to local communities and conservation.


One of the key parts of this definition that I want to emphasize is – “the Ecolodge refers to a small-scale tourism development”. How small is small? That depends on the area that the Ecolodge is situated on, the resources it uses relative the resources available and the impact on the environment. If an Ecolodge can accommodate 20 or more guests they should have exceptional Eco-policies in place to minimize impact.

Unfortunately, large scale Ecolodge’s don’t always have exceptional Eco-polices in place or can’t really minimize the impact on the fragile environment where they are located due to their size of operation.

Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism or CST is an organization that has been around since 1999 and has put together a very stringent standard for the certification of Ecolodges consisting of 153 different requirements in four different categories. I wont attempt to now go through all 153 requirements but if you are interested in seeing them you can find them on our Sabalo Lodge website here:

The four categories that the CST emphasizes include:

1. Physical-biological parameters: Evaluates the interaction between the company and its surrounding natural habitat.

2. Infrastructure and services: Evaluates the management policies and the operational systems within the company and its infrastructure.

3. External clients: Evaluates the interaction of the company with its clients in terms of how much it allows and invites the client to be an active contributor to the company’s policies of sustainability.

4. Socio-economic environment: Evaluates the interaction of the company with the local communities and the population in general.


Needless to say, if you are looking to stay at a “True” Ecolodge you should be able to find somewhere on the Ecolodge’s website as to how they contribute regarding some of the categories above. They should also be a “small” operation (usually only accommodating 20 or less guests at one time).

Ideally, the Ecolodge will have posted on it’s website their Eco-policies which should address some or most of these categories. Don’t be afraid to ask the Ecolodge to email you their Eco-policies if you cannot locate them on their website. To see an example of what Eco-policies might look like you can view our Sabalo Lodge Eco-policies here:

Certification is also a good way to determine the status of an Ecolodge. There are several organizations that have very thorough requirements that must be met before they certify a lodge an Ecolodge. Any Ecolodge that has been certified should say so somewhere on their website accompanied by logos of the organization that certified them. Certification can take a major investment in time and money to complete so not all Ecolodges have been certified but they should be at least working towards some kind of certification.

By reviewing an Ecolodge’s Eco-policies you as the Responsible Traveler can make the determination as to whether the lodge you are considering visiting is Eco enough for you.

Submitted by:

Dan Pesta – Owner Sabalo Lodge

1. Odd Hours, Dean Koontz pg10.

2. The Nature Conservancy, Ecolodge Guidelines Version 1, pg1

3. CST website